Q. “How do you win back a customer who has had a bad experience with your dealership?”

A. “I will call the customer, apologize for the bad experience and then ask him what he feels would be a fair way to correct the situation. If the customer gives me a reasonable resolution, I will honor it. If it is unreasonable, I will offer a predetermined solution of my own. Either way, I don’t want to end the call without some sort of resolution. Sometimes, the phone call itself will take care of the situation.”

— Dan Ellenz, Carrico Implement, Beloit, Kan.

A. “The notion that a customer is always right can sometimes lead to misconceptions. The customer has a view of a deal financially to his advantage and a product that will perform flawlessly to his every desire. The dealer wants to please his customer. Somewhere in between is the actual deal. However, as sometimes happens, some sort of misunderstanding can occur. A good dealer will take an honest approach, evaluate with his team and consult his customer. It has been my opinion that an open and honest dialogue will resolve most situations. Building relationships on honesty and trust generally prevent such problems.”

— Gene Nehring, Dekane Equipment, Big Rock, Ill.

A. “We try to find out what they were dissatisfied about and make it right first. If you make a genuine attempt to show you care about being the customer’s #1 dealer and are willing to admit when you or your dealership makes a mistake, hopefully, the customer will understand and give you another chance.”

— Brian Brownlee, Brownlee Equipment, Earlton, Ont.

A. “The quicker the response, the better chance at satisfaction. Immediately contact the customer and listen to the complaint. Listening first allows the customer to vent and more than likely will reveal what expectations they have for satisfaction. Then, realize that no matter what the cost is financially, you will be rewarded by retaining a customer. If you lose the customer, you will lose their future business. No business means no profit.”

—Wayne Blankenship, Rocky Mount Tractor, Rocky Mount, Va.

A. “If their dissatisfaction is due to our service or due to reasonable dissatisfaction with our product, we make every effort to make it whole, up to a complete refund or exchange. If it is out of our control, we still try to mitigate the concern, but within reason. And if it is an unreasonable customer, we bid them farewell.”

— Rick Oliver, Affordable Small Engine Repair, Jackson, Ohio

A. “Communication is key. I contact them, ask about the problem, listen and suggest we solve the problem together. Listening without emotion or ire is key. Quite often, I have found the customer has a problem and needs to get it off his chest. By listening, you offer that outlet and lower his stress so that you can work to correct the problem.”

— Craig R. Sweger, Sweger Lime and Equipment, Avella, Pa.

A. “Mistakes happen and communication is the key to winning people’s business and confidence back. It’s always good to apologize and let them know we will take care of things and that we are on their side. If something goes wrong in service, we will always do what we can to make it right at our own expense. If it is sales and they have had some inconveniences, we may discount another piece of equipment for them or give them a gift certificate they can use for future service, parts or wholegoods.”

— Rick Bailes, Bill’s Tractor, Adkins, Texas

A. “The easy response is to not let this happen in the first place. What I mean is sell only the very best quality equipment. Sometimes it’s best to let a customer walk if you can’t meet his expectations or if he wants to go the cheap way out. But in that rare exception that something does fail, assure the customer you will do what’s right. If you have to buy it back or sell something else, do it unless the machine has been abused or purchased from another dealer. Take it back, sell or trade for something else for the customer and then warranty the defective unit to the max. Then, resell the unit as used. One thing that I learned in 40 years in this business is that the manufacturer is not always going to take care of you. They will jump through hoops for the customer and the mass merchants and treat independent dealers differently. Again, sell good equipment and sell the right machine for the job.”

— Ray Johnson, Turf & Irrigation, Corpus Christi, Texas

A. “I like to think of every customer as a good one because you never know how many people they may know. When someone has a bad experience at the dealership, you must gather all the facts. Once you know the facts, you must have your solution plan in place, then visit with them and explain the solution. Try to visit with them at their home or business and show that you went out of your way to communicate with them and you will have the best results. Once you have gained that respect, you can then solve their issue. It may cost you a free service or a couple of dollars’ worth of parts, but you must keep in mind that customers will spread bad news like wild fire and spread good news slightly. The average customer will talk about his experience with approximately 50 people they know in the next 12 months (or longer) and you want those discussions in your favor.”

