By on July 26, 2021

Phoutthavong SOUVANNACHAK/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve ever had your car serviced at a dealership, you’ve probably received a survey about the experience, either via snail mail or phone. Or perhaps online. This is especially likely if the work was done under warranty.

You’ve probably thrown out/ignored this survey. What you probably don’t know is that doing so may have cost your service advisor money and/or got him in hot water with the boss.

I certainly learned that one the hard way during my time as a service writer.

To be clear, the survey process varies from dealer to dealer, and I assume it’s somewhat dependent on the OEM(s) a dealership represents. It also probably has changed since my time in the trenches, so keep that in mind.

I first encountered surveys during my time as an express-lube service writer at a brand that rhymes with Roymota. I don’t recall the surveys there directly affecting my compensation – we were salaried with spiffs for certain upsells – but one could definitely get chewed out if you had a pattern of bad surveys, or even just one truly bad one. At the very least, you might get called in to explain why customer X gave you bad marks.

I don’t recall anyone being fired over bad surveys – management seemed to think any issues that arose were correctable and seemed to understand that sometimes a customer’s complaint wasn’t the advisor’s fault.

Indeed, one of the funnier surveys I ever saw came from a customer complaining about curse words emanating from the main service office, which was located next to the waiting area, within earshot of customers’ children. Turns out it was the big boss – the man who roamed among the owner’s several stores and was feared among employees in the same way that Darth Vader made stormtroopers cower – who was cussing up a storm. With the office door open.

At least one later stop in my career took surveys a bit more seriously, though at this store, which repped several GM brands (including one that died during the Great Recession/bailout fiasco), the surveys were only necessary if a customer’s car was in for warranty work. I don’t recall if the survey numbers were tied to my pay, but I do know the manager got mad if we got low numbers. He even got upset about low participation – the brass wanted GM to know we did quality work.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t diligent about getting my customers to do these surveys. Unlike the other places I’d worked, it fell on us to make the phone calls encouraging customers to partake. I hated doing these calls – partly because I didn’t like cold-calling customers who’d thought they were done with us, and partly because sometimes I got lazy/distracted by the Internet. Every job offers up some task you’d rather not do, no matter how diligently you do the rest of your tasks, and for some reason, the survey calls were that task for me.

So yeah, I didn’t do that part of my job, or at least not well. That’s on me, and I take full blame. But it was also frustrating that even when I deigned to pick up the phone on a regular basis, customers often didn’t fill out the surveys. They couldn’t be arsed to do so. Earning me an ass-chewing even when I had done what the boss asked. After all, we can only call so many times before it’s considered spamming.

This isn’t my way of working out deep-seated issues with my old boss, I swear. No, it’s a reminder that while you might find these surveys easy to ignore – you’re a busy person, after all, and even if you aren’t, you don’t really want to spend five minutes saying Joe Smith was “very good” or “satisfactory” at his job – they do have a tangible effect on the people who managed the servicing of your vehicle.

So you might want to fill yours out after your next oil change. Just remember not to ding the guy in the service drive because his boss was dropping F-bombs near the waiting room.

And if the coffee’s cold – that’s probably reception’s fault.

[Image: Phoutthavong SOUVANNACHAK/Shutterstock.com]

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33 Comments on “Tales from the Service Desk: Survey Says...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    As a service writer for an uppity marque, would you twice in two conversations call a customer’s car “old” if it was 16yo with no miles and immaculate?

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      My Infiniti G37S coupe is pushing 14 years old. Excellent condition at 70k miles. I’d be insulted if someone said it was junk but “old” is merely the truth.

      I hate customer surveys. If the dealer really wants me to spend time filling them out, he should put cash out front to compensate me for my time and effort. Usually, I blow surveys off. If I do bother, I have a hard rule: Unless the individual being rated so angered me that I think he should be fired, he gets a perfect score across the board.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “I’d be insulted if someone said it was junk but “old” is merely the truth.”

