What is the proper action to take to preserve your reputation in the business world, your standing with the community, and, last but not least, your sanity?I’m sitting in my office the other day, minding my own business, when I get a call from one of my technicians.

“I think you’re about to get a call from somebody,” he said, signaling the start of a very uneasy conversation. “I just came out to my truck in a condominium parking lot, and there’s a guy standing there next to a pretty nice Lexus.”

I lean back a bit in my chair and settle in for “story time.” Apparently, this gentleman keeps his car very nice and clean and he accuses our tech of putting a ding in the side of it with the door of our (my) truck. Of course, if I owned a really nice Lexus, I’m not sure I’d keep it parked in a condo parking lot, but that’s irrelevant. This man is positive there is a fresh chip in his door and, since he is vigilant about the condition of his car, obviously, our tech is at fault. Our tech respectfully points out that the truck seems to be a little far away. He opens the door and shows the guy the truck door is out of reach of his car and the damage is far from where the door opens to. The man quickly says the truck could have been moved after the offense. Some words were exchanged and the two parted ways. Somehow, I manage to hold my head in both hands while keeping the receiver pinned to the side of my head. I say, “Oh well.” My tech apologizes and ends the call.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, our receptionist walks into my office and tells me there’s a man on the phone who wants to talk to me. She says she used to work for this guy, and he’s “real bad news.” He’s always looking to take advantage of people and has the morals of an inner-city rodent. I take a long breath, exhale slowly, and pick up the phone. Although it takes him three times as long to relate the chronology of events; the man’s story is identical to my tech’s. I listen patiently and insert the proper amount of uh hums, ohs, and aahs at the appropriate times. It works, he finally stops talking. Now, I’m sitting at my desk, leaning back in my chair slowly, and shaking my head from side to side.

What did I do wrong? Why am I getting this call? What in the world is going on here? I’ve spent years carefully selecting coworkers who are solid citizens; people of character who are honest, look good, smell good, etc. Where did I go astray? I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars and endless hours training our staff to deliver the utmost in customer service; how could this be possible? Anyway, why is he calling me? Oh yeah, I own the company. I’m the guy who’s responsible for this place and everything that happens here. Everything that goes wrong is my fault; at least that’s the way it seems sometimes.

A short timeout for some good news. We don’t get these calls every day. In fact, we rarely get these calls, right? Most days, everyone is out there doing a great job exceeding customers’ expectations, just like we taught them. If we’re fortunate, sometime we even charge more than the job cost us, and we put a few extra bucks in the bank. There are a ton of good days and lots of success to shout about. That’s what keeps us coming back in to the shop every morning. For the most part, it’s working.

Now, back to my new friend on the phone. I start out calm and reserved: “Well, sir, that’s quite an accusation you’ve leveled against our tech. You’re actually suggesting that he hit your car and then slightly moved his truck away from your car to cover up the offense.

“You know, I’ve spent years assembling a group of people here at our company who are of high moral character and
are specifically selected for their technical and customer-service skills. These people are all professionals.”

I then point out that it’s a little odd he would find white paint chips on his car when all of our trucks are completely wrapped with vinyl decals. He quickly back-peddled and said he didn’t mean they were white just that the chips were fresh. “Oh … OK,” I say. After a long pause I explain to the man that there is no way on Earth I believe my tech would do such a thing. I made it clear I didn’t think he was guilty. Before he could react, I continued … “However, I’m prepared and willing to accept full and complete responsibility for whatever may have happened to your car.”

There was silence on the other end of the line. I told him all he had to do was take a few pictures of the damage and email me the pictures, his contact information, the vehicle indentification number (VIN), and his insurance information. I would be happy to take care of the situation immediately. Finally he spoke. “OK… I certainly will,” and, after giving him my email address, we hung up.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Why would Steve do such a crazy thing? Isn’t that admitting guilt?” No, it’s not; I clearly stated that I didn’t believe we were at fault, but I knew there was no good ending here. I guess I reserved the option to “go to the mat” on this. I could have stood my ground and risked having the conversation spiral out of control. You know the threats: a Better Business Bureau (BBB) complaint, negative Facebook posts, Google attacks, etc. … All these could have been the result. Is a few hundred dollars worth all of that? Certainly not. In a case like this, I see only one path; you need to decide what you’ll do regardless of how the other party acts. The ultimate question is: What is the proper action to take to preserve your reputation in the business world, your standing with the community, and, last but not least, your sanity. Are there people out there looking to take advantage of you? Sure. When you cross paths with one, I highly recommend you make the same decision I’ve made, simply deal with it and move on. A good friend of mine in the industry calls this “taking the high road.”

This time, it actually ended very well. About 10 minutes later, the man was on the phone again. He told me, in this day and age, when people tend not to take responsibility for their actions, I was willing to take responsibility for something that I didn’t consider my responsibility. That impressed him. “Why don’t we just forget this ever happened?”

My response: “Consider it done.”

Publication date: 8/10/2015

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