— John Buford, Sydenstricker Implement, Moscow Hills, Mo.

A. “In my opinion, customers are more willing to forgive a service issue than a product issue. Poor service experience can often be overcome by having a conversation honestly with the customer and service staff about how and why the failure occurred. The single largest reason customers go elsewhere is that they do not feel that their business is valuable to us. On the product side, a single bad product quality experience may taint that brand for life. The product experience is the most influential marketing that exists. If a product failure occurred and the manufacturer was not very engaged, it is likely you will need to supply a brand alternative to keep that customer.”

— Kenny Bergmann, S&H Farm Supply, Lockwood, Mo.

A. “Whenever you have a dissatisfied customer, it always takes a little extra to get back in their good graces. The most important thing is to understand the expectations of the customer. Understanding what is important to them and why they had a bad experience is huge if we want to win them back. Here’s my process when dealing with these types of customers: 1. Take the initiative and reach out, ASAP. Don’t wait to take action. Show the customer they are important to you. 2. Let them know you want to hear their position. Listen to their complaint and figure out what caused their bad experience. 3. Repeat what you understand to be the issue. This helps put you in their shoes and shows that you are listening. 4. Suggest a solution that exceeds their expectations.

“To win them back, it’s just not enough to give them what they expected from you to begin with. Give them some extra kickbacks to make it up to them. It can be something as small as a free oil change or a 5% discount.”

— Daniel Lee, Big Red’s Equipment, Granbury, Texas

A. “The question should be ‘How do we stop customers from having a bad experience?’ The first thing that comes to mind is that without good honest communication between owners and managers with their customer contact people, the owners and managers aren’t aware there is an unsatisfied customer. If a customer contact person created a problem that upsets a customer, then it’s natural they will be reluctant to bring forth the incident or problem with management. Too often, the bad situations are swept under the table. Owners and managers must instill the atmosphere that the customer contact person has the ability to satisfy a customer on the spot if a problem occurs. I look at customers as assets. We spend a lot of time and energy with facilities, tooling, training and advertising to obtain new customers, and often our current customers are taken for granted.”

— Harry Wells, American Equipment, Farmington, N.Y.

A. “We send surveys to all of our customers who purchase a major piece of wholegoods, nearly all of our service customers and random surveys to parts customers. If a customer is dissatisfied, they will usually respond quickly to the survey and we do our best to respond just as quickly to them. We do whatever it takes, within reason, to make them happy. There is that small percentage of customers who will never be happy — but overall, this system works very well for us. It is not inexpensive, but losing a customer is more costly.”

— Mike McCrate, Tulsa New Holland, Tulsa, Okla.

A. “We try to make it right, buy it back, or do anything to get their respect. This recently happened to me on a Brillion stalk chopper. The unit was 30 years old. We installed a new rotor bearing to keep the vibration down, but the customer thought it still had a lot of vibration. He would not reason with me that the unit was 30 years old, so I bought it back. We sell multiple lines of equipment, so, hopefully, we can sell him something different, then get his trust back.”

— Jeffrey Stammen, North Star Hardware & Implement, North Star, Ohio

A. “I’ve learned over my 37 years that you don’t send a letter and you don’t call. You go personally to the customer. They don’t want an apology. They want their equipment to run. You listen to them and give them the options and then do whatever you say you’re going to do. Sometimes, I’ve had to go to my CNH representative with issues and they’ve assisted us to make sure the customer was happy. They’ve worked hand in hand with dealers to make sure customers are happy.”

— Dean Sisneros, Rusler Implement, Pueblo, Colo.

A. “It takes a very short time to lose a customer and a very long time to win them back. Best advice I can give is that once you understand that you have a dissatisfied customer, meet it head on. Get the facts from all parties, determine the desired outcome and do whatever is within reason to bring the customer back into the fold.”

— Mark Foster, Birkey's Farm Store, Attica, Ind.

