Monday, July 8, 2019

Service With A Frown - The Ford Dealer

Why are people at Ford dealers so unhappy?

I recently recounted my experience at the KIA dealer versus the Ford dealer.  I thought this was an anomaly, that perhaps the Ford dealer I went to was just shitty.  I took the truck to another dealer, and it was the same deal - they found reasons not to work on the truck after I left it in the lot all day long.  I return after 12 hours to find it parked in the same spot.

And it isn't like rocket science.  There is a leak in the rear tire - something a car mechanic learns to fix on day one of auto school.    But they "don't do tire repairs" there, even though there is huge bay labeled "tire shop" and they exhort me to consider buying my next set of tires from them.   Even though I have to put air in the tire on a weekly basis, they claim they "put soap on it" and can't find a leak (they did not take the wheel off the truck to do this, either).   It is very sad, to me.  The dealer included this one-year tire warranty with "free roadside assistance!" and like most extended warranties, it turns out to be utterly worthless.  I will have to take the truck to a tire store for repair, presuming it is a rim leak, or just put a plug in it, if it is a nail in the tire (which I can't find yet).

These toys are nice, but when they break, a nightmare to get fixed.

The other problem was the side camera on the car was going bonkers, so I took it in.  I took a photo of the malfunctioning camera (it was intermittent) to show them the problem, because as expected, it worked fine the moment it gets on the dealer lot.   The guys says they "checked it with the computer" and ordered a new camera.   A week goes by with no word, and I call him, and he says, "I've been reluctant to call you, as the boy needs to hook up the truck to the big computer - it's three feet high! - to calibrate the camera, and he ain't never done that before!"

Since we were leaving on a trip, I politely declined his offer to work on it the night before - I didn't want to come back to the dealer and see my truck in pieces all over the garage floor, with him telling me, "we need more parts - there're on order, should be a week or so!"   And of course, they would never call me to tell me the parts are in - they are so "busy" and all!   Easier to get an appointment with a neurosurgeon - their time isn't as valuable.

But it got me to thinking, why were the people at this dealer so unhappy?   Why at the other dealer?  Ford dealers in general - maybe all car dealers?   Are they really shitty places to work?  Is it some sort of simmering resentment, knowing that people view car salesmen as one notch below lawyers in terms of trustworthiness?

All I know is, when I call the dealer, the receptionist answers - and they all have receptionists in this day and age of DTMF telephone trees and direct numbers.   You have to go through a receptionist, you can't just talk to the party you want to talk to.  And the receptionist is never a cheery "Hello!  Good Morning!" type of person, but rather answers in a dull monotone, "Buddy's World of Ford, may I direct your call..." as if her cat died that morning (perhaps it did, if so, my condolences).

Then they shift you off to "service" - but never the same person, twice, so you have to leave messages.  And they never call back.  It is like any one of a number of rip-off artists like MLM schemes or timeshare sales - you can't call them, but they can call you.  It is a power shifting play - your time is worthless, but theirs is precious.

So the "service adviser" answers and again, their dog must have died that morning.  "Service..." they mutter in a monotone.  Sadder people, I have never met.  They all talk to you like you ruined their day, or perhaps you are trying to swindle Henry Ford out of his last dollar.  "You want what?  Your car fixed?   Uh, not sure we do that here.  Let me put you on hold!"

I started thinking about this, and I realized that it must suck to work at a car dealer - it must suck a lot. Because I rarely meet anyone there who is happy.  Oh, sure, the salesman acts happy to meet you for the first five minutes, but then his anti-depressants wear off halfway through the deal, and he starts sobbing about his ex-wife and alimony payments. Maybe they realize they are utter frauds and are really providing little or no real value in the universe, in the greater scheme of things.   I don't know.   All I know is, it is rare to see anyone smile at a car dealer.

The local KIA dealer was pretty happy when I brought the car in, and they called me back to say that KIA would pay for the rim replacements.   They also called me to tell me the rims were in and I could bring the car in.  Called me again when it was done!   Amazing thing - phones are capable of making calls as well as receiving them.  Must be this new Korean technology.   And when I went there, they were pretty happy, too.  Smiling happy faces, everywhere.

Sadly, this is a new trend for them, because the previous time I went there, they were all sad-sack and playing the "you're lucky to be allowed to have us take your money" game.   Maybe they had their meds adjusted or something in the interim.

These dealers are all-so-desperate for us to give them five star ratings on the review forms from the manufacturer.   Maybe it is this stress that makes them unhappy.

Just  a suggestion, but if you want a five-star review, smile sometime. Act like the customer isn't ruining your day by expecting their expensive vehicle to operate as advertised or be repaired as agreed under the warranty.

One reason why Americans have flocked to Japanese imports is because they are so reliable.  It is not that we hate repairs - we hate the process of going to a dealer for warranty work.  My Nissan never broke down, and never needed repair, other than fluid changes, new tires, and a new battery.  For 80,000 miles, it ran like clockwork until I sold it. I never had a negative experience with the dealer because I never had to experience the dealer, for the most part.

I am not sure why this is the way it is.  Part of it is power-shifting in the commercial relationship - weak retailers know they have a poor product (in this case, the dealership model) so they make it seem like you are lucky to do business with them.  And maybe being brusque with the customers is part of this. "We hate your guts!" they tell us, subliminally, "coming in here with your money and paying us and all!  We could do just fine without the likes of you!"

Maybe in a booming market you can get away with this.  But I remember not ten years ago, these same dealers crying in their soup and claiming that they really want us to come in and buy their cars and use their services.  "We've changed!" they said, like an abusive husband trying to lure back a battered wife.   And for a short time, they did.

But then it went back to the old ways...

Quite frankly, I prefer to buy a car out-of-warranty, as I can just break down and fix the goddam thing myself or take it to a third-party mechanic.   Dealing with dealers just isn't worth it.