With 450 employees and 57 stores, John Quirk is realistic that things can and will go wrong. “We work on over 30,000 cars a month. You’re going to make a mistake. When it happens, get the customer a rental car, put our best technician on it and fix the frickin’ thing as fast as you can.”
A few years ago a customer came into a VIP Tires & Service store for an alignment, one day after having more than $1,000 of automotive work done at another independent repair shop. That technician recommended an alignment, but didn’t have a rack. The customer was a pregnant woman two days away from having a baby. When she came into VIP the technician, a former Ford master tech, said he couldn’t do the alignment. The vehicle needed a tie rod on the left side and had a torn CV boot and wheel bearing that needed replaced.
The woman called her husband, who immediately sensed his wife was getting ripped off. He went online “and tore us a new one” and said VIP was trying to “take advantage of his very pregnant wife.” Quickly the review was getting thousands of views, and when someone at VIP saw it and alerted Quirk, he admits he panicked.
“My first reaction was unplug the internet!”
Tim Winkeler, VIP’s president and chief operations officer, reminded him how often they preach transparency. This was a prime time to put that pledge to work.
Quirk talked to the technician, who told him the woman shouldn’t be driving the car in that condition. Eventually he got the husband on the phone, spent 45 minutes calming him down, and asked if he could re-inspect the car. Quirk called the shop that did the original repairs, introduced himself, and asked if he could borrow a lift for five minutes.
The next morning Quirk, the VIP technician and his district manager drove to meet the customer at the original shop. They all gathered around the car on the lift as the original technician and VIP’s technician went over the car together. The original technician admitted he missed everything VIP had found.
“I’m not saying that we’re perfect by any means, but our guys’ integrity is our most important virtue,” Quirk says. Later that day the customer, as promised, updated his review, and mentioned that the CEO took the time to check out the car, and that the original shop missed a couple of things. It was brief. It wasn’t the heartfelt follow-up Quirk was hoping for, but it was a realization that VIP needed to be better prepared to handle situations like this in the future.
The first lesson was that the company needed to respond faster. VIP built a customer portal that’s accessible company-wide. When a customer submits a review or posts a comment, several people in the company are notified, at both the store and corporate level, including Quirk and Winkeler. VIP also has an employee assigned to monitor social media around the clock.
By far, the most common complaint from customers is that there was a communication problem along the way. It might be about price, but it’s often about time. Maybe the technician found another problem under the hood, or the wrong part was pulled for the order. Quirk expects his team to tell the customer immediately. Offer them a ride. Offer to get them a car.
“Be upfront. Be honest. Overcommunicate. That is being transparent. You can’t assume that they’re going to be ok.”