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Unhappy CustomerOK, that’s not fair.  Most people like you.  At least according to a recent Consumer Reports Annual Auto Survey in which 73% said that they were either completely or very satisfied with their repair shop.  I thought it interesting to look at the 5 reasons most often cited for dissatisfaction.

Before we dive in, let me give you a quote: “Truth is universal.  Perception of truth is not.”  While your operation may actually have problems in these areas, it’s just as likely that the problem lies with how your customers perceive the issues.  You can do something about both.

Prices Are Too High
38% of the dissatisfied cite high prices as the reason.  So 10% of all customers thought the price was too high (the occurance was about 31% higher for dealerships than for the aftermarket).  What we don’t know is whether those prices were actually higher than the other 90% or even high relative to other shops in the area.  But the prices were higher than these people thought they should be.  Perception.

Thinking of my own experiences, how the work is presented (sold) up front has a tremendous impact on my expectation of the value I’ll receive in exchange for my money.  When the service advisor gives me details in plain English, breaks down parts and labor and helps me understand the benefits of getting the repair done, I may not be tickled with the price, but I won’t feel like I’m getting ripped off.

I once took my son’s old truck in because the A/C wasn’t working.  I paid for a diagnostic to find the problem.  When I came back and got the written estimate it was way more than I expected, but what sticks in my mind to this day is the line item for shop rags – $23.  And there were a half dozen other similar charges for little things.  They probably didn’t add up to much, but my perception was that they were charging me for everything they could possibly think of.

Now I get it – when I prepare a quote for video production, I have a template that makes sure I cover every cost item.  But I don’t give that to the customer – it’s an internal tool that ensures profitability for the job.  The customer gets a much more simplified estimate.  That approach might have worked with my broken A/C.  Instead, when I honestly (and not obnoxiously) reacted to the quote, the service writer immediately started to back-pedal and say that he was sure he could get the price down.  That’s when I stopped listening: I figured they either were trying to rip me off or that I wouldn’t be satisfied with the “cheaper” repair.

Perception: the price was too high.  The service writer’s reaction to my reaction confirmed my perception.  I’ve never gone back.

Car Wasn’t Fixed Properly
Over 25% said that the problem wasn’t fixed properly.  It’s hard to lay this one on the customer – even if they just dropped it off with a note that says “weird sound when I turn”.  Not managing your own process can’t be the customer’s fault.

  • The service advisor has the responsibility of gathering all the information necessary to understand the customer’s perception of the problem
  •  From there, the customer needs to be educated on the diagnostic process
  • After the “fix”, the technician needs to evaluate & test drive to make sure the vehicle is truly ready for the customer
  • If the diagnosis/repair is tentative, the customer should get a thorough explanation when picking up the vehicle and be coached on what to expect and do if Plan A doesn’t pan out.  Cashing out with no caveats is a recipe for dissatisfaction.

Took Longer Than Expected
21% said that the work took longer than expected.  Of course you give your customer a reasonable estimate of when they can expect the work to be done based on the job and the shop schedule.  Then Murphy ’s Law takes over and things start to go wrong.  Some delays are truly out of your control – and some you maybe contribute to, just a little bit.  Either way, communicating with your customer as soon as possible will help manage expectations.  I’ve gone in to pick up my vehicle that was promised at five o’clock only to learn that it wouldn’t be ready until the next day.

A simple call an hour before would have altered my expectation and given me time to make necessary arrangements.  My perception: both my ride and I were inconvenienced and I felt our time wasn’t valued.  Common courtesy is sometimes all it takes.

I’ve had similar experiences where the service advisor kept me abreast of the progress – and unexpected delays – and I was fine with it.


In Part 2 we’ll talk about the last two reasons people are dissatisfied with their service experience and drill down on why people don’t return to your shop.

Lance Boldt is Vice President and Co-Founder of AutoNetTV.  AutoNetTV’s digital signage products deliver entertaining and educational TV programming to the lobbies of automotive service and repair businesses as well as digital menu boards and automotive website video content.