I sat in the customers’ lounge, which was basically the salesroom floor of the dealership, for the second of the past three weekends. There was a noise on the right side of the car my oldest daughter has been driving that I was eager to get fixed before it turned from annoyance to a bigger repair job.
Two weeks ago I had sat at the same table, early on a Saturday morning, well before the sales agents took over the place with brinksmanship and feigned friendliness toward prospective car buyers. At the end of that session, the front stabilizer bar had been replaced and the troubling noise had abated, or so I thought.
After paying the bill, I was told the car was just exiting the car wash and they would bring it right away. Fifteen, then twenty minutes passed. I grew impatient and walked outside. I found my car, parked in the middle of the dealer lot, boxed in by a row of cleaned vehicles, emanating from the wash. I had to ask an attendant if they could move the other cars so I could leave. Another ten minutes and I was on my way, a bit annoyed, but at least the car was fixed.
On the drive home, with the initial creaking before repair now gone, I began to detect a thumping noise during deceleration, a noise that was, in all likelihood, masked previously. Having spent several hours of my weekend at the dealer, I decided I would finish the drive home and return in the future if the noise continued.
I received a voicemail during the week seeking my feedback from my time spent in the service shop. I didn’t return the call. I received an email from the dealer encouraging me to trade in the vehicle for a new model, extending me the “good car maintenance owner” discount. I relegated the email to the trash bin. Shortly after, a second email arrived, containing a link to fill out a survey for the customer service department. I hit delete.
The following weekend I had other plans, so the thumping noise had to wait. It was the weekend next that I rose early and repeated the drive to the dealer, suspecting the thumping, which had consistently continued, was likely a bad front strut. I arrived twenty minutes ahead of my scheduled appointment, explained I was recently in and that the previous repair had not fully fixed the issue. I handed the keys to the attendant and went inside to “my” table.
After some time for diagnosis, my suspicions were confirmed: bad strut, right front. The repair would take an hour. I sat and watched the car salesmen and the silly go-between dance they did with the showroom floor manager (cordoned off in the corner of the building), with the finance “guy” (holed up in a windowless office in the back), and, of course, the customer (who I couldn’t help labeling “the mark”).
This was good people watching real estate. There was the Minnesota Vikings fan, his outfit completed with a sparkling purple Vikings jacket. The sales agent boasted about various Vikings players, all while landing the sale of a shiny new 2018 model. The dialog might have been sincere, yet I remained skeptical, it would be fairly unusual to find two passionate Vikings fans in Northern Virginia, typically Redskins territory.
Another husband and wife brought with them their Newfoundland puppy. Here the word puppy might give you the wrong impression, this was already a large dog. They were needing a bigger back seat and wanted to test drive with Spot, would that be ok? It was, and they bought the car.
So maybe you can forgive me for allowing the hour for the strut repair to stretch into an hour and a half. Since there was no sign of my car, I went to talk with the service attendant. I accepted the apologies for the delay and was assured it was just coming out of the car wash (Uh Oh!). As I paid the bill the attendant said,
“You’ll be getting contacted about the service you’ve received today. Was there anything which would cause you not to rate your entire experience a 5 (scale 1-5)?”
“I know how it works, thanks,” was my completely non-commital response.
Clearly not satisfied, he added a bit more aggressiveness to his plea. “Can I count on you to give me all 5 ratings?” He looked directly at me.
“I’ll be happy to fill out your survey,” I fibbed, staring straight back.
Here’s the thing: this mechanism of customer surveys is all wrong. The incentives, and likely heavy training, all fuel this guy to plead with me to select only 5s on the survey. He likely gets some bonus for high ratings, or worse, loses some pay if the ratings aren’t high enough.
As for me, the process made me lie. I’m not going to be happy to fill out the survey. I was starting to feel manipulated and I lied to get out of the situation. In fact, I was frustrated: with the repair that took longer than anticipated and the lack of communication from the service department. I was spending another Saturday morning at the dealership, and my source of entertainment was watching car salesmen haggle. In the moment, I wanted to rate the whole thing 1 star.
The car dealer and the car manufacturer don’t receive true customer satisfaction ratings from this process. They don’t get the feedback and the process doesn’t improve. And somewhere a manager is tallying survey results and making compensation or employment decisions with poor quality data.
I received the expected phone call a day later and there were emails asking me to complete the customer survey last week. I declined and instead wrote this. I will happily give you my feedback when you engage with me and those you want feedback from in an open and honest way. Let’s no longer boil our interactions down to a single number where the answer must be 5.
My lack of completing the survey hasn’t jeopardized my “good car maintenance owner” status, the latest email is still extending me the offer to trade in my car for a new model. I hope Spot is riding comfortably in his new back seat, I’m keeping the one I have and deleting this email too.