How to Turn a Bad Review into a Lifelong Customer

Oct. 1, 2017
Virtually every facility in the industry has dealt with a customer seemingly intent on smearing your good name. How can you evade such damaging blows? Here's a game plan that goes beyond simple steps like monitoring online reviews.

When James Vento speaks, his energy is apparent. The parts and service director at Earnhardt Toyota in Mesa, Ariz., clearly loves his job.

Of course, the occasional conversation with a displeased customer can feel like “a punch in the mouth,” Vento says. Even worse, that client might leave an online review that stings.

“You get a review, and it’s like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’” Vento notes. “I explained everything, I was right there with the out-the-door price, I beat my promised time. I can’t believe this guy’s upset.”

Virtually every facility in the industry has been there, dealing with a customer seemingly intent on smearing your good name. How can you evade such damaging blows? Fixed Ops Business spoke with a pair of industry veterans to provide you with a game plan that goes beyond simple steps like monitoring online reviews.

UPSET CUSTOMER SAYS: “No one gave me the time of day at that dealership!”
YOUR POSSIBLE RESPONSE: Bill Maki, the general manager at Westbrook (Conn.) Honda, says it’s of utmost importance to reach out to an upset customer as quickly as possible.

“Contact the customer and address their concern,” says Maki, whose employer boasts CSI scores in the 90s. Take “responsibility, apologizing, and let them know that it’s our policy to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to achieve, or at least meet, or exceed customer expectations.”

UPSET CUSTOMER SAYS: “This price is ridiculous. I’m taking my business elsewhere.”
YOUR POSSIBLE RESPONSE: Vento says that as soon as your experience any kind of pushback from a customer, it’s time to be proactive.

He says it’s important not to brush off criticism, even if an upset customer is unlikely to ever visit your facility again. Because, he notes, every customer is invaluable, due to their potential for spouting reviews of your business.

“We will cut and slash to save a big job, but people do defect for cheaper, non-OE parts, and cheaper labor,” Vento notes. “We combat that with bringing up the value of ‘keeping your Toyota a Toyota,’ with OE parts, factory-certified technicians, and all the dealer amenities.”

UPSET CUSTOMER SAYS: “The repair took frustratingly long, despite the fact I had an appointment!”  
YOUR POSSIBLE RESPONSE: “We explain appointment time is to meet the advisor, and then set customers’ expectations from there,” Vento says. “With express maintenance, we quote one hour for service without wash, and add time for a wash if they so choose.

“I respond to this challenge by having the right amount of support staff to handle whatever comes at us.”

Additionally, Vento says such uncomfortable customer experiences can sometimes be defused by arranging for alternate transportation for the client, until the vehicle is properly repaired.

UPSET CUSTOMER SAYS: “Who can I speak to about my poorly done repair?”  
YOUR POSSIBLE RESPONSE: “It has to be the department manager; it’s their watch. I think they’ve got to be accountable,” says Maki, a 25-year industry veteran who has held several operations positions. “I think the customer wants to hear from somebody in a position of authority.”

Maki suggests speaking with compassion and concern when addressing upset customers, and typically refunding the money for the service they’re disappointed with.

UPSET CUSTOMER SAYS: “Why did you give me a multi-point inspection?! I don’t remember asking for that … ”  
YOUR POSSIBLE RESPONSE: “You’ve got to reiterate that is was only for their safety that you gave them the multi-point inspection,” Vento notes. “Be transparent and say, ‘We’d love to have you come by when you have the opportunity, and let’s put the car up on the rack.’

“‘Let’s show you why you need those brakes, or why you’ve got this leak. … Yeah, maybe the

car’s running fine, but these are the things where we see the potential that it could be problematic.’”

Ultimately, Vento notes that some irate customers are “just not saveable. But you’ve got to do your best, so that you can sleep at night, knowing that you went above and beyond.”

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