Ask a Pro July/August 2023

July 27th, 2023 by Nathan Hobbs

Handling Unhappy Customers

By Mike Burke

I use this space to talk about business strategies, marketing and dealing with employees, but I haven’t said much about customers beyond getting them in the door and getting them to spend money with you. It would be great if that was always the end of the story, but as we all know, unhappy customers are part of owning a business. Sometimes it might be your fault, and sometimes the customer might be completely wrong, but how you handle both situations can greatly affect your business’ reputation.

Film Flashback

One morning about 10-15 years ago, the wife of a well-known NFL player brought her Cadillac Escalade into one of my shops for tint. Another player had referred them, so we knew whose vehicle it was, but we treated it like any other job and had her in and out before lunch.

I never gave it another thought until right around closing time when the player called the shop claiming that his new tint job looked terrible. He was angry at me for letting the car leave the shop looking the way it did. I was getting ready to leave for the day, but he was so heated that I told him if he could bring the car in right then, I’d stay and fix whatever was wrong with it.

When he showed up at the shop a little while later, he was still worked up and honestly was a bit intimidating. He was a big dude and ready for a fight. I stayed calm and invited him to go back out to the parking lot together to look at the car and see what was wrong. When he showed me the problem, I knew exactly what had happened. What he thought were bubbles or debris in the tint were actually tiny tears on the driver’s window. Instead of telling him my thoughts immediately, I asked him to get into the driver’s seat while I got in on the passenger side. I had him put his seatbelt on, and then told him to take it off without holding onto it. As he did, the seatbelt whipped up and put a tiny nick in the film, millimeters away from the two that were already there.

I didn’t have to say a word—it was instantly obvious that he understood the damage had been caused by his wife taking her seatbelt off, once when she stopped on her way home and once when she got there. His attitude changed immediately. I said, “Listen, buddy, I’ll fix this one. But just let her know to be careful with the seatbelt, ‘cause the next one’s on you.” He was apologetic for his earlier attitude and grateful to me for helping him. He even went on to refer a number of other people to us.

Two Lessons

There are two lessons from this story. First, the customer isn’t always right … but it’s best to start every interaction as though they are. If a customer comes in hot, convinced you treated them badly, and you meet them with a defensive attitude, it will only escalate the situation. No matter what’s going on, stay calm and ask the customer to explain the problem. If possible, look at the work with them, in person, as soon as possible. Do not text about it. It’s too easy to read a text with the wrong tone.

Second, if you’re not at fault, try to get the customer to see that with their own eyes. I could have asked the customer in my story to describe the damage to me and possibly diagnosed it over the phone. Or once he brought the car back and I knew exactly what was wrong, I could have told him the damage had been caused by his seatbelt. But he probably would have argued with me in either of those scenarios and ended up even angrier. Seeing it happen himself in real-time eliminated any potential pushback. Not every problem can be replicated that easily, but if you can show them versus telling them, it’s very helpful.

Finally, sometimes you will be at fault, or it will be a gray area resulting from mismatched expectations. When that happens, I ask the customer how to make it right. I’m not always going to do what they ask, but I’ve found this to be helpful in establishing limits.

Mike Burke has worked in the window film industry for 33 years. His company, Sun Stoppers, has more than 71 locations in 28 states and offers residential and commercial tint and decorative film services as well as automotive tint, paint protection, and ceramic coatings. If you have a question for Burke to tackle in a future column, email him at mike@sunstoppers.com.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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