Deciding when it's appropriate to not give the customer what they want

Jan. 1, 2020
We've taken a more flexible, customer-oriented approach recently as trends have led to more customer-pay work.

Twenty years ago when I was our shop's lone estimator, I definitely avoided providing the partial repairs customers might ask for, or really anything less than top-of-the-line work.

Camille Eber

My thinking was this: Say that a customer who was paying for repairs themselves wanted to save some money by having us skip blending the color into the next panel. That customer might be fine with that, even if we told them upfront there might be a slightly noticeable color variation between the two panels. But what happens when his neighbor notices the less than perfect color match and asks who did the work? Wouldn't that put our reputation at risk?

The same held true for parts. I worked hard to convince every customer that OEM parts were the only way to go, and we used virtually no non-OEM parts, even if they were "certified" and even if the customer would have been fine with perhaps a less-than-ideal fit of the parts.

We've definitely taken a more flexible, customer-oriented approach in recent years, both as my nephew (who is great with customers) has increasingly played a role in the front office, and as various trends have led to a lot more customer-pay work and drivers looking to reduce their costs.

If a customer paying for his own repairs is okay with us using a non-OEM sheet metal fender, for example, even after we explain that the fit may not be as good as OEM parts, it's something we're more likely to consider.

If a customer is willing to live with a scuff on a bumper cover and his insurer is willing to give him an appearance allowance for it, we'll let that damage leave unrepaired.

Want us to skip the blending? Okay, as long as you understand the color match could potentially be less than ideal.

Could it hurt our reputation having our company name attached to that less-than-top-level job? Yes, it might. But we also think that customer might well tell that neighbor who asks that he asked us for less-costly options, so he is fine with less than top-quality results. He might tell others about us because we were flexible and able to meet his needs. Before, these types of customers were going elsewhere and getting work done how they wanted it. Now that is business that's not going to another shop.

Clearly there are some limits to what we will agree to when it comes to customer requests. We're not going to let a vehicle leave our shop with unrepaired suspension damage that could make a vehicle potentially dangerous to drive. We're not ever going to forego replacing an airbag. We're not going to put on a part that is apt to affect the vehicle's safety or performance. We're not going to be involved in anything even bordering on insurance fraud.

But if there are cosmetic aspects of a job that a customer who is paying for his own work chooses to skip – even after we've educated him or her about the outcomes of that decision – we're more willing than we used to be to provide what he's looking for.

This is a topic we've discussed a lot both internally and among shop owners and managers in several groups in which we belong. There are strong opinions on both sides. I can see the validity of arguments for and against.

That's why I'd like to open the discussion further. Share your thoughts. How do you handle such things at your shop? Post your comments on this article online, in the AutoPro Workshop community or send me an email at [email protected].