The Survey Says…

C Douglas Weir
by C Douglas Weir
I’ve just returned from a four day round trip to Florida after having endured a seriously annoying vibration from the front end of my award-winning minivan. This after arranging a pre-trip rotation/balance/alignment at my award-winning dealership. As I hover over the manufacturer’s service-visit survey (which was waiting for me upon my return), my pen hand freezes over the checkboxes. One little tick might just result in the castration of the technician responsible for my tingling hands and inflamed attitude. I can foretell the reaction from survey central. Oh….My…Heavens! A survey rating of LTP [Less than perfect] has been submitted! Activate the GO TEAM!

These days, any visit to a manufacturer-branded service department invariably leads to a customer survey. As you pick up your vehicle, all hands on the service deck make a cloying and pathetic plea for “excellent” ratings. From the service “host” to the cashier with the mysteriously low-cut and tight attire, they all “remind” you that “five is the highest score” on the walkout survey incorporated into the service receipt. Uh, sure. Thanks. Their lobbying is creepy, intrusive and inherently unethical, and it doesn’t end there…

Within hours, a letter from the dealership arrives with a heads-up: a manufacturer’s survey or (worse) phone call is headed your way. The dealer staff’s continued employment depends entirely on your providing “only the highest rating” ticks on every question. Further, if you feel unable to make these bubbly, effusively positive post-visit comments, you are despicably evil human filth– I mean, could you please give the service manager the basic courtesy of discussing your concerns with him prior to any negative assessments you might consider sharing with the brand’s customer relations monitors?

So am I to call my dealership and discuss how to get adhesive wheel weights to stick on uncleaned wheels? Or more fun yet, tender the suggestion that maybe their highly trained technicians just did the rotation, figured the tires looked good enough and skipped the whole balancing procedure? Or somehow blew the highly lasered and automated alignment process?

And I’ll still have to leave my vehicle– again– for a few hours. If I want to avoid death by People magazine, I’ll have to rent a car (the only loans my dealer makes involve interest payments and lots of ‘em). Moreover, I’ll face a repeat round of surveys, which could trigger another cycle of false feedback: “Was the service department friendly and courteous while correcting the mistake they shouldn’t have made the first time?”

Please. Car companies should not allow their dealerships’ personnel to brow-beat their customers with the potential consequences of an honest consumer report. The dealership should simply ask the owner if the dealer’s service was up to snuff and be done with it. If it turns out that they screwed up, the service department needs to suck it up and take the beating they deserve. Yes, they should be allowed the opportunity to fix their screw-ups. But using emotional blackmail to manipulate their esteemed customers into ziplipification– even if they attempt to “correct” problems later– enables substandard procedures to persist. It’s a win – lose situation.

Maybe we should have some responses ready for these situations. When the service department toady helpfully informs us that “five is the highest rating” we should ask,”Given that five is an odd number, what’s an average score?” When they tell us “If you can’t give us the highest possible ratings on every question, please contact our service department Manager immediately” we should counter “Wouldn’t that render the survey statistically insignificant, in that it would be an aberration of the sigma-six design coefficient theories outlined in Johansson’s seminal work “Survey and Assessment-Instrument Compilation for the Twenty-First Century Customer?”

Of course, there is no such book. But being able to cite it with authority will glaze every sub-erudite eye for miles. And when the ever-so-helpful service folk overdo the gluteal-kissing with cheerful placards and/or five cent mints, remember that they really do want you to be satisfied. So tell them you’d like to be allowed to complete all future surveys without hectoring, pleading, bargain basement bribery and cynical mind games. Or, more comprehensibly, “piss off.”

And when you take your car in for a warranty recall, simple service or minor repair, and they put your steering wheel back on off-center, or get oil all over your engine cover, or fail to get the door fascia on properly, or over-torque the lug nuts, tell the manager about it and get things put right ASAP. And then report the hassles on the ensuing surveys. At the same time, manufacturers must do whatever they can to put an end to this charade. They should mystery shop their dealers’ service departments or survey customers on pre-survey shenanigans. The truth hurts guys. Get used to it.

