How far should you-the independent tire dealer-go to satisfy a customer? Should you, for instance, fix a product you know to be defective if it will help get your customer on his way?
Last week, the owner of a small tire dealership related a set of circumstances he had encountered earlier in the year:
One Saturday, he and his son installed a set of wheels on a customer's C-10 Chevy pickup truck. But the customer returned to the dealership after driving only a block away. He said the front wheels were loose.
At first the dealer thought he and his son had forgotten to tighten the lug nuts on the front wheels.
On closer examination, however, he found the aftermarket wheels to be defective.
The centers of both wheels had not been correctly bored, which kept the wheels from seating properly. (A representative of the wheel manufacturer later told me ``a small amount'' of the wheels had been bored improperly, but that the production problem has since been rectified.)
The customer was unwilling to wait until Monday for the problem to be cleared up and, to make matters worse, had already sold his original-equipment wheels.
So, in the name of ``customer satisfaction,'' the dealer finished grinding the wheels in his shop, reinstalled them and sent the customer back on his way.
``It's my obligation to the customer to get him going and have him happy,'' the dealer said.
But there are possible ramifications to this way of thinking that make this an interesting study in just how far dealers should go to satisfy customers.
First, the dealer is interested in compensation from the manufacturer or his wholesaler for having taken the time and money to fix the problem.
``I was just protecting myself, my wholesaler and my manufacturer'' by fixing the wheels, he explained.
But the manufacturer's policy is to void its warranty on any product that has been altered.
Instead, the company contends the dealer should have sent back the defective wheels for replacement.
What's more, instead of ``protecting'' himself, the dealer may have accomplished the opposite-exposing his business to a potential lawsuit should something unfortunate happen involving the wheels he altered.
I decided to ask an attorney from Roetzel & Andress Co., an Akron law firm that has handled tire and wheel product liability cases, what his advice would be in a similar situation.
``Don't alter a product,'' he said plainly. ``Something bad could happen, and the consequences aren't always pretty.''
The unfortunate end result of this dealer's story is that he-the one forced to make a quick decision about a complicated customer complaint-is the one who lost time and money and ultimately could take the brunt of a lawsuit if a problem resulting from the defective wheels occurs.
In today's litigious society, safety must be a top priority in every customer relations situation-even if the customer says it's against his wishes.
In other words, the customer is not always right.
Sometimes it's better to lose a customer than risk the possibility of losing your business in a liability lawsuit.
Mr. Kennedy is a reporter for TIRE BUSINESS.