Privacy can be a tire dealer's most effective tool for settling customer disputes quickly and effectively. Therefore, service managers, sales managers and other front-line personnel should always try to isolate the unhappy customer from the rest of the people in the waiting area. Here's why.
To understand this approach you must understand or recognize the realities of customer disputes. First, they're a fact of life and are going to occur no matter how hard you try to be fair and honest. Once you accept this, you'll be more successful in dealing with these situations.
I am continually amazed at the comments owners, managers and counter salespeople make about the public. They haven't yet accepted that a small percentage of motorists like nothing better than to pick a fight with you and/or try to get something out of you for nothing.
Savvy service personnel keep their antennae deployed for these personality types. Their experience—not to mention my own experience at the service desk—dictates that these people aren't worth the aggravation.
In other words, there's a small percentage of the motoring public who will only trade with your dealership once. If you knew their history, you'd see that these people don't trade regularly with anyone because they're always trying to hustle a merchant with their unreasonable demands and outrageous expectations.
I've watched dozens of service people try to deal with these customers. I'm convinced they have, among other problems, extremely low self-esteem. One of the few times they really feel important is when they think they've won a battle with you—no matter how insignificant the issue.
That said, I know that some of the strongest relationships we have in business result from legitimate disputes or issues that we settled quickly, fairly and privately. Our handling of the dispute is what earns the motorist's trust and respect. However, the distinction is that these people are customers worth having!
The modus operandi of these unreasonable people is usually fairly consistent. Namely, they try to pick a fight with you in front of everyone else in the customer lounge or waiting area.
They seem to think that if they make a big enough scene there, they will embarrass you into giving them what they want.
At some point your instincts tell you to cut your losses and get rid of the person because this motorist isn't the kind of customer you want.
Personally, I think the most cost-effective approach is to satisfy them, resolve the issue and then ``uninvite'' them to your dealership. Regular readers may recall previous columns I have written on the need to ``fire'' some customers.
Meanwhile, I urge you to isolate the customer simply because many of these blowhards aren't nearly as bold as you think they are when you take away their audience (other customers in the waiting area).
Frankly, some of them are intimidated by the fact you singled them out for a private discussion in your own office or a separate meeting room somewhere in the dealership.
Another reason to isolate the person from the other customers is that you usually end up making major concessions in order to shut the person up and get him or her out of your hair. Although this is sometimes a necessary evil, making concessions in front of other customers does nothing to enhance your image or your business.
If I'm making major concessions specifically to rid myself of an unworthy customer, I want to avoid giving other customers the opportunity to wonder, ``If the manager did that for that screaming idiot, what will he do for me?''
Furthermore, you haven't lived until you've had another customer needlessly involve himself in a dispute between you and a customer you're anxious to ``fire.'' That's an ugly no-win situation that you can avoid simply by isolating and segregating the screamer.
In the end, hope for the best but plan for the worst.
Consider a spot in your dealership where you can isolate a screamer for a private consultation. If you're planning a new facility, design a private meeting room far away from the regular waiting area specifically to accommodate your most difficult customers.