Auto Service World
Feature   July 24, 2012   by Allan Janssen

Arguing with customers

Its a bad idea at the best of times and worse in an age when disputes can go viral and sink your business before you get a chance to explain yourself!



By Allan Janssen


I like to visit dealerships and repair shops. It gives me an insight into what your jobs are like. It helps me understand the challenges you face.

And most of these visits go like you’d expect. I meet someone, we talk for a while, I get a tour of the place, I ask some questions, I take a few pictures.

But recently I had a crazy experience… and I didn’t even meet anyone.

I happened to arrive in the middle of a dispute between a service manager and a customer. I didn’t mean to overhear it. Even though they were in a closed office, I couldn’t help hearing them through the door. And neither could a couple of other people – customers – in the waiting area. To say it was uncomfortable for all of us would be an understatement, because this wasn’t just a misunderstanding or a little disagreement. It was a full-blown argument, complete with yelling, accusations, and lots of pounding on table that separated the service manager from the customer.

Good thing it was there, too, because it sounded for a while like this fracas might come to blows!

Quite frankly, I couldn’t believe my ears because confrontations don’t usually get out of hand like this in a retail environment. Public displays of anger and hostility simply aren’t good for business. The vast majority of service managers would quickly recognize that they’re in a no-win situation and would go into dispute-resolution mode. But not this guy. He started to push back.

Here’s the core of the dispute: The customer’s car had been brought in for service a few weeks back, and late in the day had been issued a parking ticket outside of a coffee shop. The owner was livid – not just because the ticket had remained unpaid, but because he felt the shop had violated his trust by using his vehicle to pick up coffee for the boys.

And what do you say to that but ‘Sorry,’ right? But this particular service manager talked about the importance of test-driving vehicles, and about how parking it might have been part of the test. He pointed out that no real harm had been done. And, besides all that, he couldn’t be certain the shop was at fault. The timeline was a bit murky, he said. “It might have been you,” he suggested. “Maybe you parked it there. Maybe you don’t remember.”

He actually said that!

Worse, he kept interrupting the customer, who resorted to protesting with, “Let me finish! Can I say something? Are you going to let me talk?”


When it was over, I just left. I didn’t want to see the owner or the service manager. I was embarrassed for them, and I knew that any conversation with me would have been extremely painful and awkward for them. It wasn’t like I could sympathize with him about the unreasonableness of some customers. This was far from that. This was nothing less than a real-life example of poor communication skills on the part of the service manager.

As the kids say, it was an epic fail.

The lessons to be learned here are many – most of them quite obvious. I won’t say customers are always right (they aren’t) but I would say you never win when you yell at them. And I would point out that this kind of incident has far-reaching repercussions, not only for the shop where it took place, but for the entire industry.

Now more than ever, consumers tend to compare notes with each other. Praise and criticism spreads quickly in our web-connected world. And it doesn’t take much for a minor frustration to spiral into a dust storm of fury.

Have you ever gotten into a shouting match with a customer?  Care to let me know how that worked out for you?  You can reach me at

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