Are You Being Serviced?

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

Servicing my Corvette is only marginally more pleasurable than filling out my tax return. First, I stand around the service desk waiting for a bleary-eyed “advisor” to acknowledge my existence. Then the employee asks if I want to wait for my car or… if someone’s picking me up. If I hang fire, I’m confined to a waiting room with all the charm of a correctional facility. If I leave, I have to call to see if the job’s done. When I pick up my ‘Vette, previous experience has taught me to inspect it for familiar desecrations– oily boot marks, additional miles, changed radio stations, etc. Oh, and to make sure the job’s actually been done. Sound familiar?

If not for warranty work, many of us would never darken the driveway of a franchised dealer’s service department. Service advisors may know plenty about the vehicles they handle– note: may— but the vast majority of them are number takers, not friendly automotive experts ready to discuss the finer points of maintaining your pride and joy. They’re more interested in trying to sell you an additional service. (Would you like us to fill your tires with nitrogen?) And once your second largest financial purchase disappears into the bowels of the service department, the advisor has no clue what’s happening to it. Nor do they care. They’ve moved on to their next victim.

Most of the time, you have no idea who’s working on your car or their experience level. You never see or talk to the mechanic– which means they’re never held directly accountable to the customer for anything they’ve done, or explain problem areas that need watching/budgeting. If they screw up, the service department’s rigid appointment system prevents them from correcting it on the spot. You have to make yet another appointment for yet another trip for yet more aggravation.

Bad service is not an “import vs. domestic” issue. The problem’s spread right across the automotive spectrum. As part of their ongoing effort to play headmaster to the entire car industry, JD Power rates after sale service. Setting aside questions about JD’s methodology and independence, the company’s data yields some surprising results. Toyota consistently rates near the top in Power’s Initial Quality Survey. The automaker sits in the bottom third in customer service satisfaction. Cadillac and Buick dealers are just below Lexus at the top. Customers more easily pleased? Better service? Who knows? Generally speaking, there’s no correlation between a car’s purchase price or country of origin and the level of service customers receive afterwards.

In this age of internet-delivered purchase price transparency, the service and parts departments account a large and growing percentage of a dealership’s total profit. So why is service the dealer department where customers consistently receive the worst overall treatment? After all, service departments that treat their customers like second class citizens degrade the dealer's ability to sell those selfsame customers another car.

It doesn't have to be that way. Wouldn’t it be nice to be greeted by name when you arrive for service? To be treated like an intelligent human instead of a total idiot? To find a clean, cheerful waiting room with current magazines and fresh coffee? Why don’t all service departments provide their customers with a loaner car of equivalent quality (or better) than the car they drive in? At the very least, where’s my damn courtesy ride? And I don’t mean a 15-passenger van driven by the dealership’s village idiot. I mean a personalized car service that gets you to your destination as quickly, comfortably and safely as possible.

With all of today’s new technology, how much effort would it take for a service advisor to provide you with a progress report by phone, email, IM or pager (if Friday’s can give out pagers…)? How about a webcam on the service bay, so I can watch repairs from the comfort of my office? Or a report card, listing what parts may be due for service in the future? Or a private computer with internet access while I wait? Why can’t service departments go the extra mile to surprise and delight their paying customers?

No, I haven’t ingested hallucinogens. My wife’s Audi dealer’s service department treats us like valued customers. They provide clean loaners cars. They call during the day to let me know how work is progressing. When I pick up her car, I get a full report on what’s been done, what parts were used and what it cost. The repaired car is right out front, freshly washed, ready to go. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where I’ll go the next time I’m in the market for a new car. My experience with this dealership proves good customer service is possible. My question is: why isn’t everyone doing it?

Frank Williams
Frank Williams

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  • TexasAg03 TexasAg03 on Sep 14, 2006
    Fix your Own Car(s) = Problem Solved That would be great if I had the training and the equipment to do so.
  • Gardiner Westbound Gardiner Westbound on Sep 14, 2006

    I fought with Acura for a warranty battery replacement at 16-months. Here is another service adventure. I asked the dealer to provide a Type 2 service, and repair a sticking front seat belt. The car was 18-months old with only 8,500-miles. The oil and filter are changed every three months, five times to that date at an average 1,700-mile interval. There had been a previous comprehensive inspection. They performed $80 of unsolicited services additional to Acura’s published maintenance requirements. Coincidentally most cost $15 each plus labor and taxes. They termed the first three chemical services. • Motor oil additive, $15; • Gasoline additive, $15; • Door and window gasket silicone spray, $15; • Seat belt retractor lubricant, $15; • Brake rotor polishing disk, $15. Saying, "I thought you would appreciate the extra care and attention we gave your car," the clearly offended manager reduced the bill about $50. At home I noticed a fresh foot-long scratch on the painted lower front bumper panel, like a hydraulic floor jack may have been wheeled into it. • The brands and purposes of the motor oil and gasoline additives are unspecified. The Acura RL Owner Manual discourages oil and gasoline additives. How could a new car with only 8,500 miles need them? • Canadian Tire stocks an 11 oz. aerosol door and gasket silicone spray @ $5.49, sufficient for a dozen cars. • An Acura TSB talks about the sticking seat belt retractor mechanism, and the car is under warranty. • There was no physical evidence of fresh lubricating materials on the locks, latches or hinges. • The maintenance service calls for inspecting the brakes only. This is the first time I was not given a card asking me to evaluate and report on the service, nor did Acura follow-up with me. Acura has seen the last of me, unless I have a warranty claim.

  • JMII I doubt Hyundai would spend the development costs without having some idea of a target buyer.As an occasional track rat myself I can't imagine such a buyer exists. Nearly $70k nets you a really good track toy especially on the used market. This seems like a bunch of gimmicks applied to a decent hot hatch EV that isn't going to impression anyone given its badge. Normally I'd cheer such a thing but it seems silly. Its almost like they made this just for fun. That is awesome and I appreciate it but given the small niche I gotta think the development time, money and effort should have been focused elsewhere. Something more mainstream? Or is this Hyundai's attempt at some kind of halo sports car?Also seems Hyundai never reviles sales targets so its hard to judge successful products in their line up. I wonder how brutal depreciation will be on these things. In two years at $40k this would a total hoot.So no active dampers on this model?
  • Analoggrotto Colorado baby!
  • Rob Woytuck Weight is also a factor for ferries which for instance in British Columbia, Canada are part of the highway system.
  • Ajla I guess some people were big fans of Milli Vanilli and Real Dolls (don't Google that at work) but I have a very large problem with the fake engine sounds and fake transmissions. If you turn them off does it stay off forever or does it turn back on whenever you go into sport mode?
  • Probert That X frame was a killer. No nostalgia for these things to be honest. Yup - life of the party....