As you know, this author has handled thousands of consumer complaints whether from responding to a letter, getting involved with the Attorney General’s office, administrative hearings, or consumer litigation. Other than a few dealerships, the vast majority do not have a procedure to effectively handle customer complaints, especially those that spiral out of control into litigation. Of course, there are always going to be unreasonable consumers who demand the sun, moon, and stars for every perceived grievance but there are a lot of situations that, if handled properly from inception, could have been resolved quickly and result in good customer relations. In my opinion, very few consumer issues should actually reach the very top level of dealership management or ownership unless directed otherwise. It should be effectively resolved at the managerial level coordinated with an individual who is tasked with resolving customer issues. I am just going to provide some ideas regarding procedures a dealership should establish.
Remember, resolving consumer problems at the inception is absolutely vital for customer satisfaction, protecting your reputation and maintaining a long-term relationship.
It is my opinion that there should be a dedicated person at the dealership tasked with proactively addressing a consumer issue once it occurs. Obviously, that individual can be a general manager or a person who has been specifically hired to perform the task. The individual needs to have latitude to immediately make decisions to handle the situation. For more involved situations, the appropriate information should be accumulated, employees and managers interviewed to obtain the dealership side of the story and, if possible, then talk to the consumer in order to come to a resolution. There needs to be a clear established process within the dealership in order to resolve the consumer issues. Everybody involved needs to know the process and who ultimately interfaces with the customer. The policy/process needs to be transparent, easy to follow, and available to every consumer. In fact, you could provide a display in your service or sales departments indicating, for example: If you are not 100% satisfied with our sales or service, please “see” and provide an individual. Remember, empathy, whether or not the customer is right or wrong, will go a long way to resolving any issues.
When a customer complaint is identified, the response should be prompt and professional. For example, acknowledge the customer’s issue, insure that the issue will be addressed, again, investigate the matter with your employees, and keep the customer informed. Do not let it fall through the cracks. Communication is the key. Further, keep detailed records of any and all interactions with the customer, conversations, emails, and other communications including the date, the topic of the discussion, action taken, and resolutions offered and hopefully, accepted. These items will be invaluable if the issue cannot be resolved and proceeds to further legal action. Also, it may help in refining and perhaps streamlining the store’s internal process. I found through experience that detailed communication records are necessary in defending unfounded complaints.
Obviously, if the matter escalates to correspondence from a consumer’s legal counsel, discuss the matter with your attorney immediately for an appropriate response. It is my very strong recommendation that the dealership does not try to resolve an issue with the consumer’s attorney directly inasmuch as statements, offers, or resolution can become misconstrued and utilized against the dealership. Do not negotiate against your best interest. Finally, learn from the complaints and resolutions and refine your policies and procedures.
The most frustrating thing I run across is when a consumer issue falls through the cracks which could have easily been resolved. Obviously, the consumer’s legal counsel is not working for free, so in the long run it is going to cost the dealership more to resolve the matter than if it had been handled properly at the beginning. Naturally, there are some individuals that you will never be able to placate, however you go through the process until such time as you draw the line in the sand and say that’s our last best offer and let the consumer do whatever he or she is going to do. Again, maintain your communications and paperwork.