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Customer complaints, pt 1

by Art Little

Transmission Digest Magazine
This article appeared in the January 2002 issue of Transmission Digest.

Customer: "You guy's just worked on my transmission last week and now it is doing the same thing it did before I brought it to you." Manager say's to the builder: " What do they expect for 2500.00." Pretty funny, right? Wrong. Pretty disturbing, if you own the shop. Yet, that's the attitude in some shops.

Put yourself in the customers shoes. He probably signed a 7 year note on a car he still owes 3 years on. He just had to put the 2500 dollar repair on a credit card that charges him 22% interest. He's borrowed his mother-in-laws car for a week to get to and from work. And now, thanks to your expert service, he is right back where he started. Except now, he's mad and he has right to be.

It's a new day guys, when it comes to customer complaints now. Fact is, it takes longer to fix 'em, it costs more to fix 'em, and there ain't enough people that know how to fix 'em. That can't be good if you are dealing with customers all day long for a living. If you are not on top of it, you will be spending a lot of time answering B.B.B. and A. G. love letters and reluctantly becoming an expert in small claims court, start thinking about buying your own tow truck and be on a first name basis at the local car rental facility before you know it. Because, today's customers are not stupid and they are sue happy.

Even though it is a new day, the reasons for customer complaints are the same for the most part. Is it just me, or have you noticed, that customer complaints stop when you get their car fixed? Service. One word. You have to fix their car. Customers are funny about that. Sounds pretty simple however, if you are in the trenches every day, you know service consists of a battlefield full of obstacles that can make your life a living hell.

We all know it's always the managers fault. I'm just kidding. He may have something to do with it but, usually it runs a lot deeper than that. I have to laugh when the franchises send out certificates to center managers or center service managers or, what ever they are calling them now days, that reward them for low customer complaints. It has been my experience that these are shops that are well staffed, well established and well funded.

I have taken over shops where I was happy to get home that night without getting shot. What about those managers? The ones that walk into a 30% warranty ratio, not enough employees to do the job, broken down equipment, no money for parts, customer's cars being vandalized, no test equipment, high employee turnover, absenteeism, no team effort and an absentee owner who doesn't understand the business? What about those managers? They deserve a purple heart, not a certificate to hang on the wall.

This month let's take a serious look at what causes customer complaints. As with any problem, you have to identify the problem, offer solutions and most importantly, act on the problem by executing the solutions. I will hit on some common problem areas that create a disgruntled customer and offer some solutions. It will be up to you to act on them. Here we go:

Dishonesty:
Most customers know when you are lying to them. They might not call you on it right away, but they know when you are lying. I saw on the news that the average person tells 22 lies a day. So I guess one could conclude, we are used to being lied to. Unfortunately, in the trenches you can't always tell the whole truth. However, we do not have to sell a major when a minor would take care of the problem. The solution here is to sell off of the diagnosis. It's stealing if you do otherwise and opens up a can of customer complaint worms you don't need if you choose to go the other way.

Short Cuts:
We are fortunate to be in an old industry that has procedures for everything reduced to writing, so why do we not follow proven procedures? The biggest reason I see is because we get behind in production. Once it starts there is no end. The manager sells a job that hasn't even been checked out because the car has been there two days and he knows the customer is about ready to take it somewhere else. Transmissions get pulled before a complete multi-check is performed. Builders use parts they shouldn't because the wrong parts were delivered or not ordered in time and they can't wait until tomorrow. Cars get delivered that have not been properly road tested. The, if it shifts through the gears put it on the ready to go line and go get another one mentality, sends time bombs back to the customers. Please.

The solution here is to stop taking short cuts and get back to basics. You have to quit taking in any new work until you get caught up or hire some more people. You will loose the people you have and your reputation if you don't, not to mention any future repeat or referral business. You may need to retrain your employees. Stop the madness and enforce policy's and procedures. It is tough to do and will be hard on you in many ways but, only for a short period of time. In the long run, it may mean the survival of your business.

