Dealing with Customers Who Think They're Always Right

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There is the old slogan in retail, “the customer is always right,” which exhorts service staff and gives a high priority to customer satisfaction. This was popularized by retailers such as Marshall Field and Gordon Selfridge and is built around the belief customer complaints should be treated seriously.

 More than a century after this concept was pioneered, customers have a variety of options to voice complaints including on social media and websites, but also have more choices than ever when it comes to taking their business elsewhere. For this reason, retailers must take customer complaints seriously. This includes handling customer comebacks in the quick lube world.

Communication is Key

Understanding customer complaints is the first step in finding a resolution. This is where a shop must listen to what the customer is saying. While there is always fear in any retail situation that some customers will complain about anything, listening can help a shop owner understand what is a reasonable concern. This shouldn’t be put off. Doing so can make the problem worse.

 A quick resolution to a problem is also very important to ensuring customer satisfaction.

 “A timely response to a customer concern is extremely important,” said Carl Goede of Rivers Edge Oil & Tire in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. “Early contact can reassure the customer you care about their concerns.”

 Goede suggested operators listen attentively and investigate a problem immediately. This should be followed by offering as complete an explanation possible to the customer.

 “Live up to your technicians’ responsibilities,” he added. “Offer a competent explanation of the problem components. Reassure them you are happy they came back to you to follow up. Make sure they know they can stop in anytime. If needed, follow up a few days later to make sure things are still working well.”

Small Towns, Big Talk

The level of communication can be even more important in rural markets, especially those with nearby competition. Folks in small towns may be quick to share opinions about local businesses. Here resolving problems can be extremely important or else a little word of mouth can go a long way in ruining a reputation.

 “This is a subject very important in our business,” said John Wall, owner of Checkered Flag Express Lube in Marysville, Ohio. “We are in a small community, so how you handle issues gets around quickly. And, for a town of our size, there is plenty of competition waiting to take your customers from you.”

 Even in larger markets, word of mouth can spread quickly and can seriously hurt business if a customer has a really bad experience.

 “A bad experience will be relayed to numerous potential customers,” Wall said. “Especially in this day of social media.”

 Obviously, the best approach to avoiding customer complaints is to ensure they don’t happen. Wall said Checkered Flag utilizes the call-and-response method to catch issues on the front end before the customer leaves. This allows for a double check top to bottom using two different team members.

 “With that said, we are all human,” Wall said. “No one is perfect. So you have to have a plan in place for when issues arise. Ours is fairly simple and straight forward.”

 Wall recommended it is important to calm a customer down first if he/she is upset, followed by the aforementioned listing to the problem. It is crucial not to assume, but instead ask the customer to return to the shop and identify the problem. Finger pointing shouldn’t be part of the solution, and Wall said if an error was made, it is crucial to accept responsibility as a team and apologize for the inconvenience.

 “We have a carwash, so we wash the car or give them a coupon to wash the car,” Wall said. “Then we determine how to compensate the customer for their time. Normally, this is a certificate for a free service. After the customer is taken care of, we set out to determine the root cause of the issue.”

 Most importantly, this problem should be a learning experience for the shop.

 “We learn from it,” Wall said.

Customer Care

Paying attention to the customer is crucial, and there are ways to make the customer know the shop is taking their concern very seriously. For Mark Welp of Kwik Kar Southwest in Austin, Texas, a special form truly does the trick.

 “First, it is very bright red, and we only have an owner or manager deal with it,” Welp said. “We want the customer to know we take this very seriously. We record when the car was in and who did the work — then we have space for the problem and what the fix was. We also record the info in our computer system. If it was our problem we comp some future visits.”

 Never finger point in front of the customer or insult the customer.

 “It could have been a simple drip from the skid plate and not a leak,” Wall said. “But it is still a valid concern. We don’t insult the customer, and we don’t allow negativity in front of the customer. Don’t air dirty laundry in front of customers.”

Don’t Make it Emotional

For those who live and breathe the quick lube world, it is easy to forget most people never see the underside of their car. Some customers aren’t knowledgeable about the inner workings of a car’s engine, yet when they see something that doesn’t seem right they may be quick to react or in some cases overreact.

 “While all customers may not be auto savvy, they are humans and deserve to be treated with respect,” Goede said.

 Shops need to listen to concerns and honestly and sincerely answer questions. People are often at the shop looking for guidance. Embracing their concerns will help them reach a resolution.

 “Explain what you find; offer a solution,” Goede said. “If you sincerely help your customer resolve the problem with their car, you will earn their long-term trust. If your shop is responsible, live up to it.”

 Every case needs to be treated differently, and when there is a problem, emotions can run high, Wall warned. He also said some customers are engrained to expect pushback and confrontation. However, most people can still grasp what is said by keeping it simple. At the same time the operator needs to ensure the customer is understanding the explanation.

 “We defuse emotion by empathizing and listening,” Wall said. “This is key. Make sure they feel heard and cared about. Handle the issue as quickly and painlessly as possible. Let the customer know you value their business, and invite them to return. Our manager follows up a couple of days later to make sure their issue was resolved completely.”

 It is important to remember customers come in because they trust your quick lube to do a job they either can’t do themselves or don’t have the time to do. At the same time, be careful not to cast undue blame to the employees either — even if a mistake was made.

 “Our teammates are very important to us, too, and if you handle it correctly it is a learning tool,” Wall said. “Again, everyone is human. They don’t need to be berated or threatened. The way you handle it internally is just as important to your business in the long-run.”

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