        Thanks for the post. I’d pit it against the mommy mobile npc tripe they’re pushing now and come out on top a good bit of the time, but I chose to be nice because they have a monopoly in this general area and I need at least one more thing from them. The actual work delivered was excellent (but late) so in that regard I’d use them again understanding things better.

        Expanding on the original comment, I feel if I had dropped a cherry 02 Camaro/Firebird etc at the Chevy/BPG dealer I would have gotten less attitude.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I don’t know that you would get “attitude” bringing in a WS6 but I doubt they would be able to offer you much in the way of quality service either.

          Mercedes, Porsche, and Ferrari seem to be the only brands where dealers “like” having their past gen products show up.

    • 0 avatar

      I mean, yes. Lots of things wear down with age, even just from sitting. Tires and hoses and cables can rot, fluids can break down, parts can seize. I mean, I’d be especially anxious to work on an old car with “no miles” that was “immaculate” because I’d assume that the person bringing it to me wouldn’t want to hear that their beloved old car is still subject to the ravages of time and probably needs a lot more work to be right than they’re willing to admit to themselves. I’m not a therapist, and when *I* worked in an advisor role I know I had to deal with a bunch of these guys.

      Still better than talking to an engineer, though. LOL

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    I had a salesman beg/ask for a good review. The twit knew very little about the truck I was buying. He did not receive a good review. Under comments: “Salesman asked for a good review.”

    I had a warranty repair that turned into a cluster fornication. 4wd would not disengage immediately. It was more pronounced when the weather was cold. I made an appointment and showed up. They declined to repair the vehicle unless I went for a drive with the shop manager who was off that day. I made a new appointment a week later and went for a test drive. 8 blocks later after several traffic light stops, truck put in neutral, reverse etc. it finally disengaged. I bring it in and the dealer refused to repair it, “shop manager’s notes too vague and he’s on vacation”. WTF… I went on a repeat test drive but it happened to be over 30C out so it did not act up. A repeat appointment was scheduled when the shop manager was there. They finally replaced the solenoids and mechanism.
    I got a call from Ford Canada for a phone review. I did not need to be an azz about it. I outlined the nightmare that they put me through. Next thing you know I had the Principal and Shop Manager calling to kiss azz.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      @Lou – YES YES YES! When I bought my new car, for the first month, I received near constant texts, e-mails, and calls from the salesman, the general manager of the dealer, and “the owner of the dealer chain.” It became so much that I had to block for a little while.

      When I signed the papers on the car and gave them my money, I spoke to the sales manager and general manager and gave my salesman a positive verbal review. The process was very fair, stress free, and a great deal was had. But the constant follow-up was bordering on harassment.

      But they weren’t that happy that I insisted that the dealer sticker be removed from the back of the car. I flat out refuse to turn my car into a billboard for a dealer. They aren’t paying me to market them. They stuck a license plate frame on the back, but when I got home, off it went.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        We tell them either remove the sticker or give us a monthly fee for advertising. They always take it off. I don’t mind a plate frame, those are easy to deal with.

        We had an issue with the brake module where it would not come out of park even though you had your foot on the brake. The third time we had it in to be fixed we left it in front of the service bay door. They had to fix it so they could get other cars in.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I already filled mine. thanks for the reminder

  • avatar
    KOKing

    The biggest problem I’ve had with these things is not the pressure to respond, but the pressure to respond in a specific way. I’ve owned 2 BMW products since 2001, and at least as of ~2019, they basically didn’t want you to respond UNLESS you agreed to score perfect 5s across the board. At some point they called it the ‘Strive for Five’ program. You even hint at scoring anything other than a 5 and the dealership people go absolutely apeshit to, on occasion, outright threats.

    Uh, screw you.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      My wife, who was a restaurant manager for YEARS, also lived and died by these must-get-a-5 or you’ll be explaining yourself to the regional director and getting no raise (despite profit going up). 90% of the people that fill out these surveys are just complaining and looking for coupon for a free drink or dessert.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      It was never that intense for us, and we were warned to try not to influence the score (beyond addressing any concerns before the customer put them in the survey), but I definitely have encountered that pressure from retailers as a customer.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Don’t overfill the crankcase while spilling oil all over the outside of the engine.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    A lot of the scoring issues would be minimized if the surveys were explicitly written as pass/fail vs just implied pass (10) or fail (1-9).

