Don't Take It Out On The Customer


NO RACER BACKS OFF ON THE LAST LAP, right? Then why do so service departments start strong but finish weak when repairs go longer than expected?

I had such an experience with a granite countertop company. It botched the order in just about every way possible. Hey, I kept my cool, but when I spoke with the owner he acted like it was my fault. Then, after four months of messing around with what should have been a four-week project, the company sent me a bill that was way higher than the written estimate. So I sent them a letter that outlined the many ways their store screwed up — and guess what? They apologized and knocked $500 off of my final bill. I'm sure they thought their apology and price reduction patched things up, but you know what? The damage was done. They insulted me after making multiple mistakes. I'll never dobusiness with them again.

When challenged with a tough mechanical or electrical problem, we may not finish strong when it means the most. We start off by promising to identify and fix the problem quickly, but when the going gets rough — like after several unsuccessful attempts to repair it — we get annoyed and lose our cool with the customer. I know; I've done it, and it made matters worse, not better.

When bikes go bad everyone is affected, especially the service writer who gets it from all directions. The customer is pissed the bike is still messed up, the tech whines about working on the POS one more time, and the service manager wants the bike out done so the shop can start making money again.

But don't take it out on the customer, whose patience is already paper-thin. Our bad behavior can push customers over the edge. At some point we'll figure out the problem, but after we insult customers they'll never trust us again — and they may do their best to ruin our reputation. Inextreme situations they may sue, or they may try to give the bike back using the state's lemon law as a weapon.

The customer comes first, but the store is foremost. That means we should treat the customer in a manner that always maintains our good reputation and builds customer loyalty. We need to finish strong, even when it's painful.


Reduce the opportunity for disaster. Don't take in bikes that look like trouble. If it's out of warranty and you don't desperately need the work, send it to another shop. When I was in the biz I knew a couple of shops that would work on just about anything. When confronted with a problem bike I doubled the estimate in my mind and told the customer something like, "I want to do what's right for you, so I have to warn you this repair could cost up to $XXXX. That's a lot of cash, so I recommend a guy down the street who operates with less overhead who can save you some money." If the customer still wanted us to do the work I had at least covered the cost of what could be a lengthy diagnosis and repair. (Tip: Always get half the estimate up front for problem bikes. Otherwise risk sitting on a big repair bill the customer can't pay.)

Put on your detective hat when checking in the bike. Ask what the symptom sounds or feels like, how the bike is being ridden when it happens and what type of road surface it's being ridden on. Write this on the RO prefaced with the words, "Customer says ... "

If the tech assigned to the job can't verify the symptom, have another tech ride it. There's no sense in performing tests or throwing parts at it if you don't know exactly where to start.

After the first misdiagnosis, hold a meeting to discuss what you know so far — thesymptoms, the tests performed and any repairs made. A discussion with other techs may lead to the answer. At the least, it's a good training experience. And don't forget to contact other shops to see whether they've experienced a similar problem.

Research your factory literature and call your factory service rep. Your factory is a clearing house for technical information and it may have the answer. This is especially important if the vehicle is under warranty. Most states have a lemon law that gives you limited time or a limited number of attempts to fix the problem.


Be a good role model by empathizing with your customer's feelings. Say something like, "I know this is a difficult situation for you. You don't have your bike and that's very frustrating. It's been tough on us, too. But we won't give up if you won't. Let me review what we've done so far [insert the tests, repairs and service calls made at this point] and what we plan to do next. ... Can I rely on you to be patient and understanding if we are?"

Be persistent. Someone once told me Sylvester Stallone pitched his screenplay for Rocky more than 300 times before a studio accepted it. I've never heard of a bike being in for the same problem that many times, so you're way ahead of Hollywood. Now get back to work with a smile on your face, and finish strong.

Dave Koshollek teaches sales and service classes for dealers. Contact him at, or via