No Questions Asked
The customer is not happy. He hunkers down, examining a scratch on his car that he’s pretty sure wasn’t there when he brought it in for repairs. Frustrated, he motions for an estimator to come over and check it out. The estimator quickly assures the customer they’ll have the scratch removed right away. What, no questions asked? You bet.
This type of scenario is something that never ruffles the feathers of the employees at Kadel’s Auto Body, which is headquartered in Tigard, Ore. For over a decade, the shop has been following a strict No Questions Asked policy—succinctly referred to as NQA—that has given a whole new meaning to customer service and the clichéd phrase, “The customer is always right.” In fact, Kadel’s attributes much of their 97 percent CSI (customer service index) to their dedication to following that philosophy.
SHAPING A COMPANY
Kerry Glass, sales and marketing manager, says the NQA policy stemmed from the company’s belief that most people are truthful. “It was the philosophy of the owners that most people are honest,” he says. “We run on the basis that they believe what they believe because they think that’s the truth. When people come to us and say they don’t think [a scratch or dent] was there before the accident, we say, ‘Fine. No problem. We’ll take care of it.’ We know we’re taken advantage of sometimes, but we don’t want to treat our customers with any doubt in our mind. It’s a philosophical stance that most people are good and don’t take advantage of you.”
NQA is the guiding light of the entire company. “All people have ascribed to this philosophy; it’s a culture we push at Kadel’s,” says Jerry Macken, regional body shop manager.
With 12 locations spread throughout Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, getting all 309 employees on board with the NQA policy involves managers leading by example. “In our system, we have regular management meetings; instilling this culture from the management group flows from top to bottom,” Glass says. “Anytime you deal with an organization, you deal with centralized management, and that’s going to spread culture. That’s how we communicate and set up what our responsibilities are. That’s how you get 300 people on board. It’s always a training process.”
—Jerry Macken, Regional Body Shop Manager, Kadel's Auto Body
Establishing a person’s acceptance—or reluctance—to NQA is something brought up right away in the interview process. “We ask them if they’re interested in what we’re doing,” Macken explains. “We see if they’re going to fit with the Kadel culture. We fail sometimes, but most of the time we get it right. There are 80 estimators in the company, and of the 13 years I’ve been here, less than 1 percent have walked out.”
Incentive is another way of keeping everyone on the same page. “We sit down with our employees every month and go over the CSI,” says Macken, noting that employees are eligible for bonuses based on CSI. The promise of bonuses, plus accountability to and from managers, keeps everyone on the straight and narrow.
Kadel’s also promotes from within more often that not—a technique that further fosters the NQA policy. Employees who are already trained and fully embrace the philosophy are assets to the company. “We don’t hire many managers from the street. Most started in the company so they’re familiar with the culture, and [the policy] is easier to maintain,” Glass explains. “If we hire from the outside, this is one of the things they need to get used to.” He says most prospective managers are familiar with this type of policy, though, so it’s an easy switch.
Beyond being up front in the interview process and promoting from within, Kadel’s also incorporates their NQA policy in writing—it’s even included in the company’s SOP (standard operating procedure). “It’s in our SOP in black-and-white,” Glass says. And, just in case employees somehow skip over that part of the manual, the NQA policy is proudly displayed on the company intranet.
It all seems too good to be true. After all, getting 300 people to all agree one hundred percent of the time? Glass is quick to admit it’s not always a perfect process. “In each of those steps, have we had problems? Absolutely. Are there people out there you can never make happy? Absolutely. Have we had conflict? Yes.”
—Kerry Glass, Sales And Marketing Manager, Kadel's Auto Body
The shop’s approach to conflict is to remove from the situation the employee who is finding it difficult to hold his or her tongue—and to bring in someone who is able to resolve the problem. “We always have a fallback position,” Glass explains. “Front line to manager, manager to corporate. Usually, a manager is brought in if the other person can’t emotionally deal with the situation.”
If a manager often finds it too hard to keep personal opinions to themselves—which doesn’t happen much at the management level, Macken says—they hang their hat and call it a day. “If they can’t get over it, they leave,” Macken says.
And what do they do even if they’re almost proof positive someone is lying? Stick to the policy no matter what. “I experienced that a while ago,” Macken recalls. “The customer dropped off her car and we marked it. She came back and said [some] scratches were bigger than before. Do I think she’s lying? Yeah. But we took care of her.”
Not to say the employees at Kadel’s are gullible. “We’re not stupid when we do an estimate,” Glass says. “We’re walking around the car and taking photographs. Most of the time, the customer is with us. When they drop off the car, we check it. We remind them of what was there. Eternal vigilance is the mark of great customer service.” Glass says being up front with the customer and letting them know what scratches and dents were there beforehand—or which ones weren’t—is a good way to keep people honest.
So far, Kadel’s hasn’t experienced any financial setbacks as a result of the NQA policy. “On a yearly financial basis, we haven’t had any loss,” Macken says. The money—estimators are allowed to fix damages up to $100, and if the repair will cost more they must receive permission from a manager—is not the issue in the end. “We don’t want to lose $100 or $1, but if it makes [customers] happy, that’s all that matters.”
The policy is actually a great PR move. “It’s outstanding for referrals and repeat business,” Macken says. If someone is upset with Kadel’s, though—even after the scratch or dent is repaired—he or she receives a personal call from a manager. “Over the years, maybe 30 people said they’re not coming back, but half did,” Macken recalls.
“We survey three days after the repair,” Glass adds. “If they’re mad, they tell the survey company, the survey company tells us, and a manager calls the person and gets resolution on the problem immediately.”
THE SECRET TO SUCCESS
Kadel’s dogged persistence to resolve any problem pays off. “Across the nation, 14 percent [of people] that go out that door come back for some reason. You know you’re doing well when your return rate is below [that] national average,” Glass says. The company’s largest shop, located in Beaverton, Ore., is at 11 percent right now.
The key to NQA’s success? Measuring. “None of this works unless you can measure it,” Glass claims. “The only way you’re going to get a handle on your customer service, including a NQA-type warranty, is to be able to measure your CSI. [But] it’s more than just measuring CSI, it’s measuring everything CSI offers you. If you’re measuring what your gut feels, you’re going to fail. You need to measure your success. That’s the secret—measuring it.”