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Resolving Customer Complaints

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Not long ago, we had three of our customers calling their insurance agents because they were not happy with us. We had only had one instance like this in the entire previous year, and suddenly we had these three in one week. It was unacceptable. It was a wake-up call.

In these situations, we have a choice in how we respond. We can play the victim and complain about how our customers can be a real pain, or we can look inward and see if we might be able to change something that would help our shops grow. In this case, we decided on the second option and started asking what we could do differently to provide better care for our customers.

First, I had to know: What went wrong?

Off the top of my head I came up with a few reasons why this may have happened:

  1. The customers felt like they couldn’t get through to us. Oh, we would answer the phone and listen to them but they weren’t feeling heard.
  2. They were no longer confident we were committed to resolving their issue, so they had to “go over our heads.”
  3. There was no clear point person to talk to. They perceived an absence of leadership. The managers would not bother the owner with it and the owner (that’s me) was not available at the time of the concern. In essence, I wasn’t available and the managers weren’t empowered to resolve the issue.
  4. They were negative, whiny people who are never happy or satisfied and always feel victimized no matter what the situation.
  5. The customers were having really bad days and we got the brunt of their frustration.

Now, only so many of the things above can be controlled, but we better do a good job of controlling the things we can, because typically if two or three of the above elements are in play at one time, it will turn ugly.

Most of the issues in this situation turned out to be simple quality control issues that could have been easily managed or avoided with a little extra effort. We decided to implement a couple of extra measures to make sure problems didn’t happen again. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. During our quality control checks, we try to see the car through the customer’s eyes. We may see the incredible structural repair and flawless paint job, but what the customer sees first is dust on the car seat that we forgot to vacuum. Turns out lots of kids are allergic to dust and mothers can be very protective (duh!). They probably will never fully appreciate the structural perfection or lack of fish eyes in the paint because all they want is to get their kid to ballet rehearsal without a coughing fit.
  2. Double up staff on the quality control checklist. Have two people go over each car. Everyone sees things a little differently, so four eyes are better than two. This could be an estimator and detailer or a manager and estimator, or any other combination. If two people go over it, the odds of catching something are much greater.
  3. Have only one person per file and customer who is responsible for listening to and caring for their concerns. If there are multiple file handlers then no one “owns” it. This doesn’t mean multiple people can’t be involved in each file but one person is ultimately responsible for seeing the job through.
  4. Empower the managers to make customers happy. For us this translates to $200. If $200 can make the problem go away (and it’s surprising how often that is the case!), they are allowed to make that call. Often this will involve paying a couple days rental when someone is paying out of pocket or offering to detail the exterior for free. I have learned that the vast majority of customer concerns go away for well under $100. When we’re doing jobs in the $2000 to $15,000 range, that is a small concession to make someone happy and earn their referrals and repeat business.
  5. Be proactive, not reactive. If you sense someone is unpleasable and treating your shop unfairly even after attempting to help them, then call the agent (or other referral source) before they do. This proactive stance assures the agent that you really want to resolve the issue and have made attempts to do so. Trust me, they are well aware that some clients are completely unreasonable. They have been there, too.
  6. After you’ve made reasonable attempts to satisfy them, don’t be afraid to fire customers. My dad taught me that 20 percent of your customers will cause 80 percent of your headaches. So get rid of them and focus on those who appreciate what you do and trust you completely. Chronic complainers get charged a premium for the extra hassle and work they create. They can either pay it or take the work elsewhere.

What wake-up calls have you encountered lately and how is it driving you to improve?

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