A few weeks ago, I asked my manager to get my pickup in the shop for an oil change. A little while later he let me know that the oil pan needed to be replaced. The truck was worked on the next day and completed later that afternoon. I was working late that day and was the last one to leave the shop.
Around 7:30 p.m., I finally finished my work, walked out to the truck, started it up and headed home. I got about 10 miles when the temperature gauge began to climb. A few seconds later, the low coolant warning message displayed on the dashboard. Now, by trade, I am a technician. I am well aware of all the possible reasons for what was going on. Did the technician have to drain the coolant to replace the oil pan? Maybe the coolant was never topped off after the job? Perhaps something was damaged during the repair, or it could simply be an unrelated incident. But those things were not going through my mind, at least not at first.
It was raining that night and I was driving on a lonely, dark road. It was the fear of the unknown and the helpless feeling of breaking down that filled my mind. What do I do? Who do I call for help? Should I keep driving? And then I said to myself, “This car was just worked on today. What went wrong?” I was now also upset and angry. I was experiencing firsthand what goes through the mind of a customer.
I pulled the car off to the shoulder, shut the engine down and opened the hood. The coolant reserve bottle was empty. There were no leaks that I could see, so that was good. I remembered passing a convenience store, so I decided to play it safe and walk to the store to purchase a few gallons of coolant. I topped off the coolant bottle, started the engine and ran it at idle for a few minutes. The engine temperature returned to normal and all was good.
I was now back in my pickup and heading home again. I began to think about our customers and how they must feel when something like this happens to them. The fear, the anxiety, and maybe the disappointment they feel when they just entrusted us with the proper repair and safety of their cars. And while we all make mistakes, our minds are not in a forgiving mood when filled with negative emotions.
This situation made me rethink how we handle comebacks, and how to prepare customers for a potential breakdown. Even with my mechanical background, after I broke down, my first reaction was fear and the feeling of helplessness. The fact is, comebacks will happen. New parts will fail and technicians will make mistakes (the tech who worked on my car had to drain some of the coolant and was shocked to learn he didn’t refill it). That’s inevitable.
"Our new process will include what we may have neglected in the past, and that's repairing the customer's trust in us."
-Joe Marconi, owner, Osceola Garage
We should all create a quality control process (we added one for the oil pan procedure) to cut down on mistakes; that’s a given. We should also create a process where all comebacks are reviewed to determine the cause of the problem. This is how we improve. But we need to take it a step further.
Make sure your customers know what to do if their cars break down. Do they have roadside assistance? Do they have emergency contacts handy? Make sure you set up an after-hours roadside assistance process. Give your customers the peace of mind knowing that if an unfortunate breakdown does occur, they can reach out to you for help. And if you do have a comeback, empathize with the customer. Do a follow-up call the day after. Show that you care about them and their safety.
After this incident, I have changed my comeback process. We used to repair the car, get it back to the customer as quickly as possible, determine the cause and make needed corrections to our workflow process. Our new process will include what we may have neglected in the past, and that’s repairing the customer’s trust in us. I am not wishing for a comeback, but if it does happen, I will make sure that we fix more than just the car.
Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at [email protected].