The 'Never Do' List

July 7, 2023
There are certain things you should not be doing if offering stellar service is your goal.

It won’t come as a surprise that I get my car serviced often. Although certain local favorites get the most patronage, I go out of my way to visit different shops to stay in touch with the industry overall. I never wear a suit or introduce myself professionally, which means every new automotive facility I visit could potentially receive the colonoscopy of mystery shopping experiences. It’s not my goal, but I can’t help noticing certain things.

I have also fielded decades of complaints from shop owners and consumers, as well as conducted research from thousands of consumer complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In other words, I have personally experienced, heard, and read about many instances of every situation on the list below.

It should be noted that preventative automotive maintenance and repair professionals who belong to the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA) have rarely provided less than top notch service, and not one of them did anything to make the list. It’s automobile dealerships and the aftermarket shops who aren’t active members of a national trade association that have made these offensive, unforced errors.

Don’t yell at a customer.

Learn how to manage disagreements in a respectful way, whether or not the customer is working your last nerve. Customers don’t have to accept a repair diagnosis. They may have to pay for the diagnostic work, but they’re free to go elsewhere for a second opinion. They also don’t have to agree with everything a technician or manager reports about their vehicle mid-repair. Take notes, use video cameras in the store and service bays, and accept that disagreements happen. But never yell at a customer in the attempt to force them to go along with you.

Don’t lay hands on a customer.

If you have a pre-existing relationship where physical contact is appropriate, that’s different. If a customer ignores your shop rule prohibiting any untrained person from walking within six feet of a service bay floor opening, that could be different, too. For everybody else, it’s hands off. This situation occurs most often when a service writer or shop manager is about to relay very expensive news.

They come over to the customer and put their hand on the customer’s arm or shoulder much like a comforting funeral director, and then tell the customer about all the extenuating circumstances involved in the repair. This is also used when a repair takes much longer than anticipated. It’s an old tactic once considered effective in creating an instant sense of trust. Today, however, it can be received as an assault. Not only might you lose a customer, but you might also get slapped silly.

Don’t rebuff a customer’s distress over a service outcome by claiming “everybody knows” something like that could happen.

It’s wrong, rude, and tends to indicate the customer needed more information before the service was performed. It’s wrong because “everybody” doesn’t know anything anymore, especially when it comes to car and truck maintenance. It’s rude because the customer obviously doesn’t know so claiming everybody does is insulting—it’s akin to calling them stupid. This kind of situation tends to indicate that, while not necessarily mandated, the shop manager or service writer would have been wise to explain up front what they considered to be such an obvious risk associated with performing the requested maintenance or repair. In fact, if a risk is obvious, then it’s a good idea to both explain the situation and have the customer sign an acknowledgment.

Don’t claim you’re doing the customer a favor by investigating a post-service problem.

The problem may or may not have been caused by prior service, but you won’t know until you check it out, especially if the problem appears to be with the same system recently serviced, i.e., transmission, brakes, etc. Moreover, professional automotive service shop warranties generally require an opportunity to inspect a vehicle in the event of a problem post-service. If you’re truly pulling strings to get special treatment for a customer, that’s different.

Don’t go it alone because you will get behind on regulatory compliance changes.

The Environmental Protection Agency will be seeking amendments to the federal used oil management standards this year or next, and you can bet they want to add, not subtract, requirements. Automotive service shops that don’t participate in a national trade association are at high risk of not finding out about it because not all regulatory agencies engage in outreach.

For example, every non-AOCA member auto repair shop I’ve visited since 2016 has been out of compliance with NIST Handbook 130 requirements for engine oil labels and receipts. And that’s the easiest one compared to requirements for transmission fluid labels and receipts. Non-AOCA member shops generally don’t find out about their NIST Handbook 130 obligations until they get inspected by state weights and measures regulators. By then, it’s too late and they’re facing six-figure fraud fines.

In sharp contrast, AOCA members not only have access to a free online training program for NIST Handbook 130, but also receive monthly regulatory updates on everything from waste management, oil storage, and OSHA requirements to suspected vehicle defects and Right to Repair.

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