Responding to customer complaints is an art, opportunity

Jan. 1, 2020
By apologizing for not meeting a customer's expectations, you are not admitting guilt or agreeing to any particular remedy.

It's the notice no shop owner likes to see: An alert from your customer service indexing (CSI) provider letting you know a customer voiced a complaint. What's your best course of action to respond?

At my business, I would begin by calling the customer to apologize that we didn't meet their expectations. That wording was chosen very carefully. I never apologize for them being unhappy.

Mike Anderson

In business, your job is to make someone satisfied, not happy. If that customer is going through a divorce, their kids are acting up, they lost their job or had a death in the family, they aren't likely to be happy. Remember, they just had a car accident. Your goal is to make them satisfied.

By apologizing for not meeting their expectations, you also are not admitting guilt or agreeing to any particular remedy.

My next question to the customer: What can I do to re-earn your trust? Keep in mind that the most important thing consumers look for when they choose a shop is someone they can trust. You may have lost their trust if they are complaining about their experience. So, I suggest simply asking, "Mr. Jones, what can I do to re-earn your trust?" I have found most of the time what Mr. Jones asks for is pretty reasonable.

I also suggest almost never agreeing to a particular resolution until you have seen the vehicle in person.

We used a simple "complaint resolution" form at my business to help us track complaints and ensure we followed up. Send me an email for a copy of the form. Essentially it asks for the customer and vehicle information, the repair order number and the technicians that worked on the vehicle. The form has a place to explain the basics of the complaint, as well as a place to track what contact was made with the customer and what actions are being taken.

The person filling out the form has to answer if the complaint was resolved to the customer's expectations, and if the customer would refer others to us in the future.

It is the bottom portion of the form that is most important, however. There, the employee completing the form could describe what action the shop could take to prevent the same type of complaint from happening again, including if any coaching of the employees involved was needed and completed.

The "five whys" can sometimes help with this process. Getting to the root of a problem sometimes requires asking "why" five times:

  • Why was Mr. Jones not satisfied with our service? Because his car wasn't ready until a day later than we promised.
  • Why was his car delivered a day late? Because we were waiting for a part.
  • Why wasn't the part here? It didn't get ordered until the car was ready to go.
  • Why didn't it get ordered sooner? It was, but we didn't know until then that we actually had the wrong part.
  • Why didn't we know we had the wrong one? Because we didn't mirror-match when it arrived.

However you address the issue internally, letting the customer know you are doing so can be helpful. Many customers like the idea that not only was their problem resolved, but as a result you also are making an effort to correct what led to that problem.

When I was exchanging emails on this topic with some colleagues in the industry, Robert Rick of Gates Business Solutions brought up a good point. He said that some shops use a CSI service that sends a survey form to the customer, only following up by phone if the survey isn't returned within a certain period. Although this is a good system, one problem is the insurer may contact that customer before the shop has heard about and resolved the customer's complaint. Robert pointed out that getting your CSI provider to the customer more quickly can help your shop avoid this situation.

While no one likes getting customer complaints, they do offer you an opportunity to improve your operation. If handled well, you can turn these customers into some of your shop's biggest fans and spokespersons.

Mike Anderson, a former shop owner, currently operates COLLISIONADVICE.COM, a training and consulting firm. He also acts as a facilitator for DuPont Performance Services' Business Council 20-groups.

If you have a business issue or question you'd like Mike to address, email him. [email protected]