AKRON (Oct. 25, 2004) — You just cannot please all customers all the time. The challenge is recognizing when it's time to stop trying and essentially “fire” an unreasonable customer.
In my Sept. 27 column, I discussed how years of consistently solid service earn you the empathy and/or forgiveness of customers. Recently, Rick Martinez of Liberty Tire and Brake Inc., Hinesville, Ga., reacted to that column, asking: “How do I accomplish point No. 4 (control your temper and keep a sense of humor when dealing with difficult customers) when I have a new or repeat customer who just can't be satisfied?” (See Oct. 11 Tire Business Mail Call).
In previous columns, I've emphasized that it's totally unrealistic to expect that you can make everyone happy simply because everyone who enters your tire dealership or service shop is NOT a reasonable person. What's more, some of these people have dedicated their lives to making everyone around them miserable. Others aren't happy unless they feel they've gotten the best of you during a routine business transaction. These are undesirable types.
There's a delicate balancing act required: Working hard to satisfy the customer vs. knowing when to stop catering to them. The problem is that this scale cannot and will not look the same for all customers and all situations. But there are factors you can weigh to know if the scale's tipping toward cutting your losses and showing a customer the door.
The first factor is one many managers dread considering: Is the technician who worked on the vehicle trustworthy and reliable? This tech may be a competent guy who has become careless lately. Maybe he has personal problems that are affecting the quality of his work.
There also are situations where the dealership is shorthanded and a tech has to take a job outside his normal area of expertise. Consequently, he screws up the job. At the same time, many managers I see routinely assign the wrong tech to the job. If they were running restaurants, these bosses would not expect pastry chefs to grill perfect steaks and chops, would they?
If you do some quick soul-searching and realize you didn't put the best tech on the job, you'll tip that scale way over toward satisfying the customer. Sure you could just refund the customer's money and be rid of him. But he might take his car to a competitor and have a very fundamental problem diagnosed quickly and accurately. Now you've taken two extra hits because the motorist and the competitor think your guys are imbeciles for missing such a simple problem.
Here, my instincts are to put the right tech on the job and, where necessary, give the customer a loaner. Correcting a misdiagnosis or comeback is a matter of company pride.
Another factor to weigh is the nature of the complaint. For example, your crew tried to fix a no-start complaint but the problem recurs. Something like this is both a serious and non-subjective issue. After all, the car either starts every time or it doesn't. I'll really bend over backwards for this customer because the issue is so cut-and-dry to me.
Let's face it, many complaints are entirely subjective. Let's say a customer believes the struts you installed make his car ride much harsher. Many service personnel can't judge this one because they've never budgeted time for a before-and-after road test—especially one with the customer on board. That's life.
But if there ever was a subjective call, a “harsher” ride is it. Similarly, what constitutes a “noisier” new set of tires if no one evaluated the vehicle before and after the installation? Without sophisticated noise-measurement equipment, noise levels are still a highly subjective call.
The more subjective an issue appears, the more inclined I would be to refund money and show the customer the door. Battling a customer to the bitter end over a highly subjective issue is like wrestling a pig. You both get muddy and the pig loves it!
Effective sales people know the importance of creating and maintaining a positive selling atmosphere. When you battle a customer over a highly subjective issue, you risk poisoning the atmosphere around the customer lounge and the service counter. It may be much, much cheaper to provide refunds and explain that there are no grounds for a business relationship anymore.
If you must discuss an issue, it always should be instinctive to get the customer alone in one of the dealership's offices so other customers aren't privy to what you're discussing.