The Auto Industry Is Ripe for Customer Experience Improvements

Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
I hope the following story encourages any automaker or auto dealer to take an honest look at how they may be alienating their customers.

I don't normally like to use this blog to complain about poor customer service. But sometimes the situation is so blatant that I can't hold back. I hope the following story encourages any automaker or auto dealer to take an honest look at how they may be alienating their customers. While price may be an important selling point for an auto purchase decision, many customers look to their post-purchase experiences when making their next buying decision or recommending a dealer to friends. Yet somehow this is lost on the dealers, who operate in a siloed environment where the salesperson promises you the world and the service department doesn't deliver.

Take my personal example. My husband has a 2009 Pontiac G8 GT. A few months ago he was rear-ended in an accident and afterward noticed that the car shook when going over 50 mph. After a new set of tires, balancing, road-force balancing, and rim adjustments, it still shook. He took it to the local GM dealer where he bought the car. He didn't know if it was related to the accident or an unrelated warranty issue with the car.

Four weeks later there is no diagnosis. They told him GM would send an engineer to look at it, and another time they promised to send the car out to be road-force balanced. Neither of those things ever happened. After four weeks of no car, my husband was frustrated. He called "Martin" at GM corporate on Friday, who told him to take the car back until an engineer arrives for a closer inspection.

The office closes at 6 p.m., so I picked my husband up and we arrived at the dealer at 5:45. When he went to pick up the keys, the office manager had no idea what he was talking about. No one had told her he was coming. And, they couldn't find his keys. They told him to check inside his car in the back of the dark lot to see if the keys were in there. So it was now up to my husband to locate the keys to the car that the service department was supposedly working on for a month.

No luck on the keys. So I assumed the dealer would give him a car to use for the weekend, since it was their fault he couldn't get the car. Ahh, no. The exact words I heard were, "There's no one here who can do that." Apparently the manager left for the weekend and the salesman had no authority. I'm sure he had authority to sell a car, but loaning one to a current customer was out of his hands. There's no commission on customer service, after all.

It's now Monday morning and my husband called the dealer to find out if they found the keys. After about 20 minutes of looking, they located them in the desk of one of the mechanics. It leads me to question when the last time was that they actually worked on the car. He took it back and will wait for a call about the engineer later this week.

Both GM and the dealer failed the two big rules of customer experience -- resolve issues and be accountable. Throughout this entire ordeal the responsibility has been on my husband to follow-up, find out what's going on, and prod the service people to work on the car. The mechanic even told him that it's not that bad a problem and he should just live with it, after admitting that if it were his car, he'd bring it in for service as well. We're not as upset about the fact that the issue isn't resolved as we are about the way it's being handled. We're being treated as pests, not valuable customers.

Do you think my husband will ever buy another car from GM or this dealer?

I tell this story because there is a paradigm shift in progress to customer service being a competitive advantage in all industries. Car companies and dealers in particular are way behind other industries, and need to step up if they want to keep customers over the long term. There is a culture in place that focuses on the short-term sale and doesn't take into account what really drives long-term success. Dealers are going out of business and consolidating more than ever before. The status quo doesn't work anymore. Service needs to deliver on the promise that the automaker and sales team give to customers.

Customers talk to each other, and share their positive and negative experiences with the world. This blog is just an example. I hope to be able to write a follow-up to this blog about how GM and the dealer stepped up and acted in my husband's best interests. But I don't have much faith that will happen.

Unfortunately, my tale is not a unique one. Everyone has some sort of similar story. The difference now is, the audience we tell it to is much larger. Car companies and dealers that understand this will try to create positive customer experiences and give customers good stories to share. At least I hope they will.

PS -- I left the dealer's name out because I haven't given them a chance to tell their side of the story. My patience is wearing thin, however.