The do's and don’ts of turning customers away

People in reception

Capricorn’s State of the Nation Report 2021 found a wide variety of reasons mechanical workshops turn customers away. But how do you do that without losing the customer for life?

Is there ever a good reason to turn a customer away?

According to Capricorn’s State of the Nation report for 2021, there is a wide variety of reasons Members sometimes tell customers they can’t help them. They range from the technical to the, quite frankly, personal.

State of the Nation Graph

When you look at that list, it’s easy to understand how Members might come to a decision to turn an individual customer away on any particular day. If you don’t have the tools, for example, then you simply can’t do the work.

But here’s the big question: whether your reason for turning that customer away is a good one or a bad one, are you ever likely to see that customer again? You might not. And they might tell all their friends never to use your services, either. When 78% of Members are relying on word-of-mouth recommendations to promote their workshops, that might be a bad strategy.

We asked Perth-based customer service expert Chris Smoje for his best tips and advice on how to (and whether to) turn customers away.

Is there ever a good reason to turn a customer away?

“Sometimes our gut instinct is to turn a customer away,” Chris said. “For instance, if you’re operating at capacity and you’re not even able to schedule anything further in.

“While this might still be a good enough excuse to turn the customer away, you should always ask an additional question. For example, ‘when were you hoping to have this done by?’

“Some customers will say right away, and you can’t help them, but you might be surprised that some customers don’t have as much urgency and could be booked into a timeslot that is weeks into the future.

“If you can’t complete the job because it’s out of scope, then it’s fine to turn a customer away. I think customers would expect you to turn them away. That’s probably the only good reason you would.

“You could do a lot more damage if you said you could do the job and then you find out that you can’t. It’s just about being up-front.”

What about turning away customers who have a bad attitude?

“It’s not about liking every customer,” Chris said. “In fact, the hardest part of service for many is to resist ‘moralising’ when customers don’t behave the way you would expect them to.

“I think it’s wrong to get into the mindset that if a customer is going to be hard work, then get rid of them. But certainly, if you believe there is a fundamental clash in values, or even that the same problem keeps occurring because the customer won’t take care of their vehicle themselves, there are gentle ways to part ways.”

How do I turn a customer away gently?

“Customers who are turned away still have the same problem they had to begin with—that is, they are left unhelped,” Chris said.

“Let’s pretend here for a second that turning the customer away wasn’t done in a rude way but very pleasantly. It still leaves the customer in a situation where effectively no customer service has been provided.

“Being pleasant and polite, without being helpful does not count as service.

“Regardless of the reason for turning a customer away, good service would be to give the customer some kind of recommendation on where they could go. You may know it straightaway, or you may need to take five minutes to research for them. In any case, you have done some work to be helpful.”

What are the risks of turning a customer away?

“Just remember that if you don’t take the work, someone else will,” Chris said.  

“While there should be an abundance of work, the competitor that continuously looks after their customers will become known for doing so, and those who don’t take care of their customers will soon learn that word gets around.”

If I have to turn a customer away, how do I get them back next time?

“You should offer something to make sure you can get the person to come back,” Chris said.

“It could be something as simple as saying ‘we really regret the fact we couldn’t help you this time, so, next time when you come through, we will happily give you an X amount of discount’, or ‘as a gesture of goodwill, we will give you a free tire balance and rotation’, or perhaps offer a free detailing or something like that.”

Want to know more?

Download the full State of the Nation 2021 report.

This article was published 06/01/2022 and the content is current as at the date of publication.