By Dan Marinucci, Special to Tire Business
AKRON — Successful tire dealers and service shop operators know when to steer problematic customers to the nearest exit.
A boss who fails to deal with these motorists risks losing the staff's respect, not to mention potential profits while encouraging more headaches.
Problematic people are those motorists who are abusive, unreasonable and uncooperative. On the one hand, a competent owner or manager wants to keep the service bays busy. On the other, they cannot and should not tolerate the emotional antics of certain motorists.
In a previous column, I argued that effective leadership requires a boss to make unpopular decisions and to do so promptly. Sadly, some owners and managers don't recognize that screening out undesirable customers is one of those tough decisions. But experience shows that failing to do so often costs the boss the staff's respect.
Respect and trust go hand in hand. Some people refer to trust as “having someone's back.” Workers who believe the boss has their backs are much more likely to work harder and remain loyal to the company than employees who distrust management.
Let's revisit those consumers for a moment. Many motorists feel that getting their vehicles repaired correctly the first time is a nerve-wracking process. In surveys, some have said that going to the dentist is less stressful that coping with getting a car fixed.
This is the fallout from the actions of dishonest and/or incompetent people in our industry. Shops must strive every day to overcome these negative stereotypes.
However, the misdeeds of some characters in this business cannot completely explain the nasty, combative attitudes of some motorists. I respectfully submit that some people we encounter are downright angry, miserable. And as the old saying goes, misery loves company.
These nasty ones spread their poison around to every service provider they meet. I'll bet that other merchants in your community have the same opinion of a certain person as you do: He or she always wants too much for too little. No matter what service is being rendered, the initial price was too high; the time required for the service took too long, etc.
Worse yet, some service providers — including the auto service kind — have agreed to make cut-rate, incomplete repairs in order to appease this breed of customer.
Although the service provider takes pains to explain that a patch job is not a trustworthy repair, the customer ignores this information. In the case of an auto repair job, the patch eventually fails and the car breaks down again.
Next, this problem customer trashes your reputation to anyone and everyone within your market area who'll listen to them.
Namely, you took their money and the car still broke down again. Naturally, the nasty motorist never qualifies that he insisted on a patch job instead of a proper repair.
Traditionally, market research shows that unhappy customers negatively influence more people than happy customers positively affect them. Now extrapolate those potential consequences to the impact of that uncooperative, cranky customer.
Also, remember that human nature doesn't really change. I began working in traditional service stations in 1967. It didn't take long to realize that some people are difficult and perhaps impossible — or nearly impossible — to please. When these motorists rolled in, we looked for a place to hide. For better or worse, many of them took advantage of the kindness of my boss and never returned nor sent us any referrals.
Finally, I respect that a savvy service sales person may be able to normalize these types — convince them to pay competitive prices for proper repairs. To me, that “conversion” is both an art and a science. If it was so easy, everyone at the service counter would do it well. But they don't.
So as you prepare to do battle with that questionable customer, carefully weigh what that abusive and uncooperative motorist may be worth to your business overall. Long term, they may be worthless.
Dan Marinucci is a free-lance automotive service writer and former editor of two automotive service magazines who writes a regular auto service column for Tire Business. He can be reached via email at [email protected] His previous columns are available at www.tirebusiness.com.