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How & when should you fire a customer?

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I'm hoping to get some feedback regarding the circumstances described below. Any advice you might have about other ways to have handled the situation is welcome. Maybe you had a similar situation in your shop? How do you handle this?


I started our commercial fleet services program five years ago, and have been fairly aggressive in doing what's necessary to attract local business, including the following: We bought a targeted mailing list (B2B) that was designed to reach the right-sized businesses & target the decision makers. We setup a budget to mail out our carefully constructed postcard mailers every 3-5 weeks. We hired an additional service advisor with outside sales experience & give him the opportunity to spend about 30-40% of his time out of the office shaking hands & making friends in high places. We share the responsibility in attempting contact with prospects who've never given us the chance to be their automotive service provider, and we've spent a fair amount of money on dynamic fleet service program brochures & other program collateral. Everything about the program is designed with our end-game in mind, and overall the program has been very successful. It's important to know that we didn't want to simply "dabble" in trying to attract this kind of business, we planned to dive in, commmit our resources, and be consistent in our efforts. People were either going to give us the chance to serve, or compel them to give us a bona fide reason to stop calling/contacting. (A simple "No", or "We handle this in-house", etc, is sufficient to call off our dogs!)


So, on to the events of the day...


There's a company with a small fleet of about twenty E150 & E250 vans who's maintenance supervisor has failed to give us the privilege of performing even a single oil change on any of their vehicle over the last 5 years. Of course - that's just how it is...sometimes you get the business, and sometimes you don't. In this case, although I've never been so unprofessional as to take it personal, it's a fact that they are just NOT our customer.


He called the other day, and so it began:


"Hey, how are you? This is Bill over at XYZ, Inc. Remember me? Of course you do, we've talked plenty of times - I'm the guy that has 20 Ford vans at our company. We do a lot of service on our vans, and I mean A LOT of service. It seems like we always have one of them in the shop for one reason or another."


So right off the bat, I was trying to decide if it meant we were finally going to be given the chance to show him what a good job we can do for him. Afterall, we'd been "chasing" him for 5 years, with no response from himever ...even a polite return phone call or email.


"Listen, we have another shop that handles our repairs & service, and they do a fine job, but to tell the truth, they're just a little backed up right now, and I'm having an issue. There's a strange electrical issue on one of our vans, and I think we need new balljoints."


The reason for his call was transparent to me, now, and I felt like he was setting us up for an ambush, either with an attempt to low-ball, or expect service at a level proportionate to someone deserving of the "no-holds barred" variety for an account that brings thousands of dollars to us annually.


"If I bring it to you in a little bit, are you guys gonna be able to diagnose our electrical issue & give me an estimate for the suspension work? If so, can you get it fixed & back to us today, do you think?"


I explained that we would be thrilled to finally see one of his vehicles, and that I hoped it would be a chance for us to show him how hard we work for all our customers. I explained the basic premise behind our comprehensive inspection process (A $19.99 service that's waived completely if he authorizes the suggested repairs), as well as the normal steps we take to trace down the type/caliber of electrical faults he described to me over the phone.


"Well, we don't need an inspection, we already had that done at our regular shop. You need time to trace the electrical issue? How long? There's a COST for that? Do I get the diagnostic free if I let you fix it, too?"


By now, I guarded my tone to hide my disappointment, but told him enthusiastically that if he didn't need the inspeciton, that there would be no charge, of course, to write him an estimate immediately when he arrived in our office, if his "real" mechanic already told him what he needed. As for the diagnostic question, I was matter-of-fact as I told him that the honest time/materials to trace faults in power/ground would be charged, but that our shop rate for that kind of service is no higher than our standard rate.


"Ok, well, I guess we'll just see, then. Can I bring it to you now?"


Before he arrived, I began looking up the parts/labor for the suspension work he suggested he needed, and then even took the time to cross-reference it with the information found at Repairpal & AutoMD. In this case, although the estimate was rough and constituted about 6-7 hours of work, by all accounts, it fell at OR below the estimated price range found at both sites. I was confident the estimate was accurate & competitive, and awaited his arrival.


The moment he arrived, he tried "rushing" me through the drop-off, insisted that he didn't need an inspection, but he wanted us to "look at it", and said he decided he didn't want us to address his electrical issue at all, that he would wait for his mechanic.


I enthusiastically interrupted him, and let him know that I took the time to prepare an estimate for the repair he suspected needed to be done, and handed him the estimate, along with printed pages from the two valuable web resources, showing the competitiveness of the service. He took issue with the fact that I wrote estimates without looking at the van. I asked him if he wanted me to inspect it, and told him I was under the impression that he didn't want the inspection. I told him that if the work was approved based on his mechanic's assessment, that we would (of course) road test the vehicle & make sure the repair would accomplish his goal before proceeding.


He left my estimate on the table, and rudely turned & walked out, saying that he was just going to go elsewhere. When I followed him toward the door, I asked him if I somehow offended him, and he said he was just a little "overwhelmed" (??) I asked him to at least take the estimate that I prepared for him, and encouraged him to call me with any questions. At least, I indicated, you can use them as a second opinion if you don't find what you're looking for elsewhere.


It's my contention that he simply had NO intention of giving me the chance of earning his business, and that he only wanted me to give away the inspection, give away the diagnostic service, and lowball me on a difficult suspension job on a commercial vehicle. (Either because his ACTUAL mechanic didn't have the time, or desire to do it, or maybe he just finished beating up his "regular" guy and found himself without the professional help he needs yet again)


Do you ever "fire" customers? Size them up? It's dangerous to pre-judge people this way, but isn't it plain sometimes that there are customers who, if they're difficult on the first day, that they'll be forever difficult, taxing, and unprofitable in the end?


Ok friends...if you've read this far...please tell me if you agree, or if you think I have some growing up to do.


Just one man's confession.

Edited by stowintegrity

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