I frequently write about how, in my opinion, dealerships would be wise to expand their thinking and change attitudes towards recall customers … and not just recall customers, but all customers


The customer experience is key to building customer loyalty, increasing referrals and securing repeat business. It is also one of a dealership’s most important differentiators. But does that then mean you have to cater to every single customer, every single time?  For those of you that shape the “customer culture” for the organization, should you always yield to those customers that push boundaries and argue just to get something for free?


In a word, no!  Before you point out that I’m contradicting my first statement, let me explain.


A recent article in Forbes shares that many successful companies and leaders in customer service and the shopping experience have policies many view as counter to producing exceptional service. However, these companies are doing very well, easily retain their leadership profiles and are still revered by the people that matter most - consumers.


The article discusses the problem of how there is always a small subset of customers who try to take advantage of any business that bends over backwards to service customers. In such cases, organizational leaders have to consider the consequences and how it could affect their business.


A great example is shared involving Southwest Airlines, a company known for its exceptional customer service. While Southwest is willing to go above and beyond, there is a limit to how the company defines “beyond.” If it’s a customer’s birthday, airline staff may go on the loudspeaker and sing to them, but they will not throw confetti or inflate balloons. Such actions create a burden on the flight crew and the cleaning staff when preparing for the next flight. While the confetti might “wow” a single customer, it could cause a flight delay for countless others. At the end of the day, it’s just not worth it.


Customer experience is certainly a key factor in deciding where to shop. However, it does not make sense to go the extra mile for any one single customer if it negatively impacts the greater community of customers overall. Every business needs to know where that line is. Comping a repair invoice because of a bad experience costs little for the dealership, while it can preserve customer satisfaction and future revenue. Adjusting a sales contract because of a misunderstanding can accomplish the same thing.


But, sometimes the customer can cross a line in demands which can cause an undue burden on the dealership and negatively impact the experience of other customers. It also sets the tone for conflict resolution and invites future conflict. 


Now, at the same time, please keep in mind that there is a difference between a customer who has been wronged by your dealership and a customer upset by the circumstances of a recalls. These recall customers can be a little emotional and need a light touch and gentle hand. 


To the average consumer, you and the OEM might be one in the same – you’re the dealer, therefore you’re the OEM.  Never distance yourself from the relationship with the OEM, but rather, establish that you are there to rectify the problem. 

In a recent survey by Recall Masters, most consumers view recalls as tolerable by-product of manufacturing.  Sure, it’s still quite an annoyance for consumers, but that doesn’t translate into giving the shop away.  Focus on what is fair and just based on the circumstances. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes – what’s a reasonable level of service to deliver to a customer that is inconvenienced by a recall? 


There is a difference between a customer who is justifiably upset due to being inconvenienced and the customer who simply just wants to make trouble and won’t be happy, no matter what you do.


If a customer comes in without an appointment and demands that their vehicle be serviced RIGHT NOW, while all your service bays are full, and the service lounge is overflowing with people waiting for their vehicles, what do you do? Do you service them and keep other customers, who have appointments, waiting? It really depends on the circumstances that present themselves at that particular time. But the point is that accommodating this one noisy, demanding customer at the expense of others may not be the most profitable.


Nobody’s perfect. Not even dealerships… or customers. Sometimes the customer isn’t right. Sometimes they are. The key is knowing when – and how much – to cater to a customer when things go badly.


Just like any other business, dealerships need to know what their customer experience goals are and follow them religiously. However, you also need to know where the line in the sand is and at what point it’s time to part ways.


There should be no reason for a customer to ask, “Where’s the manager?”  While it will happen from time to time, your level of service, respect and attentiveness should be consistent throughout all layers of the organization.


And when it does happen, employees and managers need to know how to react, assess the situation and make the right decision. What might be “reasonable” to you may not be “reasonable” to a consumer.  So, ask, “What seems to be a reasonable conclusion that would satisfy you?”  Give the customer a chance to define what “reasonable” might be – they might just surprise you. 


There will be times when no solution at all will make a particular customer happy – and at that point, it is important to know how to gracefully handle the situation in a manner that is private and away from other customers.

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