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How to Calm an Upset Customer

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In his 25 years in the auto industry, Gerry Rosenbarker has dealt with a frustrated customer or two. His tactic in those situations: kill ‘em with kindness.

Rosenbarker, the longtime manager at Mohawk Collision Center in Scotia, NY, has found that taking a little extra time to explain estimates, for example, can save your facility plenty of grief down the line.

“Being able to have those conversations with a customer, so they really understand, is extremely important,” says Rosenbarker, whose shop boasts a sterling, 98.7 CSI score. “Otherwise, a customer’s just going to glance over an estimate [and say] ‘Why are they charging me for those [items]?”

Rosenbarker typically calms frustrated customers by taking the following measures:


Go Over Estimates Line By Line.

At Mohawk Collision Center, the staff is required to explain estimates thoroughly to customers—no matter how busy the New York shop (average monthly car count: 220) might be. After all, Rosenbarker says, “the customer doesn’t understand how to read an estimate.

“Let’s use a perfect example: Their vehicle is a four-door sedan, and it needs a driver’s door—and only a driver’s door. If you don’t explain to the customer why you’re dropping the front bumper and taking the headlight out that bumps up against the fender, [the customer] thinks you’re going to steal from him. … So, you have to explain why you have to blend into the fender, why you have to drop the bumper away, and that we want to make sure that you have a 100 percent color match.”


Present Estimates Carefully.

Rosenbarker is a believer in under-promising and over-delivering. When Mohawk Collision Center emails a client an estimate, for example, the veteran manager makes sure to keep expectations relatively in check, at least initially.

“If we’re sending an estimate to a customer based off a photo app,” Rosenbarker notes, “we basically have a disclaimer in there that states that we can only write for what we see, and there’s a strong possibility for additional damage.”


In General, Educate Customers.

Ultimately, Rosenbarker has learned, customers want to feel like they have options. They certainly don’t want to be pressured into a decision.

Occasionally Mohawk Collision Center will have a customer that needs work addressed on a front bumper, or a headlight, and they groan at the sight of the estimate, perhaps because they view their vehicle as too old to justify a costly repair.

In those cases, Rosenbarker says, “we give them an option for an aftermarket [part] and we explain what the differences are between an aftermarket headlight and [OEM], and what the differences would be, cost-wise and fit-and-finish-wise, long term. So, we allow them to make that decision.”

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