Last week I participated in a mediation conference and explained to a consumer that the “issue” they were experiencing with their vehicle was not caused by a defect, but instead actually was a normal operating condition of the vehicle and a by-product of a design change intended to make the vehicle safer. The consumer gave me a dumbfounded look before asking why no one has ever explained this to him before. Unfortunately, I had no good answer after the vehicle had been in for repairs seven times at two facilities over more than a year.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Dealers are sometimes too quick to dismiss a customer who complains of an issue that is a normal operating characteristic or is not caused by a defect. Usually if there is no problem with a vehicle there is repair to be made by a dealer. However, even when nothing needs to be fixed, there is a risk in failing to give a proper explanation to a customer. Manufacturers and dealers spend thousands of dollars litigating cases that could have been resolved through more effective communication.
There are a few simple things that a dealer can do to keep its customers satisfied and avoid needless litigation. When a consumer moves from a smaller vehicle such as a sedan or compact car to a larger vehicle such as an SUV or a pickup, it is not uncommon for the customer to have complaints about ride quality. While for many consumers common sense would dictate that the new vehicle would ride differently, many still complain about ride quality. If a consumer makes such a complaint it is a good idea to spend a few minutes explaining the difference between the vehicles, what causes the difference in ride quality and recording the conversation in a repair order.
The same is true when a consumer complains of any other issue, which a normal vehicle operating characteristic such as certain noises, minor vibrations, or perhaps small inconveniences caused by certain safety features. Some of these characteristics might be best explained at the point of sale. They should also be further explained at the time of repair to the extent that the problem is not related to a vehicle defect. Always record these conversations in the repair record. Also make sure to explain that some issues can be caused by the way the vehicle is used or by driving habits.
Additionally, make sure you tell your technicians to be specific with their language both in speaking to customers and recording any conversation in a repair order. If the customer’s concern is a normal operating condition of the vehicle a technician should not make statements such as, “We can’t fix it,” or “We are aware of the problem but we don’t have a fix.” This only confuses the customer and leads the consumer to believe that there is a defect in the vehicle. Also, you should avoid performing unnecessary repairs to placate a customer. Often such repairs have the opposite effect and may actually lead to a lawsuit.
Finally, if you are receiving repeated and consistent complaints from numerous consumers regarding a vehicle or part, you should report it to the manufacturer. When manufacturers learn that a normal condition is leading to customer complaints they will often issue a service bulletin or message giving an offering of explanation to provide to consumers. Technicians should also always stay abreast of service bulletins or messages from manufacturers. If a manufacturer issues some type of bulletin explaining a vehicle characteristic, the bulletins should generally be given to the consumer, explained thoroughly and documented in any repair record.