Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2002   by Jim Anderton, Editor

Hitting the hot button

From the customer's perspective, technicians can repair vehicles with a magic wand and take a two- hour lunch, a perspective that isn't going to change in this age of increased customer expectations

Bob Greenwood certainly started something. In Bob’s February column, he related a sorry experience he had with a dealer in dealing with a simple warranty repair issue with his Oldsmobile. The response has been tremendous. Many of you have written and E-mailed this desk to comment, and many take issue with Bob’s assessment of the dealer experience. That’s good, not only because we like to hear from our readers, but also because the feedback reveals that the interaction between customer/client and service advisor/technician is a sensitive subject. Every shop knows that they have a percentage of “problem customers”. Whether it’s pricing, speed, or dealing with the anger associated with the occasional comeback, unhappy customers can ruin everyone’s day. There is also a (hopefully small) percentage that can’t be satisfied no matter what you do.

As I see it, the point of Bob’s unfortunate experience with his local GM dealer wasn’t about whether or not the service advisor was appropriately repentant about the technician’s mistakes. More fundamentally, I read something interesting about dealer service in general: that there’s a disconnect between the person with whom the customer interacts at the front end of the system and the people doing the work. Dealer service writers are generally well trained and polite, as Bob’s was. They also are often handling large numbers of vehicles and their owners, and equally often have no idea what the service procedure was or how it was performed. Missing repair items happen. So does accidentally soiling the carpets. And inadvertently breaking interior trim pieces. Do all three, however, and the service department has a problem. “I’m sorry” is good, but when there’s a problem, the second round of repairs had better be right, especially in a warranty situation with a pricey vehicle like an Aurora. We’re not talking about a transient electrical problem or a phantom leak here. That dealership screwed up. They also attempted to rectify the situation, but didn’t address the core problem: how do you compensate the owner for the loss of use of the vehicle and the inconvenience of yet another visit to the dealership? A good start would have been to get the technician involved early on. Yes, everyone’s busy, but that face-to-face contact can defuse a lot of hostility. Then the service manager ought to take command of the situation, put the customer into another vehicle, and then take care of all of it seamlessly, without multiple comebacks. Put another technician on it if necessary. Go over the car with a fine-tooth comb. Basically eat any margin on the job, because this customer won’t be back if drastic measures aren’t taken. Is it fair to the busy staff at the bay level? No! But from the customer’s perspective, technicians can repair vehicles with a magic wand and take a two-hour lunch, a perspective that isn’t going to change in this age of increased customer expectations. That’s why Bob’s comment about independents having little to fear from majors is true. “Smaller” usually means “more personal”, and when things go wrong, that’s what’s needed. I know the people at that dealership work hard, as do you and Bob Greenwood. But to the average motorist, incompetence would be a natural conclusion in a situation like Bob’s. The service manager failed to take command of the problem and fix it correctly the second time around. That’s serious if you’re aiming at the kind of repeat business that the owner of a late-model Olds Aurora can bring to your operation. What would you do in a similar situation at your shop?