What Happens When You Ask More of Your Customers

Aug. 22, 2023

I've purchased three new vehicles in the past two years. All I needed was one. I've been on the consumer side of crappy service experiences throughout this journey.

In early 2022 I purchased a sporty, yet humble sedan from a manufacturer's No. 1 dealership in the country. My first service, six months in, and the appointment was simple and convenient. It was scheduled online with text reminders. A porter met me and escorted me to a service advisor. A really nice experience to start. While waiting, I received a text including a video of my vehicle's inspection. All looked great, until it didn't. An oil leak was spotted. Ugh! Sparing you the details, which are quite lengthy and borderline lemon law, I'll tell you that I was without my car for more than a month. Never once did I get a call without calling them for an update first. If you're in my shoes, you wonder how any service provider with its customers interests in mind can get so backed up. The revenue they must be losing!

With the top half of the engine, the turbo and exhaust components removed and replaced I wasn't overly optimistic. Well, I wasn't wrong. The temperature gauge spiked pulling into my driveway within 15 miles.

A couple months later that car was replaced with the 2023 model. Well, the pressures manufacturers put on their production throughout COVID were now evident. Loose rugs and rattling panels led me to walk away again. Mind you, the dealership had every corner of consumer experience nailed with the exception of communicating based on expectations. Fully digital, very convenient with all amenities you could ask for. Their end product simply didn't match the drapery.

Now with a new vehicle, from a high-end manufacturer, I expected my experience to be different. An on-site chef offering free meals plus free airport parking and transportation, you would think I was set. Well, within 2,000 miles I had a significant electrical safety malfunction making the car nearly impossible to operate. I called and they offered me an appointment a month out. Yep, a month. I had to go directly to the service director and make waves to get anywhere. The loaner I was given looked like a shiny carnival on the highway with all its stickers and the interior cleanliness was simply unacceptable. I let 24 hours creep by each day before having to call for an update. Five days, and a quick flash later, I got my car back. The car sat there for five days and was worked on for less than two hours.

For most of you reading this, I know what you're saying. Yeah, dealerships suck. Well, consumers generally trust them more than you. The fact that they generally have the funds to deliver a better experience, or at least mask a bad one, is just one of those excuses I mentioned earlier. 

So where am I going with this? First, I'm extremely embarrassed by how the industry treats its customers. In order for consumers to have choice in service providers we all need to join in and support the Right to Repair movement. Second, make and execute promises. Even with the best of conveniences and technology every shop is dependent on the person-to-person experience. Being straight forward and realistic with expectations is 100% the first step in ensuring a good experience. Third, to service the vehicles that have been sold in the last several years, you must invest in technology and training. I'm frustrated by how few independent shops are able to perform one of their highest profit-producing services  alignments  on an ever-growing share of vehicles. Now’s the time to figure out how you're going to keep up with the changes in manufacturing.

It should be clear that price inflation also inflates consumer expectation. If that wasn't true, our consumers would expect less for every dollar they spend. They don't.

You’re all demanding more of your consumers, and like it or not, it's perfectly OK that they demand even more of you. You've leveraged your price matrices, adjusted efficiencies, raised labor rates, etc. You’ve asked your customers for more than ever before. So far as I can tell, your profitability is up. There's simply no good reason your customers should be receiving the same, or a lesser experience. If you think you can drive growth on a strategy that doesn't provide more when you ask for more, you're dead wrong!

We need to do our absolute best to exploit weaknesses in our industry by being service leaders. A well-executed system built on shared expectations is a game changer. Does your game measure up?

About the Author

Randy O'Connor

Tire and auto industry veteran Randy O’Connor is the Owner/Principal of D2D Development Group (Dealer to Dealer Development Group.) He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, please visit www.d2ddevelopmentgroup.com.