A Paint Complaint Doesn't Have to Mean an Unhappy Customer

A Paint Complaint Doesn't Have to Mean an Unhappy Customer

“The paint on the repaired panels does not match the rest of the car. The shop says it cannot be made to match. I find this impossible to believe.”

These words, an actual comment written by a customer of a U.S. shop, are not exactly what you’d like to see on the comment cards or customer satisfaction indexing (CSI) reports you receive. That’s why it seemed surprising that the shop owner said he was actually pleased when his CSI provider faxed him a copy of the customer’s gripe.

“Yeah, of course, I always dread finding out that we blew it with a customer,” the shop owner, who asked that his name not be used, admits. “But on the other hand, I’m not there in the shop all day, every day, anymore. I might not have known that this woman left so unhappy with us. Because (our CSI provider) lets us know right away about negative comments, I was able to call this lady and let her know that I would be getting this taken care of for her.”

It wasn’t an easy or inexpensive fix. The shop owner said he personally picked up the woman’s car and brought it to the shop to be resprayed.

“On paper, that job was a money-loser, no doubt about it,” he says. “But that woman has actually referred at least two more jobs to us in the couple of months since then. This is someone who left here unhappy, ready to show anyone who’d listen what a lousy job – at least in her mind – we had done, but now she’s telling people how great we are.”

This shop owner’s experience points out that addressing an unhappy customer’s concerns effectively can be every bit as valuable as working to avoid having unhappy customers in the first place. Studies show that if you address a customer’s concern quickly, that customer can become one of your most loyal – even more loyal than someone who left satisfied in the first place.

Here are some general guidelines and tips for customer complaint resolution based on interviews with shop owners.

Skip the excuses. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of trying to explain away problems (“The parts weren’t available,” “We didn’t know about that,” “Our technician missed that”). An explanation later is fine, but it shouldn’t be the starting point. And the explanation should never sound defensive.

“One of my estimators agreed to refund $100 to a customer, but he did it with such a lousy attitude the customer still left unhappy,” one shop owner said. “If you do something for a customer, do it willingly even if you don’t think it’s owed. Don’t do it begrudgingly. Do it with a smile on your face and allow them to feel that you’re doing it because it’s the right thing you do. Either way, you’re out the $100 today, but if you do it right, you’ll keep their business long-term.”

Start with empathy. While an apology is important, it’s critical that the customer also feels that you understand the position they are in.

“I have my staff say something like, ‘Oh, thank you for letting us know about this,’” one shop owner said. “‘I’m sorry for the inconvenience this is causing, but let’s see how we can make this better for you.’”

Decide on a solution. Make a suggestion for a solution and ask, “Fair enough?” Or ask the customer what he feels is fair. In any case, make sure employees have the power to make a decision quickly. One study found that 95 percent of complaining customers will return if their complaint is resolved on the spot, but this percentage plummets if the customer has to wait or jump through any hoops.

Assure them you’re changing. Let them know that not only will their problem be fixed, but that you are taking action to see that similar situations don’t occur in the future.

“Customers like thinking they’ve helped you and future customers,” one shop manager said.

Go beyond resolution. Create a “story” for the customer to tell by fixing the problem in a memorable way. Make another concession they were not expecting. Give or do something extra. The cost of giving something away is usually much less than the cost of losing a customer’s future business and the business of all those he tells his story to.

One shop with three locations in Illinois actually has an amount in its annual budget that office staff can use “to soothe things over with customers.” A customer who brings a car back because of a problem may receive a couple of movie passes or a coffee shop gift certificate they can use at the near-by mall if the shop will need the car for an hour or more.

“If we’ve really blown it, we’ll send them a restaurant gift certificate, particularly if it’s a repeat customer or one referred to us,” the shop owner said.

It’s important, too, to look for trends in the complaints your shop receives in order to make longer-term adjustments and corrections. Getting to the root cause of problems isn’t always easy. One technique that can help you get to the root of a problem is the “five why’s;” you often have to ask “why” at least five times to get to the root of a failure.

Here’s an example:
Why was Mrs. Jones’ not satisfied with our service?
Because her car wasn’t ready until a day later than we promised.
Why was her 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?
Because we didn’t know until then that we actually had the wrong part.
Why didn’t we know we had the wrong one?
Because the technician didn’t check it when it arrived.

After five why’s, you usually begin to see what needs to be fixed. This can be time-consuming, but CSI can help you spot trends, allowing you to focus your attention on the areas that seem to account for the most complaints.

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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