    If they aren’t actually going to distinguish between a 2 and a 9, or use that information to improve the parts of the experience that deserved a 2 vs the ones that deserved a 9, then just don’t give me the choice.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Yes, I’d be interested to hear from someone that creates these surveys why a range of options are given to customers if the responses are interpreted as a binary.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        That’s why I cringe at the things as well! What in the h-e-double hockey-sticks is the difference between “somewhat satisfied,” “very satisfied,” and “satisfied?” And vice-versa??!!

        That’s when I start looking for the response stating “IDGAF!! Leave me alone!”

  • avatar
    Gravy

    I shake my cane at surveys. I suffer from advanced survey fatigue. Wasn’t handing you my money not “10” enough?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The nature of dealer surveys reveals the disparity between the dealer and the manufacturer. Cutting the dealer out would make such a survey more meaningful, because often the customer’s perception of the dealer is colored by the quality of the vehicle itself. Mfr-owned dealer surveys would get more attention, in my opinion.

    My Honda dealer’s service was so bad I’ll never buy another. It was all warranty work on a lemon car. They didn’t care about my future business one bit, because there are a hundred people behind me waiting to give Honda money.

    If such surveys really made a difference, dealers would get higher marks. But bad reports about dealers are legion.

    I don’t care how the service writer gets paid, or rated, and it’s not my job to help him out. With surveys, I usually fear they will just lead to more contacts, since I never return to a dealer after buying, anyway.

    Besides, how will submitting a bad survey help me?

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I am happy to offer praise and constructive suggestions on a follow-on email survey. If you’ve pissed me off that much, I’ll be speaking to you in person that day. My Lexus dealer really does do it right, zero complaints, I always feel respected in the transaction. I took our new (used) Nissan in for a recall. The advisor asked all the right questions, followed all the right procedures and couldn’t have made it more clear she didn’t give a shit. My Nissan goes to my Lexus dealer.

  • avatar
    mcs

    @Tim Healy: “Toyota is arguing for hybrids and hydrogen because the company has placed big bets on those technologies.”

    Their biggest bets are actually on BEVs and Solid-state batteries. Compare the number of BEVs in their pipeline and the number of solid-state battery patents vs. the hydrogen cars on the way. The hydrogen thing is a huge fake-out. A diversionary tactic. Look at the patent filings. They tell the truth.

  • avatar
    millerluke

    Interesting. I’ve had service dealings with three different dealers, a Nissan (bought a 2013 Sentra in ’16,) Toyota (bought a new ’19 Camry, and a ’12 Elantra from them) and Hyundai (had the Elantra repaired under manufacturer extended warranty.) Only Nissan had a survey, and they were by far the worst. Prices were reasonable, sure, but would rather advise $500 repairs when something needed a $20 ‘goodwill’ repair (front suspension bushings.) It took a negative survey result to get Nissan Canada to okay the repair (covered in a TSB about five months previous.)

    Hyundai was fantastic – no questions, just replaced the Elantra’s knocking motor with 230,000km on it for free – I’ll take that! No survey.

    Toyota dealer is amazing on the sales side, okay on the service side. They do what they say they’re going to do, charge a fair(ish) price, and don’t try to upsell. Never had a survey from them, and never had any complaint either. I use the Camry for work, it’s (barely) still under warranty, and I’m getting service every two months or so. Ultimately, I end up not having to pay for the service (get to deduct it at tax time) so can’t complain. But the sales side just astounds me, very impressive. I never thought I’d be a Toyota fan, but just to avoid all the BS of other dealers when it comes time to replace the Camry is worth it. I just wish they made a 4Runner with a 392 V8…

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Shut up and fix the car. I wipe my A$$ with your surveys, get a better job if you don’t like it. And use softer paper!

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      And if they hand you a tablet?

