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Customer complaints, pt. 2

by Art Little

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

As long as you are in business you are going to have customer complaints. They never end. That's the way it is in any business. We hear customers complain about their transmission repairs the first time we talk to them and it continues for some, until the day they die. We've all heard this, Customer: " Back in 1992, I had to put a transmission in that 85 Ford 3 times!" You want to say, "That was 10 years ago pal, let it go. We didn't even work on the Ford", but you can't say that. Because, it is important to accept the fact that if you are in the transmission business, you are going to have customer complaints. All you have to do to qualify is open the doors. How you handle them is what separates the heat farms from the professional shops. Warranty complaints are where most complaints come from so let's start there.

First of all, it is critical that you have a positive and good attitude toward your warranty customers. Be courteous to them. Understand, they have had their car there before and have waited to get it back. They have already paid for a repair that is not repaired. Part of what they paid for is warranty work if needed. Let them vent their problem to you without interruption. Then, do your job, fix their car and be nice about it. If you have a bad attitude the customer will have a bad attitude. Why make your job harder than it already is by getting started off on the wrong foot? Warranty repairs come with the dinner. The biggest mistake you can make is to act like it is a burden on you.

Say you are sorry they are having a problem. It's a little thing but, it means a lot to the customer. They bought the transmission from you, more than likely because they liked and trusted you. So, don't let them down. Don't loose what you worked so hard to gain in the sale by not showing them the same attention you showed during the sale. A good way to start off is by apologizing for any inconvenience they are now experiencing and reassure them that their warranty is good and that you are going to take care of them.

Never try to diagnose the problem over the phone. The fact is that most warranty work does not require you to remove the transmission and it may not even be a transmission problem. When they call, show concern and ask them to bring you the car right away so you can check it out for them. Remember, if it is an internal transmission problem, you have to buy parts again. The sooner they bring it in, the less you spend on parts. The biggest mistake you can make is to say it doesn't sound like a transmission problem to me. Don't do that even if it doesn't sound like a transmission problem to you. Get the car in ASAP.

When the car arrives make out a new repair order so you can document the repair. Do it every time the car comes back. This practice will help you diagnose and help you deal with the customer if he has future complaints. How many times have we heard " It's doing the same thing it was before I brought it to you"? This is a paper trail you can go back to when you hear that and show the customer that he is mistaken. Also, if you have changed builders since the last repair, this information will help the new builder accurately diagnose the problem. If you have to go to court, the repair orders show the judge you have been diligent in trying to repair the vehicle and helps to take the guess work out of his decision. Very few customers document the repairs made on their transmission and this will give you an advantage if it gets to court.

Listen to the customer complaint and write down exactly what he says. Repeat it to him and ask him if that is correct and if there is anything else. The biggest mistake you can make is to write down what you think the problem is, based on what he said. Don't do that. Ask him "exactly what is the problem"? Write down every thing he says word for word as he tells you what the problem is before you go test drive the car.

Make time to test drive the car with the customer when he brings it in and make sure you understand exactly what he is complaining about. Ask him "is that what you are talking about?" Confirm it with him in the car with you. Not listening and understanding what the customer complaint is will cost you time, money and your reputation. Do not let the customer go until you have a clear understanding of exactly what his complaint is. Most of the time others will be working on the repair and it is critical that you can explain to them exactly what the customers complaint is. Once a complete diagnosis has been performed make your recommendation to the customer.

Whatever it turns out to be, stay in touch with the customer and keep him informed on the repair. Like I said before he has already paid his money and had his car tied up for several days and he should be shown some consideration and be put ahead of other customers if at all possible. I live in the real world and understand you have to make pay roll and production decisions have to be made. But, you are wise to get the warranty work out of the shop as soon as you possibly can. The main thing to remember is to keep the warranty customer informed and make sure he does not feel neglected.

If it is not a transmission problem ask the customer to come into the shop. Do not discuss the repair over the phone. Take the time to explain your findings and why you do not think it is not transmission related. Make sure you explain it to him in terms he will understand. Ask him if he understands. If he says he does and you don't think he does, break it down for him again and make sure he understands that you are not just trying to get rid of him.

