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Salem on Service: Handling the Damage in the Shop

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Mrs. Smith’s car is being backed out of the bay after an oil change and Joe, the driver and tech, hits the wall with the car. The wall is fine, but the same cannot be said for Mrs. Smith’s car.

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I would never suggest that my way is the only way, but here is how we would handle that situation.

From the beginning, every tech we hire knows that the shop will pay for small bills related to their carelessness or financially participate in the big ones, but not both. So, if a tech breaks a spark plug and goes back into Parts to get another one, the parts manager will ask him, “Do you want this on your tab or ours?” The tech has a choice. He can pass the bill for his carelessness to us or pay it himself by having that spark plug put on his personal repair order.

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When he crushes Mrs. Smith’s rear bumper, the first thing I do is look to see how many small items I paid for, or in other words, how many mistakes has this tech made that I have had to pay for. If I see a bunch of small bills I’ve paid, that clearly tells me the tech wants me to pay the small ones, and he will pay the bigger ones.

On the other hand, if I see no bills I’ve paid, then I know he is handling the costs to fix his own small mistakes, and he will be wanting me to financially participate if he stumbles on the “big one.”

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Let’s say I’ve been paying the small bills. In this situation, I simply hand the tech the repair bill for the car he damaged and the rental car bill and ask him how he wants to pay it. If I’ve not been paying for his mistakes, I simply show him the repair and rental car bills and ask him to review them and tell me what portion he wants me to pay.

I love to hear a tech tell me that he will pay the entire bill, that shows courage, a strong sense of responsibility and honor. I then insist that I be allowed to pay too because, “You have been a wonderful employee, you have never asked me before to pay for your mistakes and I like you.” Sometimes a tech will say he will pay any portion I don’t. That works too, but I will always want a number from him, his number or mine, either one is fine. Once I hear, “I would like you to pay half of the repair bill because . . .,” I will always then offer to pay more than he asked me to pay. One way or the other, I will make the tech happy under very trying circumstances, and when it’s all done and over, he feels good, I participated and I feel good because he feels good.

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I believe in personal responsibility. I believe each of us should pay for our own mistakes. I believe that what I do with my money (overpay my kids, buy a boat, take a trip) is no one’s business. Likewise, I would never decide to try and dictate what my staff does with their money.

So here’s another “responsibility” situation.

The cost of the part to the manufacturer is $3. He may sell it to his WD for $5, and that WD sells it to a jobber for $9. The jobber then sells it to us, the professional service provider, for $15. We then sell it for $30. Why is it, when “that” part goes bad, our profit isn’t the first to hit that warranty table?

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How is it fair that we make the lion’s share of the profit, but yet call on others to reimburse us to replace the part and pay for the labor?

Is that part ever “our” part and “our” responsibility to warranty? What is the fair way to handle these defective parts issues?

What would you want, in the form of a discount or percentage points off your cost, if you had to promise never to ask your jobber (and his manufacturer) to participate in a warranty issue?

Why do we allow this to this happen?

We’ll print your well-written response if you e-mail it to [email protected]

The Big One

Over the last 20 years, we have made only two claims to our insurance company. One car was stolen, and one car caught fire and burned. I paid the deductible for both, and no techs participated because they had nothing to do with what happened.

If and when we do have a BIG claim, the tech will NOT pay any portion of the deductible if it was simply an honest mistake. I think the line between an honest mistake and a stupid mistake is pretty wide to me. Nevertheless, I’m sure once the tech and I sit down and discuss the issue, like all the other times, both of us will leave that meeting feeling like each person treated the other fairly.

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