Rick's Tire and Wheel - Customer Service, Honesty and Mechanics can collide

Monday, June 8, 2009
I'm going to unjustly attack an entire industry using a bunch of stereo-types. I'm warning you about this because I know I'm not right. My anger with this industry has much more to do with my ignorance. I am not a gear-head. I don't know when I'm being lied to by a mechanic. I don't know when I'm being told something needs replacing when it could just be repaired.

That said, I have never, ever, had a good experience with a mechanic. I have been wholesale taken advantage of on more than one occasion because my ignorance is pretty obvious (the last guy said I needed to have the Johnson Rod replaced)

I wrote a comment a while back about how you run into a free service or application every once in a while that I'd happily toss money (and have in both cases). The idea is that you've succeeded if people are begging for ways to pay you for what you're giving away.
On the customer service side, this equates to offering such good customer service that people are begging for ways to market your company.

The enemy of customer service is the traditional auto-mechanic (see my earlier disclaimer):
Leading up to this I had taken my car --- one which I had intended on replacing late summer --- to a smaller shop to repair my 4WD. They took it for a day, ruled out the most common cause of this particular car failing to return from 4WD, charged me fifty bucks for the diagnostic and told me to take it to the dealer.

The dealer fixed a problem with the computer (there are various advisories out for this model vehicle), and discovered I needed a transfer case motor (Johnson Rod what do I know?), charged me $65 for the diagnostic and said that it would cost me a thousand bucks to repair. They also told me that nobody could fix this for less than $700 because the part is $550 on its own. The truck is probably worth $4000 if I sold it today (who's buying anything?), so I ate the money, kept the receipt and figured I'd just live with the problem until I replaced it.

Two weeks ago, the other shoe fell. The truck wouldn't start without a jump and stalled at each stoplight. The problem went away the next day so I didn't think anything of it. "This is a car I'm replacing ... it works now ... so who cares."

Well, the verdict was in as of my last oil change, the battery is done. I stalled all the way there and back. So I took it to Rick's Tire and Wheel due to a very trusted recommendation. I thought it was worth a shot to see if I could avoid buying a new car for another Winter or two.

I came in with a laundry list:
Replace the battery and check it out to see if there are other problems.
Fix the 4WD.
The tires looked bad to me (what do I know), replace them.

My thinking was, if there were a bunch of problems, I'd pay for a lousy battery, buy a new car in August and put this one on Craigslist if the dealer didn't offer a good trade.

I received a phone call from Rick this afternoon. The 4WD is fixed, the battery is replaced. Price: about $350 (both the battery and the "nobody can do it for under $700 4WD repair")

Customer Service, above and beyond

"Wait on the tires until fall, they're fine". They seemed OK to me on wet and dry pavement but they didn't look anything like the spare. I couldn't tell if they were bad last winter because my truck is a rear-wheel drive 2-door SUV. Good tires or not, it drives very badly in the winter without the 4WD. The tires looked worn to me and I even told Rick my thoughts when I dropped the car off. He could have easily sold me four new tires (especially after the significant savings on the other repairs) but he didn't.

Despite selling me a total of zero tires when he could have sold four, I have an unused full sized spare on my truck (I've never had one of those with previous vehicles so I didn't think anything of it). He told me to buy three new tires in the fall, take the spare and use it as my fourth, then take the best of the four old tires and make it my spare.

So he not only didn't sell me four tires today, he sold me one less than he would have in the fall.

Oh, and I should mention that I gave Rick my estimate from the dealer. He knew how much they were going to charge me. He could have come in at $450, sold me four tires today and I would have probably taken the deal and left feeling OK about the transaction. I would have left with a running car with new tires, a new battery and a working 4WD for under a grand. It would have gotten me through the Winter.

Why it Matters

I worked retail as a teenager and we were always told that dissatisfied customers will tell about 15 people how lousy they were treated and 90% of them won't shop at the place again. Satisfied customers will tell far fewer people of the experience and will not have their brand loyalty affected very dramatically.

An experience like this breaks that rule. I posted this to my (barely traversed) blog, called a few people I know who need car repairs right now, and sent several e-mails. I'll be telling everyone I know about this experience.

Full Disclosure: I am not invested in this company nor are they paying me to give them an endorsement, nor do they know that I have given them one.

Rick's is located on 22-mile road between Ryan and Shelby (closer to Ryan) on the South Side if you're in the greater Detroit area, you read this blog and you need car repairs.