NONE OF US would be in business without customers. But sometimes, there's a fine line between "The customer is always right" and "The customer is a freaking idiot."
When I first opened in 1996, it was as if I'd opened the floodgates for all local problem customers. It took me years to realize that many of these first customers were those not welcome anywhere else. They were kicked out of or pissed off at other local shops and had come to me as a last resort. These are the cats who want discounts on everything but still bitch about every dollar spent.
Many tried (and some succeeded) to take advantage of me, especially in the service department. I was so green that I allowed it to happen time after time. A guy would come in and say, "Hey Rick, that scratch wasn't on my gas tank when I brought the bike in," or "Ya'll chipped the chrome on my rear wheel because that chip wasn't there before." Being young and eager to please, I would take care of it on my nickel. Man, was I naïve and stupid back then.
I finally made it policy for my service writers to inspect each bike that came in for service and note any and all dents, scratches and chips on the initial repair order, which the customer must acknowledge and sign. One time, a customer picking up his bike claimed that we put a deep scratch in the chrome on his inner primary. I told him that I would check into it and if we did, I would fix it. Sure enough, my service writer (God bless him) had noted the scratch on the R.O. when the customer dropped the bike off. I showed this (and his signature) to the customer and he replied (with a big shit-eating grin) "Oh well, you can't blame a guy for trying, can ya Rick?"
It also took time to realize that I don't always need to discount my prices to get people's business. I believe that quality service comes at a quality price. I'm gonna give my customer first-class service, but I'm also gonna charge them accordingly. Thank God I have lots of wonderful, loyal customers who know we are worth the expense. These customers may be very demanding but they spend plenty of bread and they rarely complain about the bill.
On the other hand, some customers are the screaming, yelling type. They will bitch and moan until they get the best price or the free service. I hate this tactic, but it usually works. All my employees give customers the benefit of the doubt and if I suspect that a customer is pulling a fast one, but I'm not 100 percent sure, I go with the customer. But, if I know that a customer is intentionally trying to screw me, I will be as nice as possible and let them know that we don't play that game here at Strokers. Sometimes I think about shooting the bastards, but the state of Texas outlawed that last year.
I will do everything possible to make an unhappy customer happy, as long as they have a legitimate complaint. Unfortunately, customers can use the Internet to broadcast an unlimited number of complaints — and we all know how mouthy someone gets when he is unhappy. Within minutes of leaving your shop, a pissed-off customer can spread his tale of woe across myriad blogs and forums, even if none of it is true.
Recently a cat got on a popular biker forum and told the world that he's known me since before high school. He said I was an asshole then and I'm an asshole now, but that he's a customer of Strokers in spite of not liking me. I checked out his profile and realized I had never even heard of him. So I called him.
He was dumbfounded when I said, "Hey Jimmy, this is Rick Fairless and I want to talk to you about the post you made on the Biker Forum." I think he pissed his panties! When I confronted him with parts of his post, he struggled to defend himself, blaming his roommate for making the claims, and eventually admitted the whole thing was a lie. That's the problem — people can say whatever they want these days and hide behind their computer and a generic username.
To cut down on unhappy customers, we do our best to avoid problems before they happen. For instance, if a guy brings up a worn-out old Ironhead to my shop, I won't work on it. Most of those old bikes have had 14 different owners and have been worked on by 205 different people. I learned the hard way that even if you plan on doing something simple, there are always many, many other problems that are exposed at the same time and the customer doesn't want to fix them because he doesn't have the money. I won't allow my service department to cut corners. If the customer wants a half-ass job, they can take their junk down the road to the storage unit mechanic.
If I turn away the bike from the beginning, it saves me a lot of headaches down the road and probably saves me a good deal of money, too! I may lose one bike from one customer, but sometimes it's worth it.
Basically, customers run hot and cold, good and bad, horrible and worse. It's our job to take good care of the good ones, weed out the bad ones and tell the real crummy ones to take a hike.
Rick Fairless is the owner of Strokers Dallas (a Top 100 dealer), Strokers IceHouse and Strokers Ink.