C Douglas Weir
C Douglas Weir

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  • Snowman Snowman on Jun 24, 2006

    Mr KTM, All I ask is you rate your car and service advisor as separate items. And yes I do personally go above and beyond, I have personally delivered cars to customer's homes well afterhours, unpaid, picked up customer's cars on sundays, met them at the deakership before we open to give them loaners or rentals. And I never bribe my customers with gimmicks or threats, just rate the car and the service separately. If you have had bad experiences with food, radio stations changed etc then by all means complain and yell at your service department or rate them poorly, they deserve it. If the problem lies with your car-rate the car. I don't agree with the 80% being a fail but that is the MANUFACTURER setting this standard not the service department. On another note I will only allow customers to wait if they make their appt for when we open at 7am, that way I can guarantee a tech will be available immediately. Otherwise it will be ready when I promise it for you-or I will give you a rental, taxi, delivery,whatever...without customers I am out of work. And you will only tell your friends the bad experiences because they make good stories, good customer service stories are boring. And be realistic when you make your appt, don't add 10 items when you come in if you only made an appt for an oil change that is where the 'extra 20lbs of sand come in'. thank you

  • Noescape Noescape on Jun 24, 2006

    I've read these comments and will be quite blunt with mine. I have been in the car biz over 30 years always in the service dept, though I have personally sold many of my most respected customers vehicles to better suit their needs. I was on the top 20 list for most preferred technician for over 20 years and a service advisor for the last 12 years and I have watched this industry go through many changes as well as the staff who works in it. Now, since people (customers) have been educated in manipulating surveys to meet their needs I can tell you this ...(and I have been right so far). It wont be long before there will be NO techicians to work on your vehicles and the quality of those who are is on the decline, and so, we must work with what we have in the best way we know how. I personally do NOT push the good survey thingie.. I know I am providing the best possible service to YOU and YOUR vehicle. Both service advisors AND Technicians have become a commodity and actively sought after. So have a little compassion and patience while there, if there is not someone in the bathroom to hand you a towel, or the coffee is more than a hour old, or the wrong channel is on the tv, or there is too many steps to the waiting room, or the courtesy driver forgot his deodorant, or our loaner only has 3/4 tank of gas, and well you get the hint...please dont blame me...I'm busy trying to get you and 30 other people's cars done in a timely manner. Schedule your own life,dont make me responsible to get your uncle's-cousin's-brother's-next door neighbor's-son to the doctor! Yes, this happens over and over! Think about the vehicle you bought! If you have a rattle every blue moon in your 4WD -OFF ROAD vehicle, the same attention to suspension tuning is not the same as a luxury car! I work for a great company, our CRM is independant of the company and contacts the customer in a relaxing manner. I do agree with you in the aspect of having the in-house (net-promoter) survey thrown in your face at the cashier-pick-up window, very unnerving I agree and hope to see that change soon at our dealership. I say these things in the face of reality as I have a huge-huge customer following that speaks for itself, so please remember it has become tougher and tougher to get your vehicle too 100 percent of expectations and not about to get better, keep your car maintained properly and treat us like your friend... we are not the enemy... By-the-way, I see a product line moving very quickly to the top in quality and reliability which may just shock all of you in the next few years... dont be surprised, and you can bet I will be there!

  • Funky D A few from my road trip playlist: Eddie Rabbitt - Drivin' My Life AwayAmerica - Ventura Highway---Herb Alpert - Route 101Jerry Reed - East Bown and DownEddie Money - Shakin'Lindey Buckingham - Holiday RoadWar - Low RiderTears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Not a driving song per se, but if you've seen the video, you'll get it)Wang Chung - Wait (Gotta see the end credits of "To Live and Die in LA", for this one)
  • Ronin Or can sedans be saved from themselves? Modern sedans have very low entry and seating, and unnecessarily downward sloping rear roofs. This may have been a sleek design center 25 years ago, but it's nice to have an alternative to SUVs for the olds (ie, anyone over 30).
  • Bd2 The Hyundai Sonota is the best sedan on the market right now.
  • Kcflyer hang in there Lexus. Keep making the IS with the V8 and sooner or later I will buy a new one :)
  • 1995 SC I'll take Mystichrome. And a different car