Anatomy of a Service Visit


Share on LinkedIn

A few weeks back on the The Ride I wrote about how the automotive industry placed third compared to other industries in our CE Benchmarks Study in delivering high levels of customer satisfaction.  I’m here to tell you today that there are exceptions.

As I write this, I’m sitting on a ceramic step of the service department at an unnamed automotive dealership waiting for my vehicle.  Why?  There are no seats left in the already overcrowded waiting room.  Let me be clear.  I am not writing this to trash the dealership.  There’s already too many avenues through which customers can do that.  Rather, I’m much more interested in what can be learned from this very disappointing experience.

What’s gone wrong in the last 90 minutes?   Realtors selling your house will often refer to “curb appeal.”  This dealership has none.   Watermarks stain the front fascia; paint is faded and the brick is dirty; customer parking is extremely limited; used car signage looks like it was done by the  5th grade class from the local public school; there was a 20% discrepancy between what I was quoted for a regular scheduled maintenance last week when I booked the appointment and what I apparently will pay today.  Today is higher.

This is my first time to this particular dealership and it doesn’t exactly get the relationship off to a good start.  I will not name the brand, for that does little.  However, I think there are some important lessons to be learned.

1.  From an OEM standpoint, when was the last time you mystery shopped your own dealerships?     Be critical.  I know this sounds simplistic but look at your dealerships through new eyes.   How’s something as simple as paint?  Would you be happy to recommend the store based on your first impressions?   Does it give you confidence that your vehicle will be well serviced?

Lesson Learned:  The old adage of the coffee cup on the fold down tray of the airplane  certainly applies.  If I can’t trust the dealership to keep things I can see clean, how do I know they’re fixing something I can’t see?

2.  Related to this, when was the last time you mystery shopped your competition?   When we do our industry presentations, I have encouraged the audience to do exactly this.  It seems, more often than not, that the eyes glaze over and they give you the look “That’s a stupid idea.  Why would we do that?”

I’ve even gone so far as to suggest that they lease competitive makes so they experience the entire ownership experience.  What a great and cost effective way of gathering competitive intelligence.  Our engineers do it.  They buy vehicles and reverse engineer them but somehow that message doesn’t seem to get through to the marketing side of the house.

25 years ago when I started my career at Toyota I worked for a guy by the name of Karl Schlicht.  In March, Karl was promoted to Executive VP of Sales, Marketing, Product Planning and Aftersales  for Toyota and Lexus in Europe.   He’s still a good friend and in a recent meeting in Japan I mentioned this argument, that OEM management should be driving more competitive vehicles and when I make this case, it gets less than a warm reception.  Thankfully he supported my point of view.  Whenever he rents a car, he makes a concerted effort to rent something other than a Toyota or Lexus.  What a great way to learn what the other guys are doing.

Lesson Learned:  Drive and experience competitive vehicles.   What you don’t know will hurt you.

3.  Check your waiting area.  Something pretty basic, but are there enough chairs to handle the service volume?

Lesson Learned:   Please see above.   It’s not complicated.

4.  What’s the volume of the TV in the waiting room?  This place has WiFi which is price of entry but the service area is so small that the blasting TV showing the highlights from The Masters pollutes the area where other customers are actually working.

Lesson Learned: Consider a quiet area for those customers who want to be productive while they’re getting their vehicles serviced…and considering turning down the volume of the TV.

5.   Communication is key.  I got the upsell from the service advisor, which is cool.  But the individual’s communication skills were so weak I wasn’t really sure why the part had to be replaced.  On the plus side, I have had experiences in the past from another dealership where we have serviced our car where I would wait for one particular service advisor since he was so good at communicating in excellent detail what had to be done to my car and why.  I trusted him and I had confidence in the money I was spending.

Lesson learned:  Don’t skimp on the training for your front line service advisers.  These people don’t get paid enough anyway for what they  have to put up with, but they can be a real asset to the dealership in terms of revenue if they are taught better soft communications skills.

6.  Customers make comparisons.  Aesthetically, this is not a nice place to be.  Perhaps it’s falling into the realm of cliche but Apple has raised the bar and car dealerships need to be aware of this.    I noticed the same thing a few years ago when Disney seemed to be the most quoted example of how to do things right.  The danger is, they are still doing things right and there are still many lessons we can learn from them, but because it’s “old news” the lessons learned can be ignored.  In all fairness, the industry is doing a better job at looking outside of itself and this can only be positive.

Lesson learned:  Even though an Apple experience may not be possible right now within your network, what can be learned from this juggernaut?  Customers are not just comparing dealerships with other dealerships;  they compare them to other positive customer experiences they have had regardless of where they have had them.

If you’re interested, the Harvard Business Review has written about the success of the Apple store, and David Aaker touches on it in his latest blog, Branding Your Innovation, The Genius Bar Case Study.

 7.   Remember the little things.  My service is completed, I’ve paid for the transaction, and I’m back in my office.   It wasn’t all bad news.  The dealership has washed my car and it looks pretty good shimmering in the warm April sunshine.

 Lesson Learned:  Don’t forget about the surprise and delight factors.   Ford arguably pushed this to the forefront many years ago now, but from the numerous focus grips I have moderated, customers have brought these things up time and time again as something that made the experience special for them.   It was the service person who offered to pickup and drop off the car at the customer’s home; it was the gas cap that was replaced free of charge without the customer asking for it; it was the service advisor offering a $5 lunch coupon to the customer because their car wasn’t quite ready yet.

And this is not unique to the automotive industry.  Restaurants will provide customers with an amuse-bouche – something they don’t expect which makes the dining experience memorable.

These might sound like small things but they’re important.  Directing management attention to these areas will help the dealership experience to stand out in the customers’ minds and encourage return visits.   And with it, additional revenue, margin, and absorption so it truly is a win-win situation.

Republished with author’s permission from original post.

Chris Travell
Chris Travell is VP, Strategic Consulting for the Automotive Group of Maritz Research. He is responsible for working with Maritz' Insight Teams to further the understanding and application of the firm's automotive research. He has appeared on numerous television programs and is often quoted in Automotive News, Time, USA Today, Edmunds, Detroit Free Press, The Globe and Mail and various other publications in regard to issues related to the North American automotive industry. He is the principal contributor to The Ride Blog, Maritz Research's automotive blog.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here