Opinion: Dealing with a customer who’s “not afraid to go back to jail”

GW columnist, Aaron Phillips describes the terrifying moment he was threatened to have his eyes poked out

Opinion: Dealing with a customer who’s “not afraid to go back to jail”
Impatient and even the odd aggressive customer are common but how would you deal with personal threats in the workshop? Image: Bigstock.

Aaron Phillips of Jackson & Phillips Automotive Services in Leighton Buzzard shares his experience with a violent customer in his column for GW Views.

Having spent the majority of my life working for a family-run independent garage with a solid customer base, I probably would have laughed if you had told me 18 months ago that I would be contributing to a magazine piece on violent customers, let alone calling the police on one.

At Jackson & Phillips we have always put the customer first and been as transparent and honest with them as possible, after all it’s how the business was built.

On the rare occasions that we have had a problem with a job I have put a lot of effort into understanding things from the customers point of view, taking time to explain as simply as possible the issues.

Most of the time these types of issue arise from a misunderstanding that can be easily laid to rest with a simple conversation, however where this isn’t the case I feel it is important to find out what the customer actually wants and how we can come to some sort of agreement in order to keep their custom.

Some of our best customers have come from the more difficult/challenging jobs we have carried out, it can build a relationship as most understand we are doing our best to help.

New customer

Having said all that, on one particular occasion we were carrying out a job for a new customer who had brought his vehicle to us directly from another garage, which in his words “did a load of work and left it with this rattle”.

He was very vague about what had been done.

We correctly diagnosed the fault and advised the customer of the costs.

He was pleased we had found the fault and asked us to look into some other issues with the vehicle.

We completed the repairs and notified the customer of costs on the extra work and that we had noticed a vibration on road test.

The vehicle wasn’t road tested prior to the initial job, as the engine rattle was deemed too bad and may have led to further damage.

The customer agreed for the extra work to be carried out but turned up and asked to start the vehicle and listen to the engine.

He seemed happy with the engine running, we then offered him the opportunity to road test the vehicle with one of our technicians to see if the vibration was something that he was already aware of.

He told the technician that the vibration definitely wasn’t there before and informed us that the van was down on power because he had previously remapped  it.

And it was much faster before it came to us, apparently.

“The customer started to become difficult”

We agreed to double check our work and this was the point at which the customer started to become difficult.

We checked and rechecked all our work, found several other issues which were totally unrelated to the work we had done and even correcting some to try and improve the situation.

We could find no way in which we could possibly have caused the faults the customer was experiencing.

We conveyed this to the customer who was now starting to talk about court action and lawyers.

Having never been in this situation we agreed to get a specialist who we had dealt with before to inspect the vehicle.

The specialist agreed that there was nothing wrong with the work we had done, but that the vibration was most likely caused by the original fault.

Again, we spoke to the customer who was now becoming increasingly aggressive.

He turned up on one occasion and told us “I’ve been to prison before and don’t mind going back over this”.

Related: Customer launches civil court action against garage owner and breaks story to The Sun

“Threatened to follow us home”

He also threatened to follow us home.

We then requested that he remove the van as we were unwilling to do any more work for him, which he wouldn’t.

He involved his insurance company and was less than happy with their assessors view on the matter.

At this point he then started screaming and shouting and got very confrontational.

He threatened to poke out my eyes and get petrol to set me on fire.

His violence continued until I called the police, at which point he decided to leave.

“The experience has left its mark”

Although there was no actual physical violence, the experience has left its mark on everyone involved.

We have now extended the CCTV coverage and invested in recorded phone calls.

We also always make sure that there are two people locking the gates in the evening.

Having said all that I personally feel there are positives to be taken from this difficult situation.

I am now definitely more confident with all my customers, not just the difficult ones.

I know that everyone is better protected and more able to deal with situations like this should one ever arise again.

Related: Thug faces prison after attacking 17-year-old apprentice over tyre problem

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