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How to Get Great Boat Yard Service

Can’t get good service? Here are 10 tips that work.

March 1, 2001
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The Rolling Stones had it right – you can’t always get what you want. When it comes to service, boat owners know this better than anyone. How many times have you brought your boat in for work only to be scheduled two weeks down the road? Or when you go to pick it up, the boat’s dirty and still not right? There’s no reason you can’t get satisfaction the next time you bring your boat in for service. Here’s what you need to do.

1. BE COMMITTED. Before you leave the shop, get a commitment. Be polite but let the mechanics know what you expect and when you expect it. Then they can tell you if there’s a snowball’s chance of getting what you want. Make the service provider repeat the committal out loud, so he’ll remember what the agreement is. Shake hands, and be sure to ask him to give you a call before the shop does any extra work. This way there are no surprises.

2. BRING IT IN CLEAN. If the folks working on your boat can tell that you take good care of it, they’re more likely to do the same. If ashes and empties decorate the sole and the gel coat is a lighter shade of brown, don’t be surprised if the mechanics don’t give it any more TLC than you do.

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3. CAPT. MANNERS. Promise to send a letter to the service manager or the owners of the shop if the job is well done. Service providers are always getting negative feedback and complaints, so change tactics. Mention to the mechanic that you’ll write a letter praising his hard work. Then don’t forget to write it.

4. SYMPATHETIC EAR. Chances are your mechanic isn’t having a great day. Why? Don’t ask. Just assume he isn’t. Be sympathetic. Ask about the pictures on his wall, about how the family’s doing. Get him yapping about anything except the five other boats with props mysteriously damaged while in “really deep water.”

5. WHITE LIES. Let him know that you’re human, too. You also have obligations that need to be met. Try a variation on this: “I really need the boat back soon because I’m taking my son’s Cub Scout troop out for a day on the water. I don’t want to let them down by not having the boat ready. We were planning on going out next Saturday at 10 a.m.” Remember to set a specific time and have him agree to it – out loud.

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6. CERTIFIED? OR CERTIFIABLE? Probe a bit before you bring your boat in for service. For instance, are the mechanics employed there certified to work on the engine you have? Just because there’s a certified-mechanic sign hanging over the door, don’t assume the certification was done recently. That sign could be from 1905. Is the shop a family-owned operation or part of chain? This information will come in handy if you need to log a complaint.

7. [email protected]#&! We hope it won’t come to this, but if it’s necessary – bitch, moan, and complain. Rage like a rabid raccoon if you have to, then find someone who can make managerial decisions and threaten to take your business elsewhere: “Sir, I don’t want to be a pain in the ass, but I need this repair done right. If you can’t do it for me, I’ll give my business to some other shop, although I’d rather not.” There’s a multitude of psychological games being played here. Try it.

8. THE TIPS ON TIPS. Those extra tickets to the ball game or that $15 bouquet of flowers for the receptionist will bump up your boat on the shop’s to do list. Like the headwaiter at your favorite bistro, your mechanic is honored by a little gratuity now and then. And he’ll remember you next time.

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9. TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Don’t wait for the week before Memorial Day to get that new lower unit put in. The less busy the shop is, the better your chances of having service done right and on time. Winter is the best time for boat service.

10. LOYAL FAN. Loyalty and money endear. Don’t spread the wealth to others. If you have three boats that need work, bring them all to the same shop. Your status will improve exponentially with the amount of work you bring. Of course, as a result, you’ll be spending more money – a fact that won’t be lost on the shop’s management.

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