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Keeping Customers Happy at the Heat Farm

by Art Little

Transmission Digest Magazine
This article appeared in the January 2014 issue of Transmission Digest.

Customer at the point of sale: When will it be ready? Manager: Noon tomorrow.

I had a manager that worked for me that got so wrapped up in the sale that he would say anything to close the sale. Everything would be ready tomorrow at noon with him. No matter what it was or when you asked him. He used the noon delivery time as a crutch to sell and as a stock answer to buy time after the sale. Needless to say, his shop was blown up all the time.

I have walked into shops that were heat farms most of my career. Shops where you could cut the tension in the air with a knife. Mad customers. Owners pointing fingers at the manager. Managers pointing fingers at employees. Employees pointing their fingers back at management. One ego clashing with another. My goal some days was to just get out of there without getting beat up by an employee or a customer. For real.

How does that happen? How does it get to that point? Usually , it is because we get behind in production. Maybe because a burst of sales has exceeded what we can produce or there is a nightmare car in the shop that has eaten our lunch and dinner. We may have an employee on vacation or someone is sick. Maybe we hired a new manager or tech and they are not working out. There is a never ending list of things that can go wrong and get production backed up.

At these times we have to remain calm and remember that all shops fall behind at one time or another . It is normal. Falling behind just comes with the territory. When production gets backed up, the delay is going to create some issues with the customers and the situation can turn the shop into a heat farm pretty quick if we let it. It is in these times a customer complaint turns into a lawsuit if we don't play our cards right. How successful we are at avoiding lawsuits and achieving one hundred percent customer satisfaction all depends on how we handle the customer and the way we plan work flow.

What we see in these situations is the customers are basically upset because their vehicle was not finished when they were told it would be finished. That's the bottom line. This has caused them to lose confidence in the shop. Put yourself in their shoes. It is a terrible inconvenience to be without transportation. No telling what they had to do to get the money to pay for the repair. They have trusted us to fix their vehicle on a delivery date that we set for their repair and it is still not fixed. They have had to arrange transportation for themselves to get to and from work, school, the grocery store etc.. on top of paying for the transmission repair. And now, when they think their transportation problems are over, they find themselves having to arrange transportation again.

Sometimes, to gain control, we just need set up a new workflow order. We will want to begin by reevaluating each customers temperature and organizing them into a hot, medium or cold category in an effort to establish a work order. We need to prioritize and number the order of the repairs,1,2,3 etc... to be performed , so that we can estimate delivery dates. The squeaky wheel gets the grease in most cases so plan accordingly. The name of the game here is to stay focused on the heat cases so they do not escalate. Now, is the time to plan workflow carefully and make sure we do not over promise. Be realistic when we set the new delivery dates for the customers.

With our new workflow plan in hand now, it is time to man up and call the customers. Don't wait for them to call. We have to work on getting their confidence back during the rest of the repair process so that we can deliver the vehicle to a happy customer. It's not easy but, it can be done. The biggest mistake we can make is to hide from the customer and become unavailable. The second biggest mistake is to get into an argument .Remember to never blame delays on the techs and never promise a specific time of day it will be ready. Keep the conversations short and to the point.

It is our goal to buy enough time with the customer for the shop to complete the repair and to give ourselves a little room if we don't. We do that by explaining to the customer that a projected delivery date is a best case scenario . It is an estimated time frame that requires everything to go well with no delays. Explain that " if everything goes well...Friday but, If there is a problem, I will call you immediately." It is our responsibility to give the customer a realistic delivery date so the customer can plan for his transportation. It is also our responsibility to immediately let him know if there is another unexpected delay so he can replan his transportation. If we deliver the vehicle on the new delivery date, it will go a long way in our efforts to mend our relationship with a customer that had lost confidence. That is why we need to give ourselves plenty of time when we reschedule. We need to keep that date.

When we call to let the customers know their new projected delivery date, we do not get into technical discussions. We tell them we are sorry for the delay and that the technicians have everything under control. We let them vent. We extend warranty or give a free oil change to prove we are sorry if we think it is appropriate. Since transportation is the biggest problem for our customers, we want to do everything we can to help the customer find transportation. If they need a rental car we can refer him to a local dealer or maybe get them a taxi ride or take him home on the next road test. In extreme cases where we have really messed up, we provide them with a rental car or invite the customer to the shop and discuss it face to face. We do what we need to do to satisfy the customer when the shop is running behind so the problem does not escalate.

Remember, the customer is a potential lawsuit during these times. We need to weigh every action we take now. We should make decisions based on what we would like to tell the judge when we are standing in front of him because, we might get that opportunity. The customer is upset because it is inconvenient for him to be without his vehicle. We want to do everything we can to minimize that problem. That also means a lot to the customer when we are trying to earn back his trust.

Once we have set a workflow order and notified all of our customers , consistent communication with the customers should be our top priority. It is good policy to call the heat cases every morning and give them a production report. If there is a glitch in the workflow we want to notify the customer immediately if there is going to be another delay. We want to show that we respect our customers situation. We want communication lines open.The good news is, nowadays that is pretty easy to do. Our website should answer the most common questions customers have . There should also be contact information there that allows the customer several ways to communicate with us 24/7 .

Technology has made it easier for us to communicate with our customers..Customers are easier to contact nowadays. Smartphones have changed the game. We can easily send a text or email back and forth to our customers without having to call where they work. We can even use video on our smartphones to help make a point to our customers that cannot come to the shop. Some apps even automatically send text notices to customers each time their repair progresses to the next stage of repair and takes that duty off the manager.

Car delivery is the best time for us to win the customer back. This is when it helps to have a good personality. We keep it friendly and positive. We perform a proper car delivery and when it is over , ask if the customer is satisfied with the work . When the customer says yes, we shake his hand and thank him for being patient during the repair. Now is the time we use our charming personality and make friends with the customer before he leaves. And, to assure customer satisfaction after the vehicle is delivered, we will want to follow up with the customer a few days later to solidify our friendship.

We do not want to deliver the vehicle back to the customer until the customer says he is satisfied. If the customer is not satisfied, we have to do something to resolve the problem before the customer takes delivery. This is our last chance to do what has to be done to resolve all issues with the customer. Again, the lawsuit does not leave just because we delivered the vehicle. If he is not satisfied, now is the time to find that out and resolve the problem.

In closing, I would like to remind you that we can't quit selling when the shop gets behind. The shop has bills to pay even though the production at the shop is backed up. I have found that managers have different quitting levels when the shop turns into a heat farm. Some managers just immediately quit selling until the heat clears out. Others figure out how to continue to sell some of the easy leads. Everyone has their own comfort zone. The great managers have a way of getting all the sales made to incoming customers , satisfying all the existing customers and ....they don't promise the work out at noon tomorrow.

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