Thursday, 20 October 2011 20:23

Dealing with Angry Customers and Growing ‘Alligator Skin’

Written by Gonzo Weaver

If there is one thing I find hard to deal with in this topsy turvy world of the auto repair business is the way some people will react when they are at the repair shop. It’s the way they conduct themselves at the shop when it comes time to get their car repaired.

Over the years I’ve been praised and degraded.  I’ve been called a saint and I’ve been called the devil (or worse). I’ve heard the shouting and the stuff I probably wasn’t suppose to hear (walls don’t always block sound you know). After a while you’ve heard it all before, and the attitudes that you see at the front desk become a part of the daily grind. Coping with all this is what I call; “growing alligator skin.” I try not to take things so personally, I’ll let the alligator skin handle it, and then take off my protective coat before I get back home to the wife and kids.

What gives with the need for such a thing as “alligator skin”? I believe there a several factors inherent to the automotive industry that brings on this crocodilian coat of protection.

Mistrust of the automotive repair world in general is what I believe is the number one factor; but what brings on that mistrust? Is it the incompetent mechanic? I doubt that is always the case. Is it the money out of their pockets which they were not expecting when they drove down the road to the repair shop? I believe it’s more in the hands of the unknowing consumer who reads and watches too many evening news reports on the unscrupulous business practices of the few out there that really are rip offs and not the normal operations of countless decent shops in this country.

 

If you tie that into the other part of the equation it starts to make some sense. What is that other part? The customer, their car, and what they do or don’t do with their family transportation.

As I try to tell my customers; “Maintenance on a new car doesn’t do much to the value of the car or its current condition. It’s when it’s older and the miles are creeping up that all the previous maintenance pays off”. The inevitable degrading condition of the car doesn’t happen all at once, it takes time and miles for that to happen. And, sometimes some old failures will cause new failures to occur.

“General Maintenance” isn’t a guy in the Army reserves, it’s something we all need to do. It is almost always overlooked, and a lot of times we will avoid or put it off, until it’s too late. That’s when the raised voices or mistrust starts at the service counter and that alligator skin becomes a necessity again.

Of course, there are always those TV scammers that will try to tell you they have the latest greatest product to aide in the diagnosing of your vehicle. Let’s not forget about the internet and the “wonderful” sources of information out there that the customer will no doubt inform you about when they show up with a complaint.

I’m sure there are doctors, lawyers, and many other professional trades that know who’s the best and the worst in their field. We sometimes hear about those on the evening news, just not as often as the car repair business seems to be focused on. But cars are needed by everyone, no matter what the condition. Think about it, you may not need a lawyer tomorrow morning to get to work, but I’ll bet you’ll need your car.

Educating the customer should start from the time they sign on the dotted line and purchase their vehicle. No recourse is given to educate the new owner on what needs to be done in the future with their new found horsepower. It’s up to the owner to deal with the maintenance issues and any repairs that come up. I personally have never bought a car and had the salesman walk over to me and mention, “Now you know, you’ll need to set some money aside for general maintenance and the usual break downs.” Without the needed “know-how” the car is left to its own demise and the maintenance is left for another day. So, once you add up all these factors there is only one thing that is going to happen at the repair shop—a disgruntled owner with an issue about their car.

Now we are back to the original problem, how do you deal with all of this? Start with a bit of Alligator skin, be prepared for the customer to tell you their life story about their car. They’re going to tell you what they think no matter what you say or do. Let them get it out and keep your alligator skin intact. Stay calm, but professional.

Most of the time, if you explain the diagnostic procedures and the results of the repair in terms that they can understand. Things will go a lot smoother. Sometimes I might have to go through it a few times but it’s worth the effort.

So the key to this whole ordeal is to do a good job, be prepared to back up what you do with an explanation that can be understand by the typical driver. As long as you do that you can keep your wits about you and you won’t lose too much skin for your efforts. Keep in mind; it can be a little rough around the water’s edge. You may have to stand your ground and make your point known. Keep it as calm as possible and explain as best as possible.

These issues usually don’t apply to the person who keeps up with their maintenance schedules or comes in on a regular basis. They understand the need and respect the work you do. It’s the ones that only show up when their car has reached the water’s edge and can’t go an inch further without falling into the crocodile infested water. They will stammer around trying to find a way to get their car repaired without stepping off into the deep end and risk losing money, time, and their temper. We’ve all been there, and we can all understand the problems involved.

Let’s not forget that explaining things can only go so far. You don’t want to have to resort to their tactics, that’s not good business.

But, remember one thing, the customer is still dealing with an alligator, and they can bite back if they’re not careful.

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