If it is not a transmission related problem, make sure you have a reputable shop to send him to that you have a good relationship with. Make an appointment for him over there. The customer will appreciate the fact that you are not sending him back out into the cold to find someone to fix his car. Another benefit is that you may have misdiagnosed it and it turns out to be a transmission problem after all. Many times once one obvious non-transmission related problem is repaired a transmission problem will surface. It is better to get that call from the shop you sent him to than from the customer who has taken it to a garage of his choice. You keep control of the repair if you use this technique. Also, ask the other shop to call you when it is fixed. When they call, as soon as you hang up, call the customer and let him know you have talked to the other shop and they have repaired his vehicle. It shows the customer you care and that you will go the extra mile for him.

If it is a transmission problem then give the customer a time frame to work with so he can arrange his transportation. Be realistic so you don't have to make time excuses to him later. It is better to buy your time at this point than later. If you get it fixed ahead of time you are a hero. If you can fix it while he waits, do it. If not, send him home but, before he leaves take the time to tell him you are sorry he is having a problem again and reassure him his warranty is good and you are going to take care of him. That's very important.

I was trained not to tell the customer what is wrong with the transmission when it comes in for warranty. I was taught to say that I really don't know but the problem is covered under his warranty and not to worry about it. The theory is the less they know, the better and for the most part I agree. However, when my customer pushes me after I tell him that, I will invite him down to the shop if he is not already there and go into as much detail as he wants to. He deserves to know and it let's him know I am on the ball and eases his mind. Most of the time they don't come but if they do, take the time to show them.

When the complaint gets out of the shop and into the hands of a consumer agency it graduates to phase two and requires a strategy to handle that type of complaint. It starts with a letter addressed to you and asks for a reply. I was taught to respond to the letter with a letter and hope the problem goes away. However, I like to call the customer before I write the letter and I will tell you why. I want the personal touch put back into handling the complaint and see if I can take care of the problem before I write the response letter. I have had success with this approach because most of the time it is not a big deal and the customer knows I am making an honest effort, by calling him, to try and resolve it. Either way I win. If he is satisfied before I write my response letter, The letter to the consumer agency reads a lot better and lets them know I run a reputable repair shop. If it doesn't get resolved, when I write my response letter, I can say I tried to resolve the problem and the customer will not co-operate with me. It makes him look like he is the problem, not me.

If a complaint turns into a law suit then it achieves phase three status and requires a different strategy all together. I'm funny about phase three complaints. If a customer says he is going to sue me, then all communication ends. Right then. I tell him that is his choice if that is what he wants to do and immediately release the car to him if I am working on it. I have found that a lot of times that brings the customer back down to reality and I regain control of the complaint. But, if not, then as the old saying goes "I'll see you in court". Of course you are better off to handle the complaint in the shop instead of court if you can. You do not want to air out your dirty laundry in a public court house. However, there are some people that no matter what you do, they are not going to be satisfied. That is why we have courts to settle disputes instead of going out in the parking lot and settling it with a fist fight like we did in the old days. So, if they want to go to court, end all communication right then. Gather all your repair orders and anything else that will help you and then, go to court.

There are times when the customer is not always right. We do not have to take customer abuse. That includes abusive language and physical confrontations. It is your shop and you deseve to be treated with respect. The proceedure goes a little like this: First, calmly ask him to settle down. If he does not, ask him to leave and to come back when he can compose himself. If he still is going off, call the police and have him removed from the property. It is important to remain calm and take care of business under those guidelines. The biggest mistake you can make is to let it get personal. It is not worth it to get confrontational with your customers. Life is too short. Be nice but, be firm.

As a footnote, never agree to go to a Better Business Bureau Arbitration. That's like phase two and a half. I have never won one. It is like a kangaroo court guy's I'm telling you. You are better off in small claims court. In closing, I hope these suggestions help you handle your customer complaints. If not, you can go to my website or call me and file your complaint. See what I mean? They never end. Until next time, take care of each other out there.

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