Ask the Expert: Dealing with Unreasonable Customers Part II

Dealing with Unreasonable Customers Part II

When you're fed up with a customer, how exactly do you simply tell them to go away?


We recently followed all preventive processes in a repair, yet when the customer picked up their vehicle, they complained about something we didn’t see as a problem. When we checked the vehicle in, we didn’t see anything that would warrant a conversation. How do you tell that customer to go away?

While preventative measures would be best, we’ve all had those customers who we find difficult or impossible to satisfy regardless of whether their complaints were legitimate or not. Unlike a widget manufacturer, the collision repair industry offers some significant and often costly issues to deal with.

The first goal for any complaint is to resolve it satisfactorily. The actual cause of the complaints may be the result of various issues or occurrences including but not limited to: legitimate concerns; illegitimate claims (whether intentional or not); un-realistic expectations/miscommunications; a bad experience at your shop (someone upset them); having sustained damage by others; the insurer‘s conduct; adverse effects to medication; marital problems; illness; loss of a loved one; and many other physical and/or emotional issues. An annoyed customer may sometimes use the illegitimate complaint to “extract their pound of flesh” as a means of retaliation.

Regardless of the reason, an unhappy customer is still a valuable customer and a potential referral for future business…or not. While the situation and specific issues will often dictate the remedy, here are some suggestions that will fit most situations and hopefully turn your customer into a lifelong cheerleader for you and your company.

  1. Diffuse. When the complaint first arises, you’ll want to diffuse the emotions and situation. Your customer will likely be anticipating an argument and resistance from you. They may be ready for a confrontation and anticipate resistance and denial, so exceed their expectations. Be engaged, listen intently, make eye contact and listen, listen, listen. Show genuine concern for their feelings and issues. Allow the customer to vent. Let them explain and “get it out of their system.” Use neutral body language (not crossed arms, hands on hips, kicked back in a chair or other defensive or “could care less” postures. And don’t look at your watch as if you have more important things to do with your time! Lean into the conversation. Don’t be in a hurry or try to rush the process. Be totally engaged, show concern for their feelings and take notes if appropriate. Ask questions as needed, but only after the customer has expressed their concerns. Do not interrupt them or ask questions that may be perceived as allegations, accusations or arguments.
  2. Appease. Thank them for bringing their concerns to your attention. Let them know that your goal is to seek constant improvement to provide optimum service and quality to your customers and that you can’t fix what you don’t know may be a problem. Apologize to them for the inconvenience and uncertainty and offer your assistance to try and remedy the situation. In the past, I’ve said: ”I apologize …although we try, we’re not perfect… but we want you to be satisfied with our every effort to meet your needs.” Ask the customer what you can do to remedy the situation…and await an answer. Sometimes the customer will let you know the true issue behind their complaint such as a comment made by an employee or they’re angry with the at-fault party who caused their damages, etc. When concerns that are legitimate are handled properly, the customer may choose not to have the issue resolved if it calls for further inconvenience and loss of the vehicle, etc. I’ve had customers state that they just wanted me to be aware of the issue to avoid similar issues from arising in the future. This type of response is generally due to our listening intently, showing genuine concern and offering immediate correction. We were always grateful for this type of customer and may have offered a discount on future work or a free detail in the future to show our appreciation.
  3. Resolution. When possible, seek a solution that will resolve their concern(s). If the concern is legitimate, offer immediate correction while they wait or schedule an appointment as soon as possible: they should appreciate your interest in resolving their concerns quickly. If the concern is questionable, make a decision as to what you can and will do to appease them. What’s the value of a happy customer versus one who’s not and the potential fallout? If the concern is not legitimate, offer your best explanation as to the “cause and effect” and offer a viable correction if available and the cost to make the needed correction(s).
  4. Follow-up. For those situations where a solution was achieved, make a special effort and place a call to your customer to ensure all issues have been resolved to their satisfaction and thank them again for their bringing the issue to your attention. Don’t allow your customer to feel like the “squeaky wheel” and “out of sight, out of mind.” Show that you truly care about them and their satisfaction.
  5. Fallout. The old adage, “The customer is always right,” is just that – an old adage that, on occasion, has little merit. We’ve all had customers who were both unreasonable and impossible to satisfy for whatever reason and who would become a perfect customer for your nearest competitor!

Because today’s internet offers easily accessible reviews, negative reviews are always a potential concern. But short of caving in to extortion, business owners must consider their options. A business owner can, if they wish, submit to extortion but, in doing so, they merely encourage the recipient to continue to extort others. Furthermore, without a plan to defend against it, you’ll remain vulnerable to others with similar unethical intentions.

One must be prepared to respond to the occasional bad review. The best way to do this is to follow the suggestions above and do everything in your power (short of caving in to extortion) to respond and resolve your customer’s concerns.

If you cannot make reason with the customer and their demands and claims are bogus and unreasonable, there are a few things you can do to combat the threat of bad reviews, such as:

  • Document the issues and concerns with plenty of photographs and supporting documentation.
  • Have the involved insurer claim representative inspect and offer their opinion as to the issue (i.e. unrelated, old damage, no issue, unreasonable complaint, etc.).
  • Have a local professional (dealer, another repairer, etc.) inspect and offer their opinion as to the cause (i.e. unrelated, old damage, no issue, unreasonable complaint, etc.).
  • Offer to perform corrective repairs at a discount. In doing this, the third party becomes a witness to the issue and you can use their findings to help support yours in response to any negative reviews or complaints against your shop. The simple fact that you brought in a third party may deter the customer from lodging any formal complaints and/or negative reviews.

One should make every reasonable effort to resolve a customer’s concerns so they can continue on with a clear conscience knowing they did their very best.

Remember this: The average collision repair customer has a loss every seven years or so. You can not rely upon their repeat business for your company’s ongoing growth and success. What you should want and desire is to earn each of your customer’s ongoing referrals of your company and its services for the rest of their lives!

Click here to read Dealing with Unreasonable Customers Part I.

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