It was a long day, culminating in a three-hour wait for the auto service technicians to replace a tire on my car.  Why I had to replace a tire is irrelevant; it was predictable enough, simply because I had neither a book nor my laptop with me to keep me busy.

But my wait is also irrelevant, because the exciting thing was what happened when my wait was over.  Or almost over.

As I approached the service counter, my service advisor answered the phone on the desk behind.  After a few moments, it was clear that he was having a hard time getting something through to the person on the other end of the line.  He started calling her “Andrea” each time he began to speak.  That is a dead giveaway of somebody trying to remain patient with somebody who isn’t remaining patient.

Ten minutes into the call (my best guess, but it might only have seemed that long), I was still patient, but the requests I overheard to remain calm and to stop shouting made it clear that the customer on the other end of the line was anything but.  My service advisor was still acting patient, but I suspect that he was more acting than patient.  I heard such lines as:

  • “Andrea, I have already explained that the water in your washer fluid could not have gotten in from here.”
  • “Andrea, as I have already said several times, please bring your car in tomorrow and we will take a look at no cost to you.  I can’t possibly do anything more over the phone.”
  • “Andrea, why don’t we discuss this when you bring your car in tomorrow?”

Then the fun began.  That is to say, the lines I heard became progressively more interesting:

  • “No, I don’t have to refund your money.”
  • “Well, what are you going to do about it?”
  • “Oh, you’re going to sue my insurance company, are you?”

I nearly swallowed my nose laughing when I overheard that last one.

Customer Service Quote of the Year

If you have been in business a while, you have dealt with people like this.  They are highly volatile and liable to explode for seemingly no reason.  Or they simply lack respect and like to shout at people (Vogons, perhaps?).  Or they want to get free services, so they invent problems and demand their money back.

I recall the lady who came to me one day asking for a cover letter for her resume and to edit the resume itself.  We write almost anything (books, blogs, press releases, reports) but we don’t write resumes.  However, this one was already written and we do write letters…and she begged and pleaded.  So I agreed to do it.  Then she haggled … and I must have been weak or took pity on her, because I agreed to have one of my team write the letter and proofread the resume for a fairly low price.

Oh, but then in the last minute she mentioned the two different audiences for the cover letter, meaning two versions of the letter would be needed.

OK, so she gets extra service, even though she gets a deep discount.  She should be my Most Grateful Customer of the Year, right?

Well, that’s not how the Better Business Bureau saw it when they contacted me with her demand to be refunded her full (discounted) amount.  Why?  There were a couple periods missing at the end of two paragraphs, and one sentence was a run-on.  Hmm.  You would think she would have been thrilled when I split the sentence for her and found those missing periods in a desk drawer.  She was not. She had been bucking for a freebie.

I have no idea if Andrea was also bucking for a freebie, but with a “There is nothing more I can do now, Andrea.  I’ll be happy to discuss this when you bring in the car tomorrow,” my service advisor abruptly hung up the phone on her.

What he did next blew me away!

He phoned his supervisor (I assume) and said, “I have acted very unprofessionally.  I just shouted at a customer.”  Whoa.  That is honesty.  He gave his supervisor the details, explained the situation and what she had been demanding, and apologized for losing his cool.  Ironically, he never shouted.  He did raise his voice, but surprisingly little.  And he did get sarcastic when she threatened to sue his insurance company.  Yes, that must be Customer Service Quote of the Year.

What counts here is that he immediately came clean, owned up to his moment of weakness and laid the cards out on the table.  Should Andrea decide to show up the next day and speak with somebody else, the supervisor will already know the full situation.  She won’t be able to invent stories about my service advisor to get him in trouble, because he had already set the record straight.

There are some powerful customer service lessons here for you in your business:

  1. The customer is always right, so be patient and keep your cool.  Period.
  2. Own up to your mistakes and take whatever corrective action is needed or possible immediately.  Don’t wait for somebody else to point out that you have been hiding from taking responsibility.
  3. Sometimes the customer isn’t right. Sometimes the customer is a con artist.  In such circumstances, refer back to rule 1. above…but stand your ground.

My service advisor did eventually get to serve me and another customer who was waiting.  We had both been patient.  He apologized for the wait.  And look what good that got me – a great topic for this article.  Hang around auto service waiting rooms enough, and you, too, can learn some valuable customer service lessons.