When repairs go long — finish strong

DavidKoshollekBlogNo racer backs off on the last lap. So, why do we finish weak when repairs go long?

It's a common occurrence. When challenged with a tough, recurring problem we often get irritated, lose our cool and start to address the situation poorly. When the going gets tough the best advice is to stay the course, ride the high road and finish as strong as you started, because that's when it matters most.

When situations go south everyone is affected. The scenario: a bike is brought to service for an issue. The owner is ticked off that the bike will be out of commission, plus he may have lost confidence in its reliability. If the technician doesn't fix it right the first time you can expect the customer to double down on his frustration level. This transfers to the service advisor who bears the brunt of the customer's bad attitude. Then the service advisor relays that tension to the technician to influence fixing it right the "second time." Even the parts department can be affected, like when the part the tech requested was special ordered, but didn't fix the problem and now service wants to return it for a refund. Familiar? Sure it is. When bikes go bad it’s not easy on anyone.

Don’t take it out on the customer! Keep your eye on the prize, which is to finish in a professional, empathetic and amiable manner. At some point you’ll fix the problem, the bike will be delivered and the customer will be satisfied. Realize that any aggravation you exhibit or accusations you make towards the customer at this point will only magnify the customer's sour feelings that are already present. In extreme situations customers can get so upset that they sue you or try to give the bike back to the manufacturer using the Lemon Law. Their patience is already paper thin and any bad behavior on your part only serves to push them over the edge.

Customers first — Dealership foremost. This means to treat all customers well, as long as the dealership benefits in the long run. Exhibiting a pleasant, professional attitude start to finish will develop and maintain a good service reputation, build customer loyalty and encourage referrals. Staying the course to fix the bike right will be recognized, appreciated and hopefully shared with others as a positive experience.

Reduce opportunities for disaster. It's a simple numbers game; the fewer the issues you accept the fewer the opportunities for disaster. For example, when possible, don’t check in vehicles that look like trouble. If the bike is out of warranty, not owned by a regular customer and you don’t desperately need the work – send problem children down the road. When I was in the biz I knew a couple shops that would work on just about anything. When confronted with a problem bike I didn't want to work on I doubled the verbal repair estimate and told the customer something like, “I want to do what’s right for you, so I have to warn you this repair could cost up to $XXXX. That’s a lot of money so I recommend a guy down the street who operates with less overhead. He can do it for less." If the customer still wanted us to do the work I had at least established a price that covered what could be a lengthy diagnosis and repair.

Work it, before you deliver it. If the tech assigned to the job can’t verify the symptom have another tech ride or test it before digging in. There’s no sense in throwing parts at it if you don’t know exactly where to start.

After the first misdiagnosis or repair attempt, hold a shop meeting to discuss what you know so far; I.E. the symptoms, the tests performed and any repairs made. A discussion with other techs may lead to the answer. At the least, it’s a good training exercise. And don’t forget to contact other shops to see if they’ve experienced a similar problem.

Research your factory literature and call your factory service rep. They’re a clearing house for technical information and may have the answer. This is especially important if the vehicle is under warranty. Most states have a Lemon Law and you may have limited time or a limited number of attempts to fix the problem before you end up in court. If the bike seems to be operating correctly, write the time and miles ridden on the repair order and state, "Vehicle is operating as a proper representation of the product."


Be a good role model. Exhibit empathy for your customer’s feelings. Say something like, “I know this is a difficult situation for you, you don’t have your bike and that’s very frustrating. It’s been tough on us too. But, we won’t give up if you won’t. Let me review what we’ve done so far (the tests, repairs and service calls made, etc.) and what we plan to do next." Ask, "Can I rely on you to be patient and understanding while we pursue a solution?”

Be persistent. Someone once told me Sylvester Stallone pitched the screenplay for his Rocky movie over 300-times before a studio accepted it. I’ve never heard of a bike being in for the same problem that many times, so you’re already way ahead of Stallone! C’mon, hit me, you ain't doin' so bad! Now get back to work with a smile on your face… and finish strong in every case.

Dave "Dako" Koshollek has worked in the motorcycle industry since 1971 as a motorcycle mechanic and service manager, as a technical trainer and national director for MMI's Harley-Davidson training programs and as vice president for Dynojet Research's motorcycle division. In 1998 Koshollek formed the DAKO Management company that provides sales, management and product training both in print and in person. He has written over 200-articles for Harley-Davidson's dealer publication, ShopTalk, has developed and taught numerous Harley-Davidson University courses in dealerships and at dealer conventions around the world and has authored a column titled "Dako's Fuel for Thought" for over 10-years that delivers proven parts and service operations best practices. Dako lives by the principle, "Ride Well - Be Profitable", which applies to all things in life.

Email: dakosfuelforthought@gmail.com


  1. Good stuff Dave! The easy jobs are just that - but a tough job can really test your metal. I often found that jobs went sideways because of paperwork and the communication that goes with the job. Always follow through with your process (never rush) and when in doubt, talk it out! Keep the customer in the communication loop and you will have a much better chance of making it turn out right. When the customer knows you are human but are doing everything you can to help, you will have a customer that will continue to work with you.

  2. Great insight on an everyday situation. A great wrench once told me, "If you start getting frustrated with a job, walk away for a few minutes". The longer an undetectable problem eludes us, the more the situation can be problematic. Walking away a few minutes, calming down then re-attacking the problem often results with the solution staring you in the face. Service departments can make or break a dealership, and as you mention, the service writers catch the best and worst of a customer. It is so very important for dealerships to put the right people on the front lines to deal with customers and properly communicate situations; hopefully avoiding the customer blow up. Lastly, dealerships have to take some of the responsibility for come-backs. There is so much pressure these days on getting bikes off the lifts, many times Techs feel pressured to overlook some mechanical issues or "temporarily" fix a problem. Flat-rate pay is a devils advocate of this mindset. As Techs, customers lives are in our hands, be thorough, be diligent, and do the job correctly the first time. A customer may be irritated a job took longer than expected, but will most likely be thankful for a Tech making sure the job is done right the first time.

  3. Hi Rich,

    That would be another title for an article, "Communication is Key" or Communication is Critical." The trust in motorcycle shops is undermined by the actions of other businesses, such as car shops, who don't always operate in a trustworthy manner. For example, with the exception of a menu item service I cannot remember the last time a car dealer did the work at the estimate they gave me. It's always more. Additionally, the last 4-services on my trucks and cars omitted greasing the steering linkage. All they did was change the engine oil. For this and other reasons it's imperative that motorcycle service advisors take the time to explain what will be performed, maintain updates through the process and set aside time to explain the work and answer questions when the customer picks up their bike. Good thoughts! Thanks Rich

  4. Hi Thomas,

    All great thoughts - Thanks!

    I like the walk away for a minute suggestion when confronted with a tough situation. Here's an admission. I always write my articles and let them stew at least overnight before emailing them to my clients. With a 24-hour break my mind operates differently on the second pass and I always make changes - for the better. Paul Dean, famous writer at Cycle World magazine taught me this many years ago when I wrote a dyno article for the old Big Twin magazine. Ride well - Be Profitable!

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