In my last column, I urged dealers to groom their sales forces in the art of resolving customer disputes. Here, I'll discuss how practicing fairness and awareness can help a dealership's service sales staff address customer disputes more effectively.
There are many ways to outline your business' approach to settling disagreements with customers. Using the rhyming phrase ``fairness and awareness'' is a word-association trick I've found to be helpful to keep myself focused and organized on this topic
The first aspect of fairness is to distance yourself from an argument with a motorist. Once you've done that, consider what an impartial, unemotional third-party observer or arbiter would rule fair in this dispute. I mention arbiter because you could find yourself before a local judge or civic arbitration panel of some kind. Anticipating what they'd say amounts to keeping your eye on a pitch you really want to hit!
You can't always plan ahead for what'll happen in a customer dispute, but you can almost bank on the prediction that these confrontations are very emotional. Remember that fair and prudent decisions aren't borne solely from emotions.
I maintain that the time to assess or define fairness is not during the charged atmosphere of an argument with a customer. Instead, have a series of staff meetings during which your entire team reviews the kinds of disputes they have encountered. Urge each service sales person to evaluate how he or she could have handled the dispute better.
Furthermore, owners and managers should use these team meetings to establish the specific lengths to which sales people may go in order to settle disputes as quickly and calmly as possible. For instance, the boss may define that ``fair'' for this type of dispute is to charge no labor or refund the labor. In your mind, another type of dispute may warrant refunding or not charging for parts.
In still other situations, you may think it's appropriate to refund all the customer's money or charge them nothing. But you've got to define that or authorize that discretionary call now-before the sales person goes back to the front lines of the service counter. The front-line sales person has to appear to the consumer to be empowered to make prompt decisions. That alone may improve overall customer relations by distinguishing your business from most other retail operations.
If you listen to any gathering of common folk, you usually hear horror stories about people being jerked around and stonewalled by some retailer or service provider when something with the product or service went wrong. Think what a pleasant surprise it would be if your dealership acted promptly and decisively!
I recommend coaching your entire service sales staff to never, ever openly admit to any consumer how much latitude they have in settling disputes. Overall, the warmest approach is to give the impression that, for example, the choice to refund the motorist's money is the service writer's or service manager's own, spontaneous decision.
Perhaps the most important aspect of awareness is to recognize that customer disputes often are settled in front of an audience: The rest of the dealership's staff, not to mention everyone else in the waiting room or customer lounge. In previous columns, I have carped many times about the importance of maintaining a positive selling atmosphere. Screaming, yelling and/or verbal sparring with an unhappy customer undermines your positive selling atmosphere. That's another reason why I put a premium on resolving disputes as promptly as practically possible.
Another aspect of awareness is the risk of creating the wrong impression-that you're a pushover-when you settle an argument by not charging someone. I agree that that's possible, but not likely. Experience shows the more common reaction of bystanders is to side with you instead of the unhappy customer. When people see how eager you are to resolve the issue, they tend to admire you. They're thinking: ``That guy is such a jerk! What more does he expect the dealership to do for him?''
The sooner you settle an argument, the sooner the sales person can refocus on successful selling, which is what you really hired him or her to do in the first place, right?