Last month, we discussed the first four of six steps to take when a customer has a problem:

1. Show regret and empathy
2. Ask questions and listen
3. Be an advocate
4. Discuss alternatives

This month we take a closer look at steps five and six:


What NOT to Say to Customers

Sometimes owners or employees make a bad situation worse by putting their foot in their mouth when speaking to an already upset customer. Do not:

  • Infer the customer is driving a “piece of crap” car to start with, and it is not even worth detailing. This can come across to the customer even if the sentiment is not audibly expressed.
  • Infer that the vehicle was simply so bad, it was not worth putting your best effort into it. Continually remind employees that they cannot pick and choose which vehicle deserves their best effort, or make value judgments about the quality of work they will do based on the year or condition of the vehicle.
  • Make remarks that make a situation worse:
    • That’s company policy.
    • I just work here.
    • That’s not my area.
    • I have not had time to discuss your problem with anyone yet.
    • We cannot take care of every little problem a customer has.
    • I will get to it when I can.
    • We have other customers ahead of you.

If you feel there is more to the customer’s story than what you are being told and you are not comfortable offering a solution, you can ask the customer to wait while you find the employee who was involved. If you think it would be more effective, ask the employee to join you and the customer and participate in the meeting.

There are good reasons for getting your employees involved in talking to the customer. For example:

  • Sometimes customers feel the owner is a salesman-type, who is making excuses. Often, the customer feels a technician will be more “straight” and “honest.”
  • When customers talk to the person who actually did the work, they tend to listen to the tech’s side of the story. The tech is the expert and has firsthand knowledge of the situation.
  • They usually see the tech as a “good guy” and someone who really tried their best. The customer is less likely to get upset at the employee who sincerely says, “I really tried my very best to do a good job for you.”
  • The customer can also ask questions and hear answers from the horse’s mouth.
  • It is a great way for the technician to educate the customer and introduce realistic expectations. The tech can walk the customer through the buffing process and give them an appreciation of how complex this procedure can be. Many times, a technician can resolve customers’ complaints. More shops should do this.

If you prefer not to get your employees involved right away or you think the problem requires more research, tell the customer you will get back to him by a specific date and time.


After you have offered your solution, say: “Would that be satisfactory?” or “Does that seem fair to you?” You want the customer to accept your solution and agree it is appropriate.

When they agree to your solution say: “I’m glad we were able to resolve this to your satisfaction. As I said earlier, your continued business is very important to us. We appreciate that you gave us this opportunity to fix the problem. The most important services we offer our customers are the quality work we do and our integrity for taking care of our customers if something goes wrong.”

After a short period of time — perhaps the next day, but no longer than one week — contact the customer to make sure the problem was resolved satisfactorily. Say something like: “I am just calling to make sure the problem you had yesterday was resolved to your satisfaction.”

If the customer says yes, then say: “I’m glad we could take care of it for you, and we look forward to doing business with you again.”

If the answer is no, then say: “I’m very sorry and I’m glad I contacted you so we can immediately resolve your problem.”

If, after your second attempt at fixing the problem — you have done everything humanly possible to put out the highest quality detail (putting your best tech on the job and personally inspecting it) — the customer still is not satisfied, then it is fair for you to suggest that they do business with another detail business.


What are some other situations when it is appropriate to fire a customer?

1. When a Customer Uses Abusive Language
No business owner should allow a customer to swear or be verbally abusive to an employee. If a customer loses his temper and threatens an employee or gets mean and nasty, you should fire the customer.

If a customer begins to get emotional in the waiting room, invite him into a private office/area. Always isolate the angry customer from other potential customers. If the customer continues to be belligerent or totally unreasonable and abusive, it is time to terminate the meeting and escort the customer out of the building.

2. If a Customer Tries to Wrap Old Damage into the New Damage
Some owners do vehicle inspections and note prior damage. Then you have a record for the customer to see and can say, “This damage you say we did was already on the vehicle.” If the customer insists that it was not, many owners simply refuse to do the work.

If you determine that a potential customer is trying to rip you off, simply refuse to do the work. If you do take the job, know that you run the risk of the customer becoming a huge problem when you are finished.

3. When a Customer Denies Pre-Existing Damage
This problem can be solved by taking pictures during the original inspection process. Then, when the customer complains, you simply point out the damage in the photo.


If you are not using a process such as this, then you have not done everything you could have for your customers.
Remember: do not be too quick to fire a customer. If you are having a lot of customer problems, take some advice from Lou Holtz, the former Notre Dame football coach: “When we lost a game, the first thing I would do is look in the mirror and ask myself, ‘What could I have done differently?’”

Never forget how important customer satisfaction is to the success of your detail businesses:

  • Repeat business is profitable
  • Referral business does not cost you anything
  • Customer turnover is expensive. It takes a long time to build enough trust and confidence for a customer to drop off his vehicle, toss you the keys, and say: “Take care of it.”

Sharie Sipowicz is aftermarket sales manager with Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. She has been involved in the detail industry for over 20 years, both as a vendor of products and equipment and as a hands-on operator in a retail detail environment. You can contact Sharie at