AKRON (Sept. 1, 2003)—Like it or not, a driving lesson may be the only way to solve some customers' complaints and rescue your dealership's reputation. Here's why.
Automotive diagnosis and repair is already a very challenging endeavor. Service personnel who don't get all the pertinent facts make the diagnostic task that much more difficult. Over the years I've seen countless service managers, service writers and technicians struggle to satisfy customers simply because they overlooked a vital fact—driving skills or driving habits. They just can't be bothered investigating these aspects of their unsolved automotive mysteries.
Worse yet, I've met service personnel who are very reluctant to question a customer about driving habits and vehicle usage because they perceive that kind of information gathering as being impudent, intrusive or confrontational. Tactful as you might be, sometimes getting to the truth hurts someone, and it's usually the customer.
Regular Tire Business readers know I've often referred to automotive service providers as being automotive doctors. Good doctors excel at getting accurate, meaningful patient profiles completed before they rush to any diagnostic conclusions. For ex-ample, if you can barely climb one flight of stairs without getting winded, I'll bet the doctor will want to know about those four packs of cigarettes you're smoking daily.
Certainly automotive doctors can learn to accomplish the same goal politely and firmly with a troublesome vehicle—especially when dealing with a vexing comeback. When service personnel realize they aren't getting meaningful answers from the vehicle owner, they should tactfully find a way to observe the customer's driving habits. Then politely recommend necessary “adjustments” to the individual's driving style. Consider the following examples.
Technicians cannot figure out the root cause of premature brake wear on a vehicle. They have tried different brands of friction material, replaced the calipers, etc. Finally, a service writer happens to ride home with the customer in order to bring the car back for another look-see at the brakes. Then he notices something he's never seen before—the customer is braking with his left foot. Therefore, this driver is actually accelerating and braking simultaneously!
No, you don't see this mistake every day, but rest assured that good brake specialists know it happens often. Solution? Coach the driver to accelerate and brake only with the right foot.
In another instance, an unhappy motorist has insisted that a tire dealership do a “tune up” over and over again because his car's fuel economy still isn't what it's supposed to be. When a technician happens to ride with this driver, it's obvious to him the fellow is unskilled at driving a manual-transmission car. Chatting with the driver, the tech learns the man bought his first stick-shift car due to concerns about rising fuel prices. And no, he wasn't aware that revving the daylights out of the engine between shifts would adversely affect fuel consumption.
Once the tech demonstrated normal driving procedure for a stick-shift vehicle, fuel economy improved and the customer was pleased as punch with his car and his service shop.
In still another situation, the driver was doing the opposite of the revved-up motorist. Instead of revving the engine too high, he was short shifting or putting the car into high gear much too soon, causing the engine to ping and the drivetrain to shudder. After two separate engine diagnoses re-vealed nothing wrong, an experienced tech identified the root problem by riding along with the customer.
A little bit of “driver's ed” quickly solved this mystery.
During the early 1990s, the increasing popularity of antilock brakes (ABS) caused a number of false re-ports of front-end shimmy, noise, vibration and severe pulsation during sudden braking. Some motorists were confused and/or frightened by the sensation of an ABS system rapidly pulsing the brakes on and off during a panic stop.
Stay alert because some motorists are still getting their first experience with ABS-equipped vehicles, and they just might blame your recent brake job for a pulsation they don't understand.
When in doubt, ride with this motorist and instruct him or her to nail the brakes hard enough to activate the ABS. Then educate the driver in simple language about what the system's doing. Typically, customers appreciate candor, and they like being in-formed. These are the foundation for a trusting, long-term relationship.