    • 0 avatar

      You’re an angry guy, Mike. I love it! Let the hate flow through you– something something dark side.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        They’re the biggest criminals in the business. I don’t mind getting ripped off, my fault for going there. But some folks don’t deserve it, can’t afford it.

        They know the victims won’t sue and there’s an endless supply.

        Shoddy work, poor service, of course. What other private sector, automotive or not, for profit business, can get away with that?

  • avatar
    allamericanred

    This entire subject is fraught with issues as dealers and makers both want to say they have great “reviews” more than they really want to learn what is working and what is not. These surveys sound great in principle if they are being used to help service improve and weed out the bad service/sales folks but useless and harmful if they drive away the great person who cannot fix/address what is out of their hands. They have no control over inventory, pricing or parts availability or if the mechanic does their job but are expected to get a perfect score. The idea to make customers happened has been warped into watch out the boss is your adversary instead.

    The hard part of this entire scam is that the reason sales/repair fols have to beg is that if you give them less than a the highest ( a 5 of 10 or whatever) then they can be dismissed or fined. My VW rep was fired because he was getting 4’s because he could not get VW to replace all at once all the coils and window regulators/holders that were breaking at the rate of 1 a week until they all were broken. He had to do one at a time as they went out and we as clients had to come back time after time. Not his fault but of course who can give him a perfect score.

    I once had an employment review where I was given a 5 of 5 on every score but one, which was a 4 of 5. When I asked the board how to make it a 5 they said well we couldn’t give you all 5’s. No one gets that because there must be something that you can do better.

  • avatar
    carcomment

    The only reason to ever complete a survey is because the vendor failed to meet your expectations. I rarely reply to this contrived nonsense asking me to share intimate opinions and demographic data, um nope. When service is either abysmal or someone does something extraordinary, I take the time to find their boss, owner etc and send a personal letter.

    • 0 avatar

      Your preferences are great, but the personal letter does absolutely ZERO to help the person you think you’re helping. If you actually did get great service, fill out the survey. I promise they’ll get off your lawn as soon as you do.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    The survey process is stupid (and has been for a long time). As someone mentioned in the comments, only a 5/5 counts as good; anything else is a problem for the dealer when compared to other dealerships [which from the dealership perspective is all that matters in the context of the survey].

    Tim Healey, the reason your manager “got upset about low participation” is that GM graded the dealership on the scores *and* on the return rate. This was GM’s attempt to prevent dealerships from gaming the system.

    An example of gaming the system: A customer who is well-known for being super-persnickety regarding damage to trim panels while performing headliner work comes in for yet another headliner service visit. So following his visit we conveniently ‘lose’ or ‘forget’ his survey (or have it sent to his ‘updated’ address – wink wink). Problem avoided.

    As a customer, here are your recommended options:
    a) The vast majority of the time, you should just shrug and give them 5/5 on everything if they reasonably took care of your issue. This keeps you in the ‘friend of the dealer’ column.
    b) If you have one specific issue remaining which could be easily remedied by them (e.g., without another visit to the service bay), call them as you are completing the survey and ask them if they will take care of it, then give them 5/5. (But don’t overuse the ‘leverage’ that you have at this point – be a relatively reasonable human being – and don’t highlight the quid pro quo – hint around. ‘Hey I received this survey today and it just reminded me that we had talked about getting the …’)
    c) If you have a real issue and want to make a stink about it (like Lou’s warranty example above), hammer them on the survey. But hammer them selectively, not across the board. And realize that you have now put yourself into the Distasteful Customer category and have actively registered yourself as such on the radar of dealership management. (Who like it or not do have some Discretion and Latitude regarding your future interactions.)

    The dealers that score the best on these surveys get treated much better by the OEM’s. The dealers that most consistently score the very best are gaming the system. (Think of NASCAR.)

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “Turns out it was the big boss – the man who roamed among the owner’s several stores and was feared among employees in the same way that Darth Vader made stormtroopers cower – who was cussing up a storm.”