A. “We are continually looking at how we can take care of a situation in the sales process with more education of the customer. After any complaint, we discuss the way we handled it and what started the complaint as a way to see if there is a better way to take care of the situation the next time. Warranty diagnosis is the number one complaint we see. If it is determined we are at fault, every possible avenue will be pursued to take care of the customer. If the manufacturer is at fault, then we get them to take care of it. With or without warranty on a new piece, every possible fix is on the table. Make it right for the customer, period, is how we operate. However, warranty is not a blank check for issues.”

— David Wood, Smitty’s Lawn & Garden, Olathe, Kan.

A. “If service has been the problem, it is not easy to get a customer back. The key is to take care of issues before they become dissatisfied and get mad enough to leave. I have found honesty is the best approach. There are many types of service failures and we need to address them differently. Some of the failures may be repairs that aren’t done right the first time; a repair that’s done right, but the customer thinks took too long; customers not happy with the technician; service techs not working on their machine quickly enough; or price of service is too high. Talk to the customer about why they are unsatisfied, be honest and explain the ‘whys’ and ‘how come’ questions they have. Final thought, be honest.”

— Rick Abbadusky, Birkey’s Farm Store, Macomb, Ill.

A. “There will always be bumps in the road to total satisfaction and most of it boils down to what will satisfy the customer as well as the business. There are some who ask and expect more than the business they give you is worth. You have to figure out the value of the customer in the fiscal life of your business. Maybe on a different day and in a different mood, the issues wouldn't have been an issue. It always takes less effort to keep them happy to begin with than to have to buy them back or lose them forever.”

— Art White, White’s Farm Supply, Central New York

A. “As soon as you find out there is an issue with a customer, you need to take immediate action. Call and make an appointment to discuss the problem in person. Determine if this is a problem with a product or a person. This must be taken care of now, not later. Many times the problem was either a missed communication or a training issue. Establish a dialogue and follow up until all issues are addressed. Sometimes you just need to make sure the customer knows how much you care about them and the problem can be taken care of quickly.”

— Terry O'Connor, Lakeland Equipment, Hall, N.Y.

A. “The key is to come up with a solution that satisfies the customer. To do that, simply ask them what they think would be the best way to handle the situation and then listen.”

— Don Van Houweling, Van Wall Equipment, Perry, Iowa

A. “The only way I have found to retain customers that have had issues with one of my products is to offer the best service they have ever had. As soon as you are aware of the problem, respond quickly and find a solution that works for both parties involved. Never let a small issue turn into a bigger problem by wishing it goes away. Listen to your customers’ needs and respond in kind.”

— Kirk Stricklin, Striklin Equipment Sales, Canby, Ore.

A. “Most of the time, if I hear of a problem, I call and go meet the person face to face in private and try to solve it.”

— Glen Sweeden, Sweeden Inc., Murfreesboro, Ark.

A. “I try to tell all our store managers to first ask yourself if you want to keep this customer and, if yes, then sit down with them and tell them you are sorry for this and we, the company, value them as a customer and we need to know how we can make this right and put it all behind us. The request must be reasonable and affordable, but it usually is a way for the customer to help in resolving the problem.

— Steve Lefeld, Lefeld Implement, Coldwater, Ohio

A. “There is no one right way to win back lost customers. This aspect of customer service requires asking the customer what happened and perhaps getting the employee’s side of the story as well. Did we lose the customer because they perceived our pricing to be too high? Regaining that customer requires a different strategy than smoothing things over with a customer who perceived a repair took too long to perform.

“We’ve had customers leave negative reviews because a mower took 2 weeks to repair. If the part was backordered by the distributor or OEM, it was out of our control, but good luck getting the customer to understand that. If it took 2 weeks because we made a mistake or forgot about it, we eat crow and apologize to the customer, and perhaps offer half off their next oil change or a free blade sharpening. Sometimes, they respect the fact that we’re honest about making a mistake and that’s sufficient to retain them as a customer.

“If one or more customers have been lost due to repair problems (reworks, failure to repair correctly, overcharged, etc.) and there has been turnover in the shop, sometimes it’s sufficient to reassure the customer that we are actively monitoring the situation and removing technicians who do not reflect the company’s mission, vision and culture of integrity.”

— Tim Berman, Big Red's Equipment, Granbury, Texas