Dealing with customer complaints

How a business deals with customer complaints should positively reflect its overall attitude to customers, and leave them feeling valued

By Andy Savva |

Published:  19 March, 2020

Running any business, and perhaps more so a service business like an independent garage, you have to learn to recognise there are different types of customers with different expectations.    
How we deal and adapt our services, the customer journey to meet and exceed these expectations are essential if we are going to succeed in having a healthy profitable business. This function must be adopted by everyone in your garage regardless of size.
Occasionally however, we are faced with challenging customers who complain, usually in a passive aggressive manner. These customers feel they have a reason to be upset. I always used to say to my team at Brunswick Garage, that there will always be a small percentage of customers that we will never be able to please, and importantly we must not let these handful of customers taint our view of all customers. When you find yourself having to deal with a disgruntled customer, remembering a few simple techniques can help to defuse the situation. Both parties being upset and defensive will not amount to anything positive.

In my experience running independent garages, I came to the realisation that in virtually every case of an unhappy customer, all that was needed to resolve the customer concern was to listen to the customer, or recognise actually they weren’t being listened to.
The customer isn’t always right, but it’s not always okay to tell them that, sometimes you have to act as if they are right. Active listening, eye contact, nodding your head in agreement, being on the same level with them, expressing empathy, and relating to how the customer is feeling can be incredibly helpful. Remember to place yourself in the customer’s position or frame of mind and never patronise a customer or look for excuses. We are working in an industry where many aspects of the customer journey have to come together from the initial phone call to returning the customers vehicle keys, so we have to accept that sometimes things go wrong however much we try to avoid mistakes.

Once you have been able to establish some rapport, you may find a mutually agreeable resolution to the problem, and you must do whatever you can to achieve this outcome. Explain to the customer what you are going to do to help the situation. It could be engaging the customer in a test drive to better understand the complaint, admitting the garage made a mistake, or if possible, offering the customer a lift back home, work or a loan vehicle while you resolve their issue. You must assure at all times the customer feels that you are truly trying your best to resolve their concern and provide them with the least convenience as possible.
Research indicates that customers prefer the person they are speaking with to instantly solve their problem. However sometimes complaints have to be moved up the chain of command, but make sure they don’t add to the customer's frustration. So, wherever possible, resolve the issue yourself. This has the added advantage of demonstrating to those senior to you that you are willing to manage difficult situations yourself without resorting to escalation.
If you really can’t solve the customers concerns, take ownership of the issue and ensure that the complaint is effectively escalated and that you follow up to see what the outcome is.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you say you are going to do something, you should always do it. Don’t be tempted to tell customers that someone will get in touch with them in an hour when they might not get a call for a few hours. The customer won’t thank you for it in the long run. Always be sure you can meet the promise you make.

Many of us have worked in the automotive sector for so long we forget what it is like to bring our vehicle for repair. Knowing what your competition is doing can also pay dividends in other ways too. It can help you set yourself apart by creating a business experience, an atmosphere that is different from any other garage locally and far beyond.
Keeping perspective when it comes to the customer experience will help you to create a positive customer experience and maintain a solid customer base. At Brunswick Garage we were of course never happy to receive complaints, however we used it as a prompt to better our service and if a customer made the effort to write or email us with a concern, we displayed their comments in reception with the thank you letters. We wanted to show our customers that we were not perfect, but also show them we took complaints very seriously and we always aimed at achieving a positive outcome. Learning to handle challenging customers will build respect for your business and ultimately result in higher customer retention and profits.

When we receive complaints, we often look upon them in a negative way. However, complaints can be really useful to any garage and although it doesn’t feel like it at the time, the complaint is extremely positive in that it helps highlight problems with our service and procedures.
The alternative to receiving customer complaints is not receiving them and carrying on just the way we are, oblivious the negative impact our actions are having on customers who perhaps won’t return or will be complaining to their friends rather than to us. This is extremely damaging as we never get the chance to put right the errors that we don’t hear about. It’s a bit of a cliché, but complaints really are a gift.

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