Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Customer service report card: car dealer service

Posted by Becky Carroll on September 18, 2007

experience-sign.jpg In last month’s BrandingWire installment, I discussed car dealers and the service experience.  This month, we had the opportunity to test the service department at the dealer where we just bought our new truck, and unfortunately, the dealership failed on most of the criteria for great customer service.

In the previous post, I mentioned the critical factors that J.D. Powers uses in their annual car dealer service satisfaction survey.  Those factors include the following: 

  • Service initiation
  • User-friendly service
  • Service delivery and quality
  • In-dealership experience. 

Let’s look at the service experience my husband just had and rate it against the J.D. Powers satisfaction criteria.

Problem: New truck (2 months old) had water leaking onto the floor mats on the passenger side (so much water that the floor mats were dripping wet and starting to smell bad).

Resolution: The air conditioning duct was plugged up; it was determined to have been delivered that way from the factory.  It was unplugged, and the water leakage stopped.  We asked to have the carpet and floor mat vacuumed to help get rid of the smell of mold and mildew.  The dealer refused.  We had to badger the service manager in order to get a fungicide applied to the carpet.

Service experience:

Service initiation – He pulled the truck into the service department at the designated time for an appointment.  No less than three service personnel walked by, yet no one acknowledged my husband.  He finally had to leave the vehicle and go into the service office in order to get attention. 

The experience in the office was no better, as no one had any record of the appointment (which had been made online on the dealer’s website).  He finally got the truck checked-in.

Improvement opportunity: When my husband arrived, he should have been immediately acknowledged, perhaps by signing a check-in list which indicated his previously-arranged appointment.  The internet appointment system should be coordinated with the service manager’s records or be discontinued.

User-friendly service -Multiple phone conversations to try and convince the dealership they should replace, or at least clean the wet and mildewed carpet and floor mats are not considered user-friendly.  Comment from the dealership when my husband first made this request: “I don’t smell any mildew.  We aren’t going to clean the carpet.” 

They finally cleaned the carpet and floor mat on the passenger side of the truck after much discussion.

Improvement opportunity: A customer just spent thousands of dollars to purchase a new vehicle at your dealership.   Interactions during early service appointments will set the stage for future interactions.  The time/cost to clean the carpet is negligible compared to the potential value of future service opportunities. 

Service Delivery and Quality – The problem was fixed, so this area seems acceptable.  Not a “wow”, but acceptable.

Improvement opportunity: Take a few moments to explain to the customer what the problem was and how it was resolved.   This helps build trust and confidence in the dealer’s service department.

In-Dealership Experience – The service department arranged to have the keys available inside the dealership for truck pick-up after the service department closed for the day.

The ultimate test, really, is whether we would bring the truck back to this dealership for service.  Since it is still under warranty, the answer is yes (we are hostage to the selling dealership until warranty expires).  Would we bring it back for post-warranty repairs?  This is where the dealer makes most of their service profit.  Answer: Probably not, as our first experience was very poor!  Here is the sentiment: If I’m going to get lousy service, I may as well get lousy service from my local mechanic, who charges less!

King for a Day

When we went into the dealership to buy the truck, we were treated like royalty.  We were offered sodas from the vending machine, fresh popcorn was popping and brought to us, the salesman was joking around with us and having fun.  The “guys in the white shirts and ties” were great.

The sales contract is signed.  The salesman promises to send us one of those really nice keychains labelled with the car brand.  We drive off the lot.


The keychain never arrived (we found out when we picked up the keys from service that the salesman left the dealership).  We are ignored in the service department, even though we have an appointment.  The service personnel seem more interested in saving money than in pleasing the customer.  The “guys in the coveralls” don’t seem to care about our business.

Service needs an extreme makeover.  They are often treated as second-class citizens inside of companies; it is any surprise they treat customers the same way?  This shouldn’t be the case!  Customer service is the face of the company to most customers.  It is the area where most customer-facing interactions take place.  It is time for companies to stop viewing it as a “cost of doing business” and instead, view it as a key to building strong customer relationships and, ultimately, referrals. 

Organizations that can take this long-term view will find themselves ahead of their competition, with customers who will be loyal for many years.


12 Responses to “Customer service report card: car dealer service”

  1. […] of Customers Rock! reviews the customer service at a truck dealer. Using the J.D. Powers truck dealership service survey, Becky detailed how they were treated well […]

  2. Becky, your experience sounds like a classic “we hooked them and they’re stuck with us now” attitude. The company wined and dined you when you had something to give to them, but now they’re treating you as the irrelevant time-sapper you’ve now become.

