Studies have shown that consumers are more likely to share bad experiences with others than good experiences. It’s Murphy’s Law of customer service: Happy customers might tell their friends or leave a positive review, but angry customers will definitely share their experience.

With consumers increasingly using Yelp, Google, and/or Facebook to review businesses, it’s easier than ever for an angry consumer to damage your business. This is because anonymous online reviews are considered trustworthy by the average consumer. About 7 in 10 consumers believe what they read on review sites, which only amplifies the effect of every bad review.

Angry Customer
Comebacks often lead to angry customers. Managing comebacks correctly reduces the odds of a bad online review.

Which brings us to comebacks. Not only they do hurt profitability and morale, but they can also lead to damaging negative reviews. If your shop has a comeback, here are some things you can do to keep that comeback from becoming a negative review.

Make The Comeback Customer Feel Like The Most Important Person In The Building

Comeback customers are often mad, but your shop isn’t necessarily the reason for their anger. In many situations, the customer is mad about some other shop they had a bad experience with once upon a time. That other shop – for whatever reason – never made the customer happy.

As a result of this previous bad experience, the customer standing in your doorway may be prepared for the worst. The customer might anticipate that your shop is going to treat them badly, and they may be mentally preparing for an epic meltdown.

Therefore, you want to diffuse comeback customers by demonstrating your interest and taking them seriously.

  1. Make an effort to get the manager or the owner in front of the customer ASAP. The owner or manager can explain that they’re going to take care of any mistake(s) that the shop has made.*
  2. The owner or manager must ask the customer if they can go look at the problem. This is an important step, as the customer needs a chance to vent their frustration. Walk with the customer to their vehicle, and ask them to tell the story.
  3. Look the customer in the eye, and repeat what they say back to them. Looking a customer in the eye helps them see that you care. Repeating their words back to them is a good way to prove that you’re listening.
  4. Once the problem is understood and the customer has said what they wanted to say, take action. Action is proof of urgency, and urgency is what a comeback customer expects. Try to get the customer’s car moved into the shop right away, or bring a tech to come out and look at the problem immediately. The owner or manager should start this action personally, so that it’s clear to the customer that they are a priority.
  5. Re-iterate the shop’s commitment to fix their mistakes. Once the action has begun, it’s crucial to touch base with the customer and explain that your shop stands behind its work. If your shop has made an error, you will make it right. If not, you’ll work with the customer to make sure they get the vehicle back on the road.
  6. Let the customer know your shop is going to find the cause of the problem. Finally, be sure to explain that vehicle failures are random. If this failure is a result of something the shop did, you will own up to it. If the failure isn’t related, you’ll help the customer understand the problem.

At this point, the customer can be asked to wait in the waiting area, offered a rental car, offered a shuttle ride, etc. The initial rage has likely subsided, and hopefully the customer feels as if they are very important.

*NOTE: The owner or manager is committing to rectify mistakes. They are not apologizing or admitting fault. It’s important to set the right expectations early in the process.

Update The Customer Early and Often

Be sure to update the customer every hour, at least in the beginning. If the shop is busy and the customer’s vehicle may not be diagnosed for several hours – or if the customer is particularly upset – consider offering them a freebie. A free rental car or a $25 gift card and a ride to a local restaurant, for example. Some shop owners or managers object to giving profit away like this, but it’s far, far cheaper to give someone a rental car for a day than it is to get a bad review online.

Then, follow-up with the customer at regular intervals until you reach a diagnosis.

When you have a diagnosis, it’s vital to explain to the customer:

  • What exactly the failure was (don’t dumb it down or simplify it – get technical)
  • The most common cause(s) of this failure
  • What the technician believes caused the failure

Be sure to do all of the above without mentioning costs, labor times, etc. The goal is to inform the consumer and make them feel like they’re being “briefed.” Once they’ve been given the details, offer to take them to their vehicle so you can show them in person (if possible).

At this point, the customer knows what you know. If your shop made an error, you need to acknowledge it here and explain exactly how you’re going to make it right. But if your shop isn’t responsible, you’ve laid the groundwork for the next step.

