Comebacks Aren’t Setbacks

March 14, 2024
Regaining customer confidence when a repair needs re-addressing.

You get one. Maybe two. Maybe. 

That’s Kendall Warnock’s philosophy when it comes to chances with comeback customers. It’s David versus Goliath—independent auto repair shops fighting for market share with chain stores and dealerships—so it’s so important to know how to deal with inevitable customer issues, the owner of A1 Automotive in Lincoln, Nebraska, says. 

Comebacks happen. It may or may not be your fault, but they’re inevitable. It’s how you handle it that decides your fate. After all, customers have plenty of choices for servicing their car. One bad experience could be the difference between retaining a customer for life or losing them for good. 



Warnock has always had a customer is always right mentality. 

“I don’t want anyone that comes into our small business to be able to say that they weren’t treated well or the service wasn’t great,” Warnock says. “Success to me is making sure that everyone that leaves feels great about the experience.” 

Warnock grew up working next to his father in a two-stall shop with a dirt floor. For as long as he can remember, he’s loved fixing things and he’s always been good at it. Where he needed work was running a business, and he’s since become good at it with a customer-first mentality. He now boasts nearly $2.5 million annually in his five-bay shop. 



Warnock says they don’t happen often, but comebacks happen at every shop–even the best of the best. 

For example, Warnock says his shop has become more knowledgeable about Mercedes-Benz repair, though this wasn’t always the case. Once, a customer with a Mercedes-Benz came in and Warnock’s team used an available aftermarket part rather than the OE part. Warnock says he didn’t understand that the aftermarket choice wasn't of similar quality, so he suggested it to the customer since it was available and less expensive. A few weeks later, the customer came back. The part failed. 


Although the customer approved the aftermarket part, Warnock took full responsibility.   

“It’s my job to guide them in the direction of the best decision,” Warnock says. “In the long run, paying for the OE part would have been the better decision.” 

Warnock ate the cost of replacing it with the OE part ($400), but he salvaged a relationship with the customer. 

“I always point the thumb at me,” Warnock says of comeback customers. 

Warnock says he always takes full, sincere responsibility, which is what has been key in him retaining his comeback customers. 

“It doesn’t matter if it’s your fault or the parts supplier's fault, it’s your fault. You own it,” Warnock says.  

Warnock estimates that he’s retained 90% of his comeback customers. How? Here are his keys: 

Transparent Communication 

You need to be upfront and honest about what happened, Warnock says. Keep your customers informed about what exactly is going on and how you are going to make it right. 


Taking Responsibility  

Own it. Don’t blame the customer because that will result in a lost customer. Even if it was someone else’s fault, Warnock says he always takes ownership of the situation because the customer is always right. 


Demonstrate a Positive Attitude  

Customers will appreciate it if you are friendly and willing to make it better and are much more likely to come back if they enjoy their interaction with your team. 


Genuinely Caring  

A successful shop owner and team needs to put its customers first and care about what happens to them beyond the walls of the shop. If customers can tell that you care about them, they will come back, even if you’ve made a mistake on their vehicle. 

“You have to put your customers first,” Warnock says. “If you look them in the eye and say that you made a mistake and it’s on me to fix it, you will prove that you’re worthy of another opportunity.” 

The best way to retain comeback customers is by avoiding comebacks altogether, of course. That’s why excellent quality control is key in Warnock’s shop. Thorough SOPs for making sure nothing is missed on a vehicle are in place in his shop and his entire staff knows the importance of doing all of the steps every single time.  



Thanks to his excellent quality control, Warnock says he only had five comebacks in 2023. Because of his willingness to own the mistakes and make it right, Warnock believes he’s salvaged 90% of his comeback customers in his career. That being said, some customers are impossible to win back no matter how hard you try. After all, you can’t win them all. 



Warnock wants all small business owners to understand that consumers don’t owe them anything and that they will have all the opportunities in the world to go somewhere else. 

“You have to build trust so that they don’t want to go anywhere else,” Warnock says. “It’s consistent effort, energy, and connecting to customers as much as you can. Relationships matter.” 

Competition in the automotive industry is fierce and shop owners need to remember that their customers have plenty of choices on where to get their car serviced. However, if you provide a great service and prove that you care, Warnock says you’ll come out on top. 

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