    Let’s face it. You just spent thousands of dollars to buy a long-lasting item from them. This means they’re probably not going to be selling to you again in the near future. All they’re going to be doing is fixing that expensive contraption that is keeping you from buying another car.

    They’re probably not thinking too much about the after-warranty repairs. From what you said, it doesn’t look like they’re trying to establish a relationship with you–so maybe they just assume that you’re going to go to someone else. If this is how they regularly treat customers during repairs, most customers probably head off to another cheaper and nicer mechanic as soon as they can.

    Of course, they don’t make this connection. They probably just think that since customers don’t stay with them anyways, there’s no point in going out of their way to be nice.

    Do I think this is right and a good practice? Not at all–there’s nothing worse than destroying an image that they worked so hard to create. But after so experiencing the same reluctant service from a lot of other long-term purchases (phones, computers, etc.), I’m convinced that many companies stop caring about their new customers as soon as the agreement is signed.

  3. Andrew said


    “Customer service is the face of the company to most customers. It is the area where most customer-facing interactions take place. It is time for companies to stop viewing it as a “cost of doing business” and instead, view it as a key to building strong customer relationships and, ultimately, referrals.”

    I agree absolutely – any ideas about how to encourage this shift in thinking? I can’t imagine that training alone would do it, incentives perhaps. Or is just a question of having the owners/ managers cultivating that mentality within the organization.

  4. Katie, thank you for your comment. This was exactly the kind of experience Kathy Sierra used to outline in her infamous pictures on her blog Creating Passionate Users (in my blog roll). My guess is the sales people all get wonderful customer-focused training and incentives. What are the incentives for the service department? Making things right goes beyond just a repair; it goes to making the customer feel satisfied. Car dealers who can get this right will reap the rewards!

  5. Andrew, it is not always easy to make this shift in thinking. It is much larger than just training or incentives, as you hinted. A company culture needs to be built which puts the customer into the DNA of the organization. This is most effective when it comes from the top! However, it can be done in smaller parts of the organization, and using those successes as proof points, it can spread over the company. The right metrics are critical to keeping it going!

    Thanks so much for chiming in!

  6. Jonathan said

    That’s such an interesting post. Customer service is so important and it always boggles my mind why businesses don’t focus more on it. I actually just blogged about customer service and it’s effect on customer loyalty on my blog at check it out when you get a chance.

  7. Michael Brairton said

    As the Director of Operations for a premium highline dealership (Porsche) I can tell you that thankfully your service experience is more of an anomaly in today’s competitive retail automotive environment, than the standard.
    After 25 years of working for auto manufacturers, as well as owning and managing several dealerships those that have survived are the ones who have processes and accountability in place to ensure that your experience with the “guys in the white shirts” in the front of the dealership is totally consistent with your experience in the back of the dealership.
    One of the oldest adages in the car business is that sales sells the first vehicle, and service sells every one after that. At my dealership you would have asked for the floormats to be cleaned, and when you came to pick up your truck you would have found new floormats in your truck. We have learned this to be what it takes to be successful, and thankfully did not need JD Powers to point it out to us. We figured it out on our own!
    I hope your ownership experience improves from here.
    Mike Brairton
    PS-Love your idea about having people sign in next to their pre-arranged appointments when they arrive at the dealership in the morning. Mind if I borrow it?

  8. Jonathan, glad to see you! If we keep this type of issue at the forefront by blogging about it and helping organizations change, we will make a difference. I liked your post; thanks for sharing. 🙂

  9. Mike, thank you for chiming in from the car dealership side! It is great to get your perspective, especially as you are one of those business people who “get it”. I think this statement you made sums it all up: “One of the oldest adages in the car business is that sales sells the first vehicle, and service sells every one after that.” It may be an old adage, but from my experience, very few dealerships take it to heart and put it into action!

    That said, the premium brands seem to be much better about a consistent, and pleasant, customer experience. Thank you for your insight! You rock!

    And of course you can borrow my idea. That’s what this blog is here for! Let me know how it works out for you. 🙂

  10. […] Customer service report card: car dealer service ? Customers Rock!Franchised Automobile Dealers; Franchised Truck Dealers; Franchised Motorcycle Dealers; Franchised Equipment Dealers; Large Independent Auto Dealers … […]

  11. Frank said

    Took my wife’s S2000 Honda to Lancaster Honda because the trouble light came on. Three hundred and twenty dollars later and after getting it home, my wife informed me the trouble light was still on. That is the last time I am buying a Honda from Lancaster Honda (paid cash too) and certainly the last time I take any of our “fleet” of cars to a dealership. Should have known better…duh!!!

  12. Remarkable! Keep it up. 😀

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