Jan 01, 2020

A Crash Course in Service

This article originally appeared in Water Quality Products magazine January 2019 issue as "A Crash Course in Service"

quality customer service

A couple of weeks ago while visiting Long Island, New York, to work with a client,  I was sitting in my Jeep Grand Cherokee at a stop light when a van plowed into the rear of my vehicle. My car was not drivable, so the tow trucks came, and I rode along with them as they delivered my vehicle to a body shop in a town that I know little about short of the work I have done with the client.

Customer Service Fundamentals

Once I was in the office of the body shop, I was guided through the steps I needed to take in the process. I was presented with an iPad to sign a document verifying my insurance company and all of my personal information. I was told they would set up a rental car pick up for me, which they did, and they even dialed my insurance company’s number for me. It was efficient, which I appreciated. I spoke with my insurance company and discovered that this shop was not in fact one of the authorized body shops in the area. All this meant, according to my insurance company, was that it could take a little longer to get the estimate done and my car returned to me. 

Before making the decision on whether or not I would have my car towed again to an authorized place, I took a look at the reviews online where I saw that the non-authorized place was much more highly rated than the place my insurance company worked with, so I decided to leave my car in the hands of this body shop.

Over the next couple of weeks, I was impressed by the communication this body shop provided. They conferenced with me and the insurance company to settle payment questions, and they emailed me detailed estimates of the work being done, as well as progress reports.

When I went to pick up my car, I walked past my completed car and barely recognized it. It was not only washed, but it was spotless. I examined the rear of the vehicle where the damage had been and could see no evidence of it. I also noticed that a couple of dings and scratches in the front of the car that were not caused by the accident were gone. I walked into the shop where I was greeted with a smile, an offer to handle the return of the rental car and a set of keys to my car. This explained why the reviews were so high for this business.

I left the office pleased with the service and prepared to drive away in my repaired and washed car. I unlocked my car door and immediately noticed that the inside of the car was immaculate as well. I sat inside, adjusted my seat and went to start the car with the push button ignition when I noticed that the button was missing. This is not a big deal as this feature allows the button to pop out so that a key can be used if the key fob remote is not functional. I quickly looked around for the button and could not find it, so I walked back into the office to enquire about it. They told me that it was placed in the cup holder. I went back to the car and did a more thorough search in the cup holders and door panels in the front and back seats. The button was nowhere to be found, so I went back into the office again.

One of the service technicians came back out to the car with me, searched the same places I had just searched then suggested we look in the plastic bag that they had put all of my possessions in when they cleaned out the car.

That is when it occurred to me that all of the pens, paper clips, reading glasses, charging cords and miscellaneous items that I normally have within reach in my car were gone. We opened the back hatch where there was a plastic trash bag full of the items that had been in every nook and cranny of my car. While the inside of my car was immaculate, as I said, it was obvious that my belongings had been hastily removed and placed in this bag. Every piece of trash, had been tossed in with my emergency kits, pens, glasses, receipts, jacket and other belongings. I had a box of finishing nails that I had neglected to remove from my car the last time I transported some of my tools. That box had come open and there were nails intermixed with all of my other belongings. My button remote was nowhere to be found.

In this moment, all of the online reviews, courtesy and communication from the shop personnel, the over and above efforts to do more than the bare minimum, took a back burner to my last impression. We never did find the button. They offered to order me one, but I would have then had to wait more time and make a trip back to the shop to pick it up. I decided it was better to just order one for $15 and have it delivered directly to me. They also told me they had a new detail shop they were using and that they would talk to them about the items in the plastic bag.

Lessons Learned

There were a couple other lessons I took from this experience:

  • Online reviews matter. If I had not seen positive reviews, I would not have given this shop my business. It was the first thing I did on my smart phone when my insurance company told me they were out of network. We should be monitoring what our customers are saying and responding in a respectful and appreciative way on all of the feedback, whether it be positive or negative.
  • The entire process matters. If I made a list of all of the things this body shop did that were excellent and compared them with the things that irritate me, the excellent service would win by far. Yet, it was the last impression that sticks with me.
  • This experience highlights my belief that we have to work hard to make sure that there are not a few little things overshadowing the big efforts we attempt to do to provide superior service. I think that while some of us may try hard not to, it is natural to notice what goes wrong more than what goes right. We need to constantly evaluate the impressions we are leaving. Did we do an excellent job installing a superior piece of equipment after showing up on time and wearing booties in the house only to leave a puddle of water and empty salt bags near the install location?
  • Empathy and customer appreciation matters. Mistakes are going to happen. Even the best installers have bad days. Did we brush it off to the customer assuming all the good work we did would make them forgive the small errors? Or did we take a moment to show empathy, give a sincere apology and thank the customer for their business?

A little empathy from this shop probably would have been enough for me. While the body shop did an excellent job overall, the reminder I took from this experience is that we should not let our efforts to provide excellent service become so routine that we forget that the reason we want to give superior service is because of our customers. We need to make an effort to listen to our customers and to acknowledge the feedback they are giving us, even when it might feel petty. We need to thank them for the trust they give us when they allow us to serve them. 

About the author

Kelly Thompson is president for, Moti-Vitality LLC. Thompson can be, reached at [email protected].

expand_less