Why I Will Never Buy Another Car From (Your Dealership Name Here)

(I wrote this article a couple of weeks ago while in the service waiting area of a franchised dealership in Eastern Washington; though in order to fully grasp my points, imagine that I wrote it from your dealership.)

The little things are all that matter.

I’m here to get my wife’s new car serviced. Just a couple of small items we noticed when we bought the car. One was placed on a “We Owe” and one was discovered during the delivery. The salesman was (of course) very gracious about these and committed to having them repaired at the dealership’s expense. (The fact that these are actually under warranty is irrelevant, as his gesture was still genuine.)

As any good dealership would do, they introduced us to our service advisor during the delivery. Our service advisor, whom I’ll call Shelley, was extremely pleasant and also committed to getting those items repaired at no cost. In fact, Shelley added “A.S.A.P.” to her commitment.

So far, we love this place, right?

Fast forward two weeks. Other than a nice “thank you” email from the salesman, we’ve heard nothing from this dealership – including not a word about our repairs. So, I decided to schedule the service appointment myself. I used the store’s online service scheduling form and fully explained what I needed (and what was promised). A couple of days later, I received a confirmation for my appointment.

Easy-Peezy-Lemon-Squeezy, right?

Oops. It seems that prior to having me drive the 45 minutes to my appointment, no one at the dealership bothered to tell me that the promised items needed for the promised repairs were never ordered. I arrived, checked in, sat down to do some work, and about 90 minutes later Shelley stopped by to tell me that they’ve now ordered the parts and to expect a call for an appointment in the next couple of weeks.

Interestingly, I wasn’t the slightest bit angry at this lack of consideration for their new customer. I was, however, shocked that a luxury car dealer – with margins being squeezed from all sides – wouldn’t have bent over backwards to make every contact with their customers a true VIP experience.

Fast forward to today.

I arrived early for my 7:30 AM appointment and the service drive was completely empty. I pulled in, but no one greeted me. I got out of my car and walked into the service office and was asked by another advisor “Can we help you?”

“Um, yeah, I’m here for a 7:30 appointment with Shelley,” I replied.

“What’s the name?” asked Shelley’s coworker.

“Stauning,” I said.

Shelley’s coworker responded by asking me to sign for the repairs and then he informed me that “… the mechanics get here around eight.”

You’re kidding, right?

At this point I was trying to figure out why Shelley would agree to a 7:30 appointment for me when the people who were going to fix my car weren’t coming in for another half hour. (Actually, I was thinking ‘Why in the hell would this advisor tell me that? If he wanted me to be happy, he shouldn’t have said a word about when the mechanics arrive.’)

Then it dawned on me: This made Shelley’s job easier. If she could get folks like me to come in when it’s convenient for her, then her day would go much smoother. Forget about my needs or wants; dealers need to be efficient first and foremost… only then do they need to worry about us pesky customers. (That was facetious, by the way.)

What happened to a VIP experience?

As margins continue to get squeezed, dealers must offer either the lowest price or the best customer experience. Some of the really smart ones are finding ways to do both.

Ordering the parts the day we bought the car would not have cost this dealer a penny more. In fact, it probably would have saved them a few bucks, since I would have made just one visit instead of two. Additionally, imagine what Shelley and her coworker could have done with the extra time they would have gained by dealing with me only once: perhaps it would have freed them up to do some prospecting or to complete some follow-up calls to recent service customers.

Either of those activities drives real revenue for the store, and one of those would give their regular customers the feeling of a VIP experience.

What should my experience have been?

If the dealership was genuinely interested in providing a true VIP experience, here’s what should have happened:

  1. Just as we drove off the lot the day we bought the car, someone in the dealership should have forwarded the exact parts needs to Shelley and she should have ordered them immediately.
  2. Within a few days of buying the car, Shelley should have sent us an email providing us with an ETA on the parts.
  3. When the parts arrived, Shelley should have called or emailed (based on our preference) to schedule the appointment. (This is something Shelley did do, though it was 4 weeks after we bought the car and only after I wasted half a day on my first service visit.)
  4. The appointment should have been scheduled for a time when the mechanics are actually ready to perform work.
  5. As I drove up, the advisor on duty should have looked at my car, then looked at the dealership’s appointments (which were darn few that day), and (putting two and two together) determined that I was Mr. Stauning.
  6. He should have come out of his office (literally five steps) and greeted me in the service drive with a “Good morning, you must be Mr. Stauning.”
  7. Once I acknowledged this, he should have replied “We’re glad you’re here and we’re ready to assist you. Will you be needing a shuttle ride this morning?”
  8. The day after the repairs, I should have received an email from the service manager or general manager thanking me for my business and inquiring if everything was completed to my satisfaction.

Nothing in this proposed VIP process costs the dealer a dime.

In fact, this is nearly always the case with providing true VIP experiences. Whether you’re in the service drive or on the sales floor, simply (genuinely) caring about the customer and their experience with you will do more to create a VIP environment than all of the money you could spend on more tangible items.

(By the way, I’m finally in the market to replace my own car – a tired 1999 Saab. Any idea which dealership won’t get my business?)

Good selling!

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Comment by Sean V. Bradley on March 27, 2012 at 3:47pm

Sounds like a great prospect for training :) 

Comment by Craig Lockerd on March 24, 2012 at 12:49pm

Things that make you go hmmmmm?

Comment by Steve Stauning on March 22, 2012 at 4:04pm

Thanks Bobby! You (and Henry Ford) are 100% right. 

Comment by Steve Stauning on March 20, 2012 at 9:21pm

Thanks Marsh. When I was sitting in the dealership for the second time, I was imagining how badly the average consumer might hurt them on Google or Yelp over something this minor.

It reminded me of a 1-star Google Review for Toyota Central (Los Angeles) that I saw the other day: "I was late to work because a danm idiot forgot to put my mane on the shuttle list ángel olivares bcarefull when this guy helps u"

The little things matter.

Comment by Marsh Buice on March 20, 2012 at 8:33pm

Great reminder for us all, Steve. Often we lose sight from the customer's perspective-those who get it right are the ones who look through the lenses of how their customer's perceive their business. Great job sir.

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