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by Paul Kiser

Car Dealerships: A Scorpion on the Fox’s Back

The world revolves around certain truths and we hold these truths to be self-evident. One absolute truth is that interactions with a car dealership will leave the customer feeling soiled, dirty…robbed. It’s bad enough to buy a car from a dealership, but then to have to go back for regular servicing is rubbing metal shavings in the wound.  Bad customer service at a car dealership is a fact, like the sun rising in the morning, or traffic lights always being red when you’re late for a critical appointment.

Paul Kiser - CEO of Enterprise Technologies, inc.

Last year we bought a car and admittedly the experience was not what I expected.  I attributed the unusually positive experience to the fact that we had our loan pre-approved through USAA and to already completing an Internet search for the car we wanted.  The dealership we finally did business with was located in Carson City, Nevada and they were willing to close the deal over the phone (and fax)…with no haggling. I gave them the results of my search through USAA and they found a car with most of the features, gave me a price that was close to what I expected and we were done. It was a freak situation.

However, regular servicing on the car would still force us to go back to the dealership, so despite our positive experience, I set my expectations appropriately low for return visits. I should note that our car is a Toyota Camry and yes, part of the service I had done this week was the accelerator assembly recall work.  I didn’t get upset about the recall. Cars are incredibly sophisticated systems and I’m amazed that we don’t have more problems.  I know other people are outraged, but honestly, if this had been a problem with GM cars we would have all said, “GM cars still suck.” But because is was Toyota, we all had higher expectations.

I am confident that our Camry is a quality product, but experience has trained me to expect the dealerships to behave like the scorpion who stings the fox.  The story is about a scorpion hitching a ride on the fox so that both of them can cross a river, but partway across the scorpion stings the fox, dooming both of them. In one version of the story, when the fox asks why the scorpion stung him he answers that it is in his nature. Likewise, bad customer service is in a car dealership’s nature.

Carson City Toyota: Do They Not Understand?  Their Supposed to be Bad!

On Monday I called to make an appointment. They asked me when I wanted to bring it in.  “Thursday,” I said, expecting a response that this week was booked, maybe next week.  Instead he responded, “What time do you want to bring it in?” This guy had to be new, because he didn’t understand how the game works in the auto service world.  He apparently didn’t know that the customer doesn’t schedule the appointment time.  The dealership always schedules the time and they always manage to find the most inconvenient time of the day to drop the car off. But I wasn’t going to tell him his job so I said, “10 AM?”  He said, “That will work fine.”  Now I knew this guy was not only new, this was probably his first day.

My plan was to go in and drop off the car and go to a Starbucks for the rest of the day.  They said it would take three to four hours, which is car dealership speak for six to eight hours. I hoped to drop it off and get out of there as quickly as possible. Most car dealerships can be scary places and the Service Waiting Area is usually a modified storage room with an old TV that is tuned to Fox News or a Soap Opera.

Carson City Toyota just prior to opening the new location.

I knew that Carson City Toyota had just moved into a new facility and I expected to be a new version of the same old thing.

My first shock was that instead of parking the car outside and turning over the keys to some overworked and poorly paid clerk at a counter, this dealership has a huge, fully enclosed car drop off area.  I pulled my car inside and the service person immediately met me, introduced himself (Greg), asked all the questions, looked over the car, and then took me to his office to enter in all the information needed to pass to the service staff.  I decided that he must be the new guy I talked to on the phone because he was entirely too attentive and efficient for a seasoned car service professional. He confirmed it would be three to four hours for all the work to be done.

I told him I was going to walk to the nearby Starbucks and he said that would be fine, or if I needed a shuttle somewhere he could have me dropped off.  He showed me how to go through the new building to get to the front but as he walked me into the heart of the dealership we came to the ‘Waiting Area’.

A Waiting Area for VIP’s…the Customer?

I looked over the room and thought, “Mother of God!”   This was not what a Waiting Area in a car dealership is supposed to be!  The waiting area was the size of two or three Starbucks. There was a floor to ceiling stone wall with a fireplace and a large flat screen TV.  In front of the wall were 12 or so sofa-type chairs with a desk-like arm on the side, all facing the fireplace/TV wall. To one side was a cafeteria-style refreshment area with a variety of coffee/tea offerings and free small pastries. I was impressed!

I walked through this beautiful tiled lounge area only to discover that I had only observed half of the waiting area.  On the other side was the mirror image with another 12 or so sofa-type chairs.  The only difference was that instead of a refreshment station along the wall they had installed a laptop computer counter with power outlets and bar stools. They even had free WiFi!

Carson City Toyota is a car dealership that obviously values their customers and treats the customer with kindness! What is wrong with them!

I was committed to my Starbucks Chai Tea, so I walked the block to the store and settled into my normal routine.  At three hours on-the-dot Greg called and said, “I’m sorry Mr. Kiser, but they do not have the car ready yet.” Yep, he’s new.  Rule No. 1 in the world of auto service is that you don’t keep the customer informed because if you do it once, the customer will expect it all the time. I told Greg that I was settled in and it was not a problem. He told me he would call me when it was ready.

A little over an hour later Greg called me again and said that the car was almost ready. I wrapped up what I was doing and walked back to the dealership. When I got there I learned that my car was being washed…at no charge. I settled the bill and a few minutes later my car was ready for me…parked as close as possible without driving it into the waiting area.

It’s been 24 hours and I’m in still in awe.  One thing I know is that the experience we had last year when we bought the car was not a fluke. Customer Service is not an accident at Carson City Toyota.

For decades Tom Peters has been preaching about things like ‘taking care of the customer’, ‘creating a new paradigm’, and rising above the customer’s expectations.  Peters wrote the book on Re-Imagining the business.  It appears to me that Carson City Toyota has read the book and is writing their own chapter.

(This blog was not paid for, nor solicited, nor approved by Carson City Toyota.)

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