Greed:
This one is aimed at shop owners and managers mostly although builders and installers can contribute to the problem by requiring more of a salary then they are entitled to.

First the managers. Managers work on commission. The manager has to "make a week". He has to or his family doesn't eat. The biggest mistake I see the inexperienced manager make is to schedule warranty work after his money jobs are taken care of, thinking once he makes his check, he will get to warranty on Monday. This is the number one formula to create customer complaints. If I have learned one thing in the transmission business it is this: Anything that can happen, will happen.

There is always something on Monday that will happen that will cause him not to attend to his warranty responsibilities. It's a never ending cycle once you get in it and it blows up customer complaints like nothing else.

The solution is to work in the warranty jobs with the money jobs in the order that they come in. Simple but, effective. The seasoned vet manager will get the warranty out of the shop ASAP. Some, put the warranty ahead of the money. Imagine that. The reasoning is that he doesn't want the mad warranty customer coming in while he is selling a job on a Mercedes. This manager is in it for the long run and sees the big picture.

Now on to the shop owners. You have to be willing to put some money back into the shop. Invest in the equipment, the people and the test equipment needed to properly diagnose and repair the work coming in. Also, spend the money on the parts to fix it right the first time. If you don't do that, expect to have customer complaints. Some of you are probably saying "It's just not that simple Art". Yes sir. It is just that simple. You will make more money, have less employee turnover, a better reputation in the community and less customer complaints if you take on this policy. Trust me on this.

Employee problems:
If you have a manager that keeps the customers stirred up all the time, a builder that can't build or installers that are butchers, you can expect customer complaints. If your employees have a bad attitude, you are going to have customers with a bad attitude. If you have employees late for work or employees missing work, you are never going to meet your production needs and that leads to customer complaints. You must understand that if you allow these things to happen you are the enabler at the shop and you are as responsible for customer complaints as the manager, builder or installer.

The solution is to develop a long term recruiting strategy for your shop so that you will be able to find replacements for these problem employees when this happens to you. Also, you must make a commitment to training and set a high priority for customer satisfaction.

Lack of communication:
The unenlightened managers do not keep their customers informed about the repair taking place on their car at the shop. I think this is the number two factor in regard to customer complaints. The average managers mind set is, "If they don't call me, I ain't calling them". It's funny. Those same guys call the customer relentlessly when they are trying to sell the job or are trying to collect the money when the job is done. But, between the time they sell it, and the time comes to collect it, it is easier for the customer to get the Governor on the phone, than it is to get the manager on the phone in charge of his transmission repair. This is especially true if the customers car is back in for warranty repairs. Also, have you noticed with these managers, the phone rings all day long? All day long.

The solution is to call every customer every morning and tell him what's going on with his car and tell him when he can expect to get his car back. Money jobs or warranty. Call them all everyday so they can make transportation plans. Don't wait for them to call you. It makes them mad if they constantly have to call you to find out when they are going to get their car back. TIP: Always blame delays on parts. Never your employees. Be realistic and always say " If we don't have any problems, your car will be ready....." Give yourself some room.

If you call them all in the morning, the customers appreciate your call and you get all your customer complaints for the day out of the way. That way, the rest of the day you can concentrate on sales and production without so many interruptions.

How you run your shop and spend your money is your business. Your definition of service may be different than mine. But, no matter who you are, you still have to fix the car. Guy's, I have tried to trick the system every way from Sunday and I will tell you this: By following proven procedures and using a little common sense, you will have fewer customer complaints than you will trying "new innovations" to beat the game. Know this, when the smoke clears, you will spend more time and money fixing the car after dealing with the customer, the judge, the tow truck bill, the rent car man and the psychiatrist than you will if you follow my advice.

Most importantly, my friends in the business, customer complaints erode your reputation as a business man. Before you know it, you have developed a bad reputation in the community that will take years of hard work to mend. Take my advice, be lazy and do it right the first time. There is an old saying in Texas " I may be broke when I die but, I ain't going to be tired". Believe me it applies here, think about it and take action. Until next time, take care of each other out there.

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