Keep your composure and always cover the basics when handling customer complaints. If you don't, this already difficult task becomes much more stressful than it should be.
Before I proceed, I'll repeat some advice a grizzled, veteran service manager has given me dozens of times: ``There are 2 percent of them you'll never satisfy,'' he said.
Meanwhile, regular Tire Business readers know that my frequent traveling enables me to observe service personnel in action at various kinds of tire dealerships and service shops across the country. Recently I listened to a service manager in a western Washington shop tactfully handle a complaint that likely falls into that ``2-percent'' category.
This shop happens to specialize in Honda maintenance and repair and is staffed by highly experienced factory-trained technicians. They promote quality and value.
The aggrieved customer had brought in a late-1980s Honda because of an engine noise. A tech quickly discovered that a severely frayed drive belt was the culprit. Experience told this tech that if the drive belt is badly neglected, the vital timing belt might be as well. Fortunately, the timing belt on this engine is easy to inspect, and the inspection revealed a very tired-looking belt. Furthermore, the owner had no idea if the timing belt had ever been replaced.
Therefore, the car left the bay running well with a new drive belt and a new timing belt. Now, seven months later, the customer calls to complain about an oil leak, a water pump leak and an allegedly failing timing belt. Note that unlike the common Honda models many Tire Business readers may service, this car's timing belt does NOT also operate the water pump. Instead, the traditional drive belt turns the water pump.
First, the service manager prudently accessed the vehicle's history on the computer and patiently recapped what the tech had found wrong and why the belts in question were inspected and replaced. He explained that they have serviced countless numbers of these cars and are well acquainted with its failure points. If any oil or coolant seepage was evident, he would have noted it on the work order and tried to sell the appropriate repairs.
Not only would that make for a happier customer, it would also make more money for the shop, he explained.
Second, the service manager explained that leaks totally unrelated to the work performed could and do crop up all the time-it's just the nature of the automotive beast. What's more, seven months had lapsed since they worked on the car. The customer countered that a ``mechanic friend'' had just identified a leaking valve cover as well as a leaking water pump. He also claimed to have found a badly frayed timing belt.
Now the service manager patiently noted that the shop only installs original equipment belts, which normally last for years. Although he assured the customer the shop stands behind its work, he needed to see this ``frayed'' belt because a premature failure of this kind is highly unusual. ``Please bring us this belt,'' he asked.
Next came the $64,000 question: ``Why didn't you contact us about these leaks and give us the opportunity to address them?'' the service manager asked. ``We could show you they are unrelated to the repairs we performed. We really value your trust and your business,'' he added.
I always want to cheer out loud when I hear a good service manager calmly ask that question. To me, it's akin to a ``trial close'' in the selling process because it's intended to uncover hidden objections. It's an effective, revealing technique, and it brought out an unheard issue.
``Well, my husband already called you about the leaking valve cover and you were rude to him,'' the customer charged. Sensing he may have reached the real objection, the service manager explained that he urged the husband to bring the car back so the tech could inspect the leak. He apologized that this may have been perceived as rudeness, but common sense dictates the shop can't proceed without checking it out again.
Furthermore, he didn't understand why any tech worried about a water pump on her car would want to or need to inspect a recently installed timing belt-a totally unrelated component.
It will be interesting to see if husband or wife ever shows up with the supposedly frayed timing belt.
The episode may end up as a standoff because these folks fall into the 2-percent category I was warned about years ago. But if nothing else, a calm, methodical approach usually reduces gray hair among all service personnel.