Friday, July 30, 2021 | August 2021

How to best handle disgruntled customers and avoid conflict


IT’S A CALM MONDAY AFTERNOON IN THE SHOP. The phone rings and you answer with the same lighthearted energy the day has brought forth. But instead of another pleasant conversation, you are met with an angry voice yelling about the status of their vehicle.

Where do you go from here? How do you de-escalate the situation and make the customer happy? MWACA Magazine sat down with Sarah Bock, service manager at Aasby Automotive Service in Springfield, Mo., to discuss ways to best handle disgruntled and upset customers. Bock has been in the industry since she was young and continues to use her love for people to grow in her role and grow the shop.


Sarah Bock Service Manager Aasby Automotive Service Springfield. Mo.It’s simple: If you do everything in your power to avoid a situation where a customer could potentially become angry, you don’t have to deal with an upset customer. A majority of times when a customer is upset is because he or she either was communicated a timeline that did not come to fruition, or unspoken expectations weren’t met.

It’s best to give customers an achievable time frame and estimate during the first conversation about their repair. But not everything in the world of repair is planned or expected. If something funky comes up along the way that pushes back an estimated pick-up, communicate clearly with the customer about the issue.

“The guys up front at the shop are really great—if something comes up out of the ordinary, they focus on communicating clearly with the customer throughout the process,” Bock says.

As a way to send quick updates throughout the process, Bock encourages the staff to text updates to customers.


Bock puts the trust in the service advisors at her shop to be friendly and understanding with every type of customer that walks through the shop doors. The employees in the front of the shop deal directly with customers and need to love people, she says.

Being personable and thoughtful are far more important characteristics for service advisors than having a vast amount of car knowledge. Instead of focusing on the technical aspects of the industry, service advisors should have more in common with a waiter or waitress, Bock suggests. You can teach almost anyone about the ins and outs of repair knowledge and lingo, but it’s a lot more difficult to teach someone how to like other people.

“If your advisors genuinely like people and want to help others, it makes everything that much easier,” Bock explains.


Because of the strong communication at Aasby Automotive Service, Bock can count on one hand the amount of times a year the team sees a visibly upset customer. But in the business of working with the public, a few disgruntled customers are bound to pop up.

“When someone is upset we need to give them sympathy and empathy immediately, and then follow up with action,” Bock says.

More than anything, people who are upset want to be listened to and be understood. Move the conversation to a private location and encourage the customer to explain exactly why they are upset—and truly listen.

Let the individual be frustrated, and stay calm. Repeat back to the customer exactly what you heard to show you are listening. Take responsibility for the miscommunication or issue and then work with the customer to help solve it. But the solution may be as simple as listening, empathizing, and understanding.