If Your Shop Is At Fault…

If your shop is at fault, it’s important to explain what will be done to fix the car and when the customer can expect to pick up their car. When the customer returns, go over the failure and the work that was done one last time. The more thorough and professional you are, the more confidence the consumer will have in your fix.

Also, when the customer picks up the car, it’s important to make a gesture of apology. The gesture doesn’t have to be much – a free oil change, a gift card to a nearby restaurant, etc. Just be sure to deliver this gift properly:

  1. Have the owner or manager offer the gift
  2. Have the owner or manager apologize for the mistake personally, looking the customer in the eye
  3. Have the owner or manager hand the gift directly to the consumer, with the tacit suggestion that the customer must acknowledge the shop made an honest mistake in receipt

Here’s an example:

“Ms. Customer, I’m really sorry about what happened. I feel bad about it, and I talked to the owner and the technician that made the mistake, and they feel badly about it too.

I know it’s not much, but we’d like to offer you a small gift as a token of apology. I know this doesn’t make up for our mistake, but I hope it shows that we care.”

Most people will accept the gift and say something along the lines of “It’s OK,” or “these things happen.” This is good. A customer that’s accepted a gift in person from the shop owner or manager is far less likely to leave a bad review than someone who was thrown their keys and told “we fixed it.”

Vehicle repair
Consumers understand that vehicles are complicated and that mistakes can be made. A small, personal gesture is often all it takes to win the customer over.

If Your Shop Is Not At Fault…

If your shop is not at fault, the situation can be more difficult. No one likes an unexpected repair, particularly if the failure seems to occur under suspicious circumstances. The goal is to gain the customer’s trust:

  • It’s important to give the customer the option of taking their car elsewhere. Your shop doesn’t want them to leave, but you also don’t want the customer to feel like they’re trapped.
  • Offer to help the customer out financially, either with a discount of some kind or a payment plan.
  • Ask the customer if they’ve ever had something like this happen before. If so, relating the story of a previous bad experience can often make a customer trust your shop more.
  • Be ready to tell the customer a personal story of your own about an unexpected car problem, or about a customer with a similar problem
  • Finally, empathize with the customer and offer them a personal gift or gesture

The gift must be personal because it isn’t an acknowledgement of a mistake, or an attempt to curry the customer’s favor. It’s simply a gesture from one person to another.

Bonus Tip: Get Some Cheap Promotional Gear

A small item that a customer can re-gift is often a better freebie than a free oil change, free wiper blades, or even a discount on a repair. A small gift is a surprise, and surprises are usually something customers remember and appreciate.

If the customer is a dog owner, for example, a promotional dog toy could be a nice surprise. If the customer has younger children, a toy (or two – make sure you have enough for every child in the family) is a nice surprise as well. What parent doesn’t enjoy a chance to “be the hero” next time they see their child?

The best part is that these promotional items are inexpensive. A small foam football printed with the shop’s name and phone number, for example, is only $3-4. A branded tennis ball or frisbee is less than $2, and works equally well for kids and pets. Etc.

Remember – Bad Reviews Are Expensive. A Good Comeback Process Can Save you Thousands.

The cost of making a customer feel important – and then making them feel like they “won” somehow – isn’t always trivial. However, the costs are small compared to the long-term cost of a bad review online.

Avoid Bad Reviews
The cost of bad reviews is surprisingly high. Estimates range, but one bad review can reduce shop revenue by thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars.

Estimates range, but let’s assume one bad review costs a repair shop 30 new customers (based on data from Bloomberg News):

  1. If each new customer for the shop has a lifetime value of $500, than a bad review would cost a shop $15,000 in lost revenue.
  2. If customer lifetime value is $1,500, the lost revenue would be $45,000.

Considering the impact of bad reviews, and the challenge that shops face during a comeback, it’s essential for every repair shop to have a good process for managing comebacks. Training is important, too. Encourage your staff to roleplay a comeback “incident” so that they can commit the process to memory. Finally, make sure your shop has freebies to give to customers, and that your staff knows how to use them.