The Recall Crisis: To a Scared Customer, an Apology can go a Long Way

For many consumers, cars are a necessity. They rely on them to get to work so that they can feed their family. They take their children to soccer practice and their spouses out for nights on the town. Throw in an occasional long-distance road trip to visit a relative or take a vacation, and it’s easy to see how much consumers rely on them. Manufacturers integrate safety messages into their branding. The government tests the vehicles. Consumer agencies review them. And consumers use this data to choose which manufacturer they want to do business with. 

Time passes. Consumers go about their daily lives with a plethora of concerns that, for the most part, don’t involve their vehicles. Then, a recall happens.  

Consumers and dealers alike are still reeling from the huge amount of recalls last year. It was in fact an all-time record. In 2014 about 62 million U.S. vehicles were recalled.  If you were to look at this in terms of vehicle sales – it’s about four years’ worth of vehicle sales -- or approximately one out of every four cars on the road today.  Several recalls made huge headlines, and were very much hyped up by the media -- including those for defective ignition switches in General Motors cars that have been linked to at least 50 deaths, and faulty Takata air bags, installed in Hondas and other brands, said to be responsible for at least five deaths and 64 injuries. 

This can cause quite an emotional impact with consumers – your customers.

While these concerns may not be as dire or present as the customer may perceive, to the customer faced with the concerns, they most certainly are. I am sure many dealerships have experienced phones ringing off the hook shortly after a recall announcement with customers concerned about their personal safety, as well as that of their families.

Dealers aren’t crisis hotlines and, for the most part, aren’t trained to assuage fears such as these. However, if you take the time to handle recall repair requests with empathy and understanding, it can go a long way towards earning the trust and loyalty of these customers. 

When a major recall is announced and the phone starts ringing, consider training the receptionists and service advisors in how to correctly handle these calls. It needs a gentle and understanding touch. Keep in mind that in the eyes of the consumer your dealership is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of the manufacturer.  The first thing any recall repair request should begin with is an apology. Be sure to let the customer know their safety is your number one concern when you invite them into the dealership to get their vehicle repaired. Be prepared to answer their questions such as “Should I get a rental car?” or “Is my car going to explode?” with a calm and reassuring voice. And give advice that has been coordinated and approved by management. Ensure that the entire dealership is briefed on how to handle these situations to avoid confusing consumers with mixed messages. 

Recall work can bring incredible opportunity. But it is very important to recognize that customers tend to be uneducated about these recalls. Most have only seen the news reports and perhaps the hyped-up media coverage about people being killed. A little sympathy and compassion will go a long way towards earning and keeping your consumer’s trust. And it will assist you in capturing more of the available recall work. 


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Comment by Chris Miller on April 21, 2015 at 2:07pm

What we are seeing now is not necessarily more defects in vehicles so much as improved response to consumer safety addressed in the form of more recalls. Ideally, media outlets should continue to applaud the OEMs increased responsiveness and efforts to reach these vehicle owners and help bring awareness to each individual recall being issued. And that's where the opportunity exists for dealers to turn what could otherwise be perceived as a negative experience/inconvenience into a thoughtful and positive interaction for the consumer.

Comment by steven chessin on April 21, 2015 at 1:43pm

Chris - Why do you call it hype ? 

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