How to Deal With Difficult Customers

Remain Calm, Explain the Issue and Shrug Off the Negativity

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We’ve all been there....the dreaded angry customer. You know the type: the vehicle owner who thinks he or she is entitled and simply can’t be reasoned with. While the majority of your customers are likely pleasant and reasonable, there are times when you’re faced with some real winners. Here are only two examples passed on to me by shop owners and techs, with encounters that can really get your blood boiling:

“I don’t understand why you’re charging me so much. The engine was simply making a noise. I mean, how much can it cost to fix a simple noise? I want to see the manager.”  This really happened. The customer (a female, in her 40s) brought her husband’s 2002 Ford F350 RWD to a shop to have an “engine noise” fixed. It quickly became obvious that the “noise” was due to a completely devastated left front wheel bearing, where the wheel was about to come off had the truck been driven another mile or so. The damage involved not only the wheel bearing, but the spindle (requiring a complete steering knuckle replacement). In addition, though unrelated to the wheel bearing issue, the caliper had seized up, the brake rotor was trashed and the brake hose was cracked and split.

After being given the repair estimate, the customer had what the tech referred to as a complete meltdown, screaming and throwing a child-like tantrum in the waiting room. After speaking to the actual owner (the woman’s husband), the consent was given for the repair, as the husband appeared to understand the issue. Nonetheless, the woman continued to abuse and threaten the shop staff. She got a ride home with a friend. The husband came in the next day to pick up the truck and apologized for her behavior, remarking that he hardly drives the truck and allows her to use it for her landscaping hobby. His memorable comment was “now you understand why I drink.” Enough said.

Here’s another encounter. A male customer had his beloved 1969 Camaro Z28 flat-bedded to a shop. He had just been at a local car show. Upon starting the engine and “revving it for fun,” the engine began to miss and rattle. While at the shop, he was ranting and raving and would not calm down, repeatedly screaming that “this is the worst day of my life,” even throwing his cell phone across the shop’s parking lot. The issue was simple to diagnose. A press-in rocker stud had loosened, keeping the valve closed and allowing the rocker arm to rattle around. Luckily no bent valve and no bent pushrod. The repair was handled with a screw-in rocker stud and adjusting all valves for lash. By the way, it turns out that his wife had passed away a mere month prior, but this was “the worst day” of his life.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Dealing with difficult customers comes with the territory. While you may be tempted to raise your voice and verbally retaliate, keeping a calm demeanor is imperative. Even when the customer is out of line, let cool heads prevail. While nothing is accomplished by lowering yourself to their level, if word gets around that you “raised your voice,” word of mouth “publicity” can potentially harm your business within your market area.

Remain calm, explain the issue and try your best to shrug off that one person’s negativity. Nobody said running a repair shop is easy.

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