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A fired customer wonders what to do next.

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Dear Tom and Ray:



I have been taking my cars for repairs and service to the same repair/tire shop for more than 10 years. The last time I went in for an oil change, the shop manager called me aside. He said, "You've been coming in here for years for oil changes and so on, but I notice you have a brand-new set of tires and you didn't buy them from me, and I'd like to know why." He was visibly upset, so I was very careful to say that it was just a matter of price, and that I had bought tires from him in the past. He then got very upset and said, "Well, then you can let that other guy do your oil changes from now on too!" And he stormed off. I felt like I'd been caught cheating on my wife! (NOT that I actually know what that feels like, of course!) Why did he throw me out of his shop? Can't I shop around for tires? The worst part is, now I have to find a new shop that I can trust. -- Peter

TOM: Geez, Peter. Your mechanic does not have what we refer to in the shop as "good heapside manner."

RAY: He was doing fine until he got visibly upset and fired you as a customer.

TOM: I think it was perfectly OK for him to inquire as to why you didn't buy the tires from him. Maybe that would have produced some useful information for him. Maybe you would have said, "I didn't know you sell tires," and he could have told you that he does, and taken steps to make sure other customers know that.

RAY: And if you said it was due to price, he could have considered lowering his prices, or responded by saying, "Well, since you're a longtime customer, I'd be happy to give you a discount and match anyone else's price, so I hope you'll think of me next time you need tires." That would have been fine, right?

TOM: Or he might have said, "That's true, I can't compete with those big tire places on price, but since I see your car regularly, I can keep an eye on your tires for you, rotate them regularly and replace one if anything goes wrong." That would have an acceptable response too, right?

RAY: I can sympathize with the guy, to some extent. He probably feels like he's been good to you through the years, and he wishes you had at least called him and said: "Frank, I need tires, but they cost 10 bucks less per tire at Tires R Us. Is there anything you can do for me, or should I just get them over there?"

TOM: He just handled the situation poorly. So, now you have two choices, Peter. You can call him up and say: "Frank, listen, I'm sorry about buying my tires elsewhere. And I assume you were just having a bad day. I've been a customer of yours for a long time, and I'd like to keep being your customer if we can get past this." And if he truly was just having a bad day -- if he was unscrewing a spark plug, stripped the threads, dropped his wedding ring into the cylinder, and then went to the restroom and accidentally wiped himself with 100-grit sandpaper that day -- he'll have a chance to apologize and get a good customer back.

RAY: Or, if you don't want to do that or don't think you should have to, you can go to our Web site, www.cartalk.com, and look at the Mechanics Files. Enter your ZIP code, and you'll get a list of nearby shops that other readers and listeners of ours have personally recommended. Good luck, Peter.


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