by michele sprague

w r i t e  s t y l i n g s

magazine article

published in

csa today

a  magazine for

Buick Motor Division's

customer service advisors


michele sprague

contributing writer

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​You broke it …

There are comebacks, and there are comebacks. The ones that start with “you broke it,” or “that nick wasn’t there when I brought the car in,” are particularly stressful.

“Your stomach gets tied up in knots, and you don’t know whether you’re right or wrong,” said csa Rick Wachter from Massey Buick-GMC Truck in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Unfortunately, as long as you’re a csa there’s no escaping these situations. But you can minimize the accusations by taking precautions.

Proceed With Caution
It comes down to two things. You and your customers should be aware of their cars’ damages and defects, and your customers should know your findings before they leave their cars for service.

“All the csa
s at Massey Buick GMC Truck work together,” Wachter said. “We try to look at all the cars that come in for service, and record damages and defects on repair orders.
“What really helps is that our desks are on one side of the entrance aisle, and the orders are put on the opposite aisle,” Wachter added. “So we are walking up and down both sides of the car just in the normal procedure of going through the shop.”

Dick Smith, a csa at Brian Buick in Walnut Creek, Calif., walks around the customer’s car and notes damages on the car drawing on the repair order. Smith said most of his customers walk around their cars with him. This provides him an opportunity to point out fresh nicks, scrapes and dents.

Recording damages on repair orders is a popular method to counter your customers singing the “you did it” blues. But it can bring negative results, warned Ron Zemke, president of Performance Research Associates in Minneapolis,  Minn.

Customers may interpret your actions as accusing them of being dishonest, said Zemke, who is also editor of TheService Edge newsletter and senior editor of Training magazine.

You can still bring fresh nicks, dents and scrapes to your customers’ attention, but you do it in a way that says, “I’m concerned about your automobile,” Zemke said. He suggests walking around the car and saying, “While you’re here, let’s see if there’s anything else you would like taken care of.”

When you see fresh dents and dings, bring them to your customers’ attention, but do it discreetly. Workable techniques include touching or rubbing damaged areas and making a casual comment; inquiring how a dent or other damage happened; and asking your customers if they want the  damage taken care of while the car is being serviced.

Use a similar technique to guard against accusations of putting a lot of miles on cars that are in for service. Make a non-threatening comment about the number of miles on the car, and write the odometer reading on the repair order.

Very few of the customers of the csa
s interviewed accuse them of being responsible for damages. But they want to be prepared.

Dick Brummel, a csa at Foley Motor Sales in Wilmette, Ill., gets so few complains that he doesn’t make it a practice to walk around cars and note damages–unless he gets a gut feeling that the customer may bring problems.

You’ve got to be able to read people and situations, Zemke advised. If a grumpy customer comes in, take extra precautions. And be alert when a new car comes in for service or a car comes in for warranty work.

Handling Confrontations
The “You did it!” / No, I didn’t!” tug of war never results in an amiable solution. So don’t argue with customers. Your stomach may be churning and customers may be emotional, but you have to be quiet and listen.

Your customers don’t mean to make personal attacks against you. They’re caught up in the heat of the emotion. They feel frustrated, inconvenienced and wonder how much it’s going to cost them.

The best way to defuse these emotional situations is to concentrate on your customers and listen. If they know you care, are open-minded and willing to help, they will calm down.

Smith focuses all of his attention on his customers. “I look them in the eye and listen,” Smith said, explaining that he allows them to vent their frustrations without interrupting. When Smith’s sure the customer is finished, he empathizes with them.

It’s important to empathize, Zemke said, explaining its calming effect. It says, “I know how you feel.” And while you’re empathizing, rephrase the customer’s concerns so they know you listened. But edit out any anger you may feel, or nothing will get resolved.

Stay away from sympathizing, Zemke warned, explaining that it escalates emotion and outrage. It says, “I feel as bad as you,” and concentrates on emotion and how bad things are.

Once you’ve heard your customers’ stories and emotions are calmed down, it’s time to play detective. Find out if anyone at the dealership knows what happened, and explore ideas with your customers, “Don’t do it accusatorially,” Zemke said. “But open a conversation of possibilities so your customers start thinking about other possibilities than you did it.”

Above all, don’t deny responsibility until you check the facts. You’re there to service customers, and they need to know you have their best interests at heart.

Finding Solutions
So how do csa
s determine solutions for these awkward situations? They go the extra mile in the interest of maintaining customer relations.

“I try to work out the best possible situation for the customer and me,” Wachter agreed. Sometimes that means splitting a repair bill 50-50; sometimes it means buying the total repair; and sometimes it means doing nothing.

“If we’re not sure we caused the damage we take care of it just to make the customer happy,” Smith said.

Well, nicks and dings are one thing. Sometimes there’s not enough time to look over cars thoroughly before they’re serviced, and you don’t really know who’s responsible. And some customers are convinced that technicians break things while repairing their cars.

Brummel recalled a customer who had new belts installed on his car. The next day the customer returned with a leading radiator and was certain the technician punctured it.

Brummel handled the situation by checking the radiator, showing the customer where the lead was–in the radiator seam–then showing him where the technician worked on the belts. Although the customer wasn’t happy about buying a new radiator, he realized the dealership wasn’t at fault because Brummel took time to make sure the customer understood the situation.

“You have to come across with sincerity that you have the customer’s best interest at heart. You’re not playing any shell games or mind games. You’re telling it as it is,” Brummel said.

But “if push comes to shove, we would probably fix it in order to save the customer,” Brummel said. “You can stand up for yourself for a certain length of time, but when you realize it’s a losing battle you might as well make the customer happy.”

Wachter remembered an incident where a wiper blade was replaced and the wipers adjusted. Two days later the customer returned with a six-inch crack in the windshield. After removing the plate from the bottom of the glass and discovering that the dealership was not at fault, Wachter still offered to split the customer’s insurance deductible. No doubt his customer left with a smile and wonderful things to say about Massey Buick-GMC Truck.

When Accidents Happen
On the other hand, accidents happen. Then csa
s must notify customers of things that go wrong. They’re difficult calls to make, Wachter said. But he found customers appreciate honesty. Naturally, in these situations all of the csas interviewed said their dealership would fix the damages.

Needless to say, no amount of precaution will entirely prevent customers from singing the “you broke it” blues.

But you can handle them with finesse…Simply put yourself in their place and realize they want and expect to be treated fairly. You do that and you’ll gain their respect…and probably their repeat business.

Click below to see original story

______________________________________________ all rights reserved
contact michele at