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Calming the Comeback Customer

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In Rick Yanac’s roughly 25 years working in the fixed operations realm, he has seen multiple days unravel due to an upset customer.

In the wake of an unfortunate “comeback,” Yanac has always felt it’s best for a department leader to approach the situation like a major league manager consoling a relief pitcher after a rough outing.

“When something like that happens you’ve got to get that [employee] on the side and say, ‘Look, that was a tough one but you’ve got to have a short memory,’” notes Yanac, a former dealership department head and current industry consultant. “You’ve got to have a short memory, [because] you’re going to have to go back out and do it again tomorrow.”

Of course, sometimes moving on from a comeback—any instance in which a customer must bring his or her vehicle back to a dealership to have work re-addressed—is easier said than done for an employee. After all, no one wants to have their work called into question. But, with the proper approach from a staff member, a comeback can produce a valuable learning situation, according to Yanac, who currently serves as the vice president of fixed ops consulting firm M5 Management Services.

“The biggest thing is—and I think this is where most of us drop the ball—you’ve got to have a mentality that says, ‘OK, what do I have to do to correct this?’ … As a service manager, or as a fixed operations director, you’ve got to pride yourself in saying, ‘The buck stops here.’”

Yanac offers the following tips for dealership departments that are in the wake of a customer comeback:


Apologize Profusely and Sincerely.

Whether you’re a service director, a parts manager or you’re leading a collision repair department, the first step when it comes to comeback damage control is simple, yet imperative.

“The first thing you should say is, ‘Sorry,’” Yanac says. “Let [customers] know that, ‘Look, this isn’t the way that we do business. We made an error, we’re going to be honest with you about it, we’re going to fix it right, and we’re going to fix it to your satisfaction.’”

Ideally, Yanac says, a representative from your department should reach back out to the customer within 48 hours to show genuine concern, to communicate the plan for a resolution, and to ask if further steps are requested.


See Things from the Customer’s Perspective.

An empathetic approach is typically an effective method for dealing with angry customers. After all, before a compromise can be discussed, irate clients usually need to vent.

“Regardless of why they’re upset, it doesn’t matter,” Yanac notes of customers. “The only thing that’s relevant is their perception. So, you’ve got to put yourself in their shoes and understand why they’re upset.”

While it’s no fun to get aired out by an angry client, it’s worth it to hear them out. Consider: In Yanac’s experience, the cost of gaining a new customer typically costs a dealership $500-$750, mainly due to advertising costs.

“How could you possibly justify losing them over $100 or $200?” he says of comeback customers.


Explain Why Your Error Occurred.

One of the best ways to cool a customer’s fiery temper is by readily acknowledging your staff’s oversight.

“Let’s say a legitimate error happens, so a customer is upset,” Yanac says. “At some point, what I’d want to say is, ‘Look, Mr. Customer, I’m going to be real honest and straight up with you. We didn’t do a good job of getting your information, so this was the end result of that.”

Yanac has found that such open honesty can often help you get back in a client’s good graces.


Embrace a Teachable Moment.

The worst thing staff can do is dismiss comebacks as anomalies and assume they’ll never happen again. Comebacks need to result in altered staff processes, Yanac says. For example, service advisors should be instructed that they need to ask more questions of customers when writing initial estimates.

“That’s where we really miss the boat,” Yanac notes of his industry. “A lot of us go, ‘OK, we took care of the customer, we got them down the road, they’re happy again, so let’s move on to the next one. [But] we didn’t do anything to prevent it from happening [again]—really, the work should just be starting at that point. Now let’s investigate what happened.”

Also, a leader should express confidence in his or her employee in the wake of such incidents, Yanac notes, and simply clarify how comebacks can be avoided in the future.

Employees, he says, “have to know that you have their back—that’s the biggest thing.”

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