Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature in which I share stories, insights, and reflections about business and life.
Sometimes, there’s simply no other explanation for the way things work or don’t work out, other than to say, “It’s just not right!” Here’s a great example of one of those situations.
One of our ATRA Good Guys towed a car into his shop because the customer called and said it stopped moving. It was a stick shift and the customer said it just suddenly wouldn’t move forward or backward. The service adviser, we’ll call him Peter Perfect for the sake of this article, explained that it could be caused by a number of things and it would need to be checked to determine what needed to be done to correct the problem.
The tech quickly diagnosed it as a clutch problem. The pedal offered no resistance when depressed and, when he removed the inspection plate, pieces of the clutch disc were inside the bellhousing. There was also evidence of oil in the bellhousing.
Peter Perfect explained that, while he couldn’t confirm the sequence of events, the results were that the clutch had broken into pieces. This was the reason the vehicle stopped moving. He also explained that the oil in the bellhousing meant there was a leak from either the rear engine seal or the front transmission seal.
In either case, the complete clutch assembly — clutch disc, clutch cover, throw-out bearing, and pilot bearing — needed to be replaced and the flywheel needed to be machined. Additionally, they’d replace the rear engine and front transmission seals while the transmission was removed to prevent oil from leaking onto the new clutch. He further advised replacing the clutch slave and master cylinders.
The customer didn’t immediately approve the repairs, stating that it was more than he’d hoped it would cost. Of course, when the customer called around for comparison prices for a clutch job, he received lower quotes than Peter had quoted because his recommendation was more comprehensive.
When the customer called Peter back, he asked how much he owed for what they’d done so far because he found a shop that would do the clutch for much less.
At this point, Peter Perfect demonstrated his professionalism and he did things right… he listened and asked the right questions. He explained that the price he’d quoted was for a much more comprehensive repair than a simple clutch job and provided the details of the difference between the two quotes. In the end, the customer agreed to the repairs and the price that Peter quoted.
Once the repairs were complete, the customer came in to pick up his car. Peter, continuing his perfect performance, fully summarized the process from the customer’s initial call through the conversations regarding the recommended and approved repairs. He advised the customer to return in 10 days for a courtesy recheck and to come in sooner if he noticed anything that concerned him.
The next morning, the customer drove in and “calmly” stated that something wasn’t right. When Peter asked for more details, the customer simply stated, “I don’t know, but it’s just not right.” So Peter offered to go on a road test with the customer to see what was up.
On the road test, Peter didn’t detect anything out of the ordinary. He asked the customer for more information about what concerned him as they continued the road test.
Ultimately, Peter concluded that the customer’s concern had to do with the mild notchy feeling that occurred occasionally on upshifts and more frequently on downshifts. Peter felt it was normal for a transmission with as many miles as this one had, but rather than trying to explain it in the car, Peter said, “Let’s take it back to the shop and I’ll get my top tech to check into it.”
After the tech’s road test, he confirmed Peter’s opinion. But when he tried to explain that, the customer became agitated and said that it wasn’t like that before and he wanted them to fix it.
Peter explained that sometimes problems come on so slowly that they go unnoticed until the repairs are done and then customers become more sensitive to the previous incremental changes in performance. Additionally, continuing to drive the car with a failing clutch might have caused some minor wear on the synchronizers. But, in his opinion, it would be premature to address those issues at this time because the transmission was essentially working fine.
The customer replied that he didn’t want to drive the car with the transmission the way it was. After several minutes of conversation, Peter felt he had at least convinced the customer that nothing the shop did could’ve cause the problem. (During all conversations, both the customer and Peter maintained calm, courteous demeanors.)
As a courtesy gesture, Peter offered to rebuild the transmission. This would include replacing the synchronizers, shift forks, all bearings, seals, and gaskets. He said that he’d waive the labor for removing and reinstalling the transmission and only charge for the bench labor and parts. The customer agreed to have work done.
Well, you’ve probably already anticipated what happened next. The customer still maintained, “It’s just not right.” Now he was asking for a full refund and threatening to pursue legal means to resolve his concerns.
Of course, Peter wasn’t going to let that happen. But no amount of reasoning could overcome the customer’s position that “It’s just not right.” Peter’s dilemma was how to remediate such a vague and completely subjective claim.
Peter finally told the customer that he could take it to another shop for a second opinion and he’d possibly reconsider based on what the other shop had to say. The customer left and, when Peter didn’t hear back within the next week, he assumed the other shop had set the customer straight.
No such luck… a couple days later, the shop received a credit card reversal notice. The customer had complained to the credit card company that the shop had charged him for two separate repairs and it was still not right.
A short time later, a dispute hearing was held by phone with the customer, the shop, and the credit card dispute resolution specialist. The customer’s testimony was short and simple: “The company tried to fix my car two times and charged me both times, but it’s still not right.”
Peter presented the facts: The car didn’t even move when it was towed in. It’s now operational and working normally. He also stated that they only performed the second repair to try to address the customer’s concern with a problem that the shop didn’t feel needed to be fixed.
The credit card company, amazingly, ruled in favor of the customer and permanently reversed the charges.
The shop was disappointed, but elected not to pursue the matter because they didn’t want to waste any more time and energy on it, and they now believed a small claims court judge would simply rubber stamp the credit card company’s decision.
I wish I had a happy ending for this story. This is clearly an example of when bad things happen to good people. Because of the customer’s demeanor, I suspect that the customer was perpetrating fraud on the shop and it wasn’t his first rodeo. The shop did everything correctly and they were beyond reproach in the way they treated the customer. In my opinion, it was an unfair ruling. It’s just one of those situations where there’s nothing more to say than “It’s just not right.”
I know my articles usually have a lesson to apply. The only lesson I can offer with this story is sometimes you just have to lick your wounds and lean into the wind, but never give up on doing the right things for the right reasons, even when nobody’s looking.
Ironically, I started this article while I was in the waiting room at a tire store. I was having some fancy new wheels and tires installed on my Chrysler Crossfire. Little did I know that I was about to enter the “It’s just not right zone.” Even after three attempts to balance the new tires and wheels, it had a vibration that didn’t exist before.
I called my friend Dan, a retired manager from Les Schwab Tire Company. He said that sometimes they found it next to impossible to get good results with aftermarket wheels on precision vehicles. He suggested going back to my original equipment wheels.
I dreaded making my next call to Jason at the tire store. I swallowed hard and made the call. To my surprise, Jason offered no defensive pushback. Before I even asked if they’d switch me back to the original wheels, he asked me if I’d mind switching back. He said, “Sometimes aftermarket wheels don’t do well on precision vehicles.” (Where did I hear that earlier?) Apologizing for the inconvenience, Jason added that my satisfaction was all that mattered to him.
Now I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of “Doing right things, for the right reasons, even when nobody’s looking.”
About the Author
Thom Tschetter has served our industry for nearly four decades as a management and sales educator. He owned a chain of award-winning transmission centers in Washington State for over 25 years.
He calls on over 30 years of experience as a speaker, writer, business consultant, and certified arbitrator for topics for this feature column.
Thom is always eager to help you improve your business and your life. You can contact him by phone at (480) 773-3131 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.