    This individual behaves in this way because periodically he sits down with the soft-spoken Bigger Boss whose grandfather’s name is on the sign (when the Bigger Boss isn’t away on the promotional cruise awarded by the OEM) and who is Genetically Entitled. [The big boss can be replaced at will; the Bigger Boss has Choices in Life.]

    I.e., every Darth Vader has an Emperor to answer to.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I have a simple transactional relationship with the car dealership. I give them money, they perform service. I do not work for them, and if they want me to, they can pay me the same $100/hr that they charge me. And I fill out surveys REALLY slowly.

    But, I just sold my previous car which was best serviced by a dealership for a truck that can be serviced by any monkey with a wrench. They don’t have surveys.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    I could not care less about how these surveys are organized, or whether nothing but a 10 is acceptable to the doinks in “Service”, the dealer or anyone else. It’s not my job to work out that the numbers 0 thru 9 are fake. I spent years getting three degrees, and got one A+ in Math 400 Advanced Differential equations. Now I’m supposed to hand an A+ out for a less than mediocre performance. Ain’t happening . If these jokers think it’s actully Grade 4 and everyone gets a sticky-back gold star to put in their report card for just showing up, well screw ’em. They exist in an alternate reality. It’s my money and I’ll complain at crap service if I feel like it.

    The other thing that gets my goat is some 23 year-old guy or girl, so-called “service writer” who knows bugger all about anything, particularly cars, who wax on about things proving they should have kept their mouth shut, then telling me I need a “brake service” on a car with 6K km on it. Almost no driving in Covid meant 6K took 14 months to accumulate. $175 to lube the caliper slide pins? What kind of a complete idiot do they take me for? I’m changing to winter tires, slap some high-temp lube on the pins like Subaru did. No charge, the grease is in the fake “Shop Supplies” charge of $13.95 for SFA, anyway.

    Interesting of course to read about the service ins and outs. Now, what in hell does it have to do with me? Both the local Subaru dealer and the Mazda dealer are owned by one conglomerate, a local billionaire now expanding in Texas from Nova Scotia, up to 50 odd stealerships now. Locally, Subaru service is semi-competent, Mazda service is a shyster outfit. Amazing how different they are considering the group ownership. The Mazda mechanics themselves seem OK, but the Service manager and service writer drones are incompetent. I’ll complain if I feel like it and I have on several occasions, both to them in person and in writing, in filling out their surveys, and also that JD Power one I got asking how I felt about the dealer. What a laugh.

    If people can’t organize a team that responds to the challenge it faces, how is that the customer’s fault? The other trick they pull is to pretend the problem was “the parts department”, not them. As I asked the GM, “Do these people both work for you? Or are they working for separate outsourced contractors but housed under your roof for mere convenience’ sake? Because the way I see things, they all work for you and this is one dealership, not a bunch of separate compartments”.

    I couldn’t care less if they think they can “get me” in future. I’d never buy anything from them again. The car is great, but Mazda is represented locally by living dolts. I’m not making up excuses for them in my head to behave the way they do, merely to give myself an untroubled mental life. I ran a big department mysel for years, and know a little bit how to make things tick along properly in the first place. These people do not.

    Send me your survays, and I shall take great pleasure in differentiating between 1, 2, 3 and 4. You want an 8? Who are you? Superman?

  • avatar
    psychoboy

    16 plus years in the industry has taught me three things:
    A) Surveys exist so that OEMs can take money away from dealerships
    2) Dealerships pass the screwings along to their employees
    d) Bonuses are promises employers don’t want to keep

    If the survey system had any functional use, it would actually ask open ended questions and read actual answers, rather than working on a rating system that is perfect/fail.

    It would immediately ignore the “I don’t give perfect scores, ‘cuz nobody’s perfect ‘cept for Jesus” people and the “A bad score today is a free oil change tomorrow” people. Dealers wouldn’t murder a writer’s paycheck because the couch cushions in the waiting room were too hard or the complimentary muffins weren’t gluten-free, or the Community Coffee wasn’t Starbucks enough.

    This is part of the reason Toyota has gotten out of the survey game. Too many customers gaming the system, too many employees leaving the industry, and not enough useful info being gained.

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