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How to Provide Unconditional Car Care

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I knew saying yes to this customer was a mistake. It was a busy Friday afternoon, about 25 years ago. A customer arrived at my shop asking me to check out a van he was looking to buy. It was a private sale, so making sure the van was in good shape was important to him. I told the customer that I was very busy and didn’t have time to completely go through the vehicle. He told me that he did not want to lose the deal, and begged me to put the van on the lift and give it a quick once-over. He went on to say, “I won’t hold you to anything. The van looks in great shape. I do hear some rear tire noise, but I don’t think it’s anything. I just want you to put your eyes on it.” I looked over at the van sitting in the parking lot and said, “Sure, where are the keys?”

I drove the van into the bay, set it up on the lift and gave it a quick inspection. Everything looked great; no issues to speak of. I gave the customer my blessing and he bought the van. What I didn’t do was a road test, and that was a big mistake.

About a week later, the customer returned with the van and he was furious. He started yelling the moment he saw me: “Joe, I can’t believe what you did to me! I asked you to do one simple thing!” I stopped him and said, “Calm down, what happened?’ He replied, “You told me it was OK to buy the van, but you didn’t see that the rear differential was breaking apart. I got stuck upstate and it cost me $2,000 to get it repaired!”

 

I could have defended myself. I could have reminded him how busy I was that day. And I could have told him that he was the one who asked me to just give the van a quick once-over, and that he wouldn’t hold me to anything. But I didn’t say any of that. As he was ranting, I remembered that he mentioned he heard noise from the rear tires, which was obviously the rear differential. I said to him, “I am sorry. I didn’t road test the van. If I did, I’m sure I would have noticed a problem with the rear differential.” He stormed out and I never saw that customer again.

One thing about getting punched in the gut: You learn how to handle things the next time around. After that situation, there was no way I was going to shortcut my way of doing things. Besides, no matter what the customer may say, I am the professional. It’s up to me to do the right thing, not just for the customer, but also for my well-being.

After that incident, I made it a rule that every car in for any type of service or repair will get the benefit of what I call “unconditional car care.” Every car gets a road test, a multipoint inspection and we discuss with the customer how to best care for their car. We, as professionals, owe it to the customer to promote that concept.

As part of our workflow and sales process, I train my service advisors to never hold back telling the customer everything she needs. Never think that by giving the customer a laundry list of services and repairs, you will lose the sale. Trust me, if your sales skills are up to par, you won’t lose the sale. You will manage the customer’s needs, prioritize what’s needed now, and build a list for the next visit. And, if you do happen to lose the sale or part of the sale, so what. You still did the right thing.

 

Another thing I won’t do is compromise the quality of my work. A few years ago, I had a customer who wanted to install a set of front brake pads on his pickup truck without replacing the brake rotors. The old pads were grinding metal to metal, and the rotors were below specification. I told him no and explained that it’s not about the sale of the rotors, it’s about his safety and the safety of others on the road. He left in a huff.

A few days later, he was back. He looked a little embarrassed and said to me, “Do all the shops in this town talk to each other? No one wanted to replace the pads without the rotors. Can you do the brakes and rotors for me?” I smiled, looked over at the truck in the parking lot and said, “Sure, where are the keys?”

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