Here Is How You Should Respond To Those Dealership Surveys

If you’ve ever bought a car or had service done at a car dealership, you know that soon after the transaction you’ll get a phone call or an email asking you take a survey about your experience. But if you give a bad survey, can it come back to bite you later?

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Welcome to Ask Automatch! Where you get to ask me your burning car buying questions. Got a scenario or a situation and you aren’t sure what to do? Send an email to Tom.McParland@jalopnik.com and I’ll try to help you out.

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This week’s letter comes from a Porsche owner who scheduled a service for his Cayman. He feels the dealer didn’t really live up to the high level of service that they say they provide and plans on responding to the survey accordingly. But he’s worried that if he tells the truth it could negatively impact him later.

I recently had a 2006 Porsche Cayman S serviced at my local Porsche dealer. Of course, I get an email asking me to fill out the survey, I usually ignore these, but I got several messages all asking for my feedback. I received two emails from the dealership last week, one from the general manager and the other from a public relations person. They both emailed to make sure I received “truly exceptional” service.

The thing is, I didn’t. I had called to make an appointment and to reserve a loaner car, but the day of the appointment was told that there was no record of an appointment, no record of me at all and definitely no loaner cars available. I was told they could service the car that day but I would need to wait a couple hours for a shuttle. I needed to be at work in one hour so I declined and re-scheduled for the following Saturday and got my wife to pick me up and drop me off.

The email from the general manager included a short survey about my experience, as well as a question asking whether I would like to be contacted. I said yes. I also emailed the public relations person with a detailed account of my experience. I was mostly upset that they never even apologized for losing my first appointment and that I had to come to them about a second one. They didn’t seem to be offering. I described my experience as barely adequate, not truly exceptional. Then, I sort of forgot about the whole thing. Today, the survey from Porsche arrived. Meanwhile, five days have passed and not another word from the dealer. My temptation is to fill out the survey completely and honestly. I’m not mad at the dealer, it’s just that the service wasn’t, in their words, truly exceptional. My fear is that they will refuse to service the car in the future. It is, by far, the closest dealer to my house and, much to my surprise, cheaper than the local independent shop.

Our reader is correct that these surveys are very important to these dealers and the manufacturers. Often compensation is tied to how well the dealer does on the responses. Now what most people don’t know is that even though the survey gives you a range of numbers to choose from, what I’ve been told by several people who work in the industry is that the manufacturer basically sees it as 10 (best score) or nothing. They don’t really look at the scores in between.

So even if you were pretty happy with your experience and gave mostly nines, that dealer may not receive compensation. It is completely unfair to the dealer since the customer does not have this knowledge and may try to answer the questions honestly. Therefore, if you were happy with your sales or service department, do give them all top marks even though rationally an 8 or a 9 may best describe your experience.

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As for the situation of our Porsche owner: if he did give bad marks he shouldn’t really have anything to worry about, since most of the surveys do not require you to input any personal information and are usually anonymous. So if he really did feel that this dealership in this particular situation should get negative feedback he should answer honestly.

Even if the dealership knew that the reader gave bad marks, the likelihood of a service department turning away business because of a survey is pretty slim, especially on a high-end brand like Porsche. Now, that’s not to say it doesn’t ever happen—even with luxury car dealers.

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A while back I had a client purchase a certified pre-owned Mercedes out of state because the local inventory didn’t meet her needs. When she went to get it serviced at her local Mercedes dealer, they gave her a hard time for not buying the car at their store. This was both a ridiculous and unprofessional reaction to a paying customer. After a quick phone call to Mercedes corporate, an apology was issued and she got some coupons for future appointments. It really isn’t in the dealer’s interest to turn away customers for minor issues like bad survey scores or the fact that they happen to purchase somewhere else—especially when given how much money dealers make off service.

That all being said, here is what I suggest to our Porsche owner before he decides to fill out the survey from corporate.

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Give a call to the service manager, explain that you are being asked to fill out this survey, and say you know that these are very important. Then tell the dealership how and why you were disappointed in the service you received, and you want to see if there is a way to make sure things go smoothly in the future. Now, this takes a level of finesse; what you don’t want to do is say, “Give me a free oil change or I’m going to give you a bad survey.” That strategy probably won’t get you very far. Rather, give the manager a chance to save face, but let them know where you are coming from.

If he or she truly is customer service oriented they will offer some kind of gesture to make it right.

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)

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DISCUSSION

As a dealership employee who’s pay is affected by surveys let me tell you a few things that absolutely piss me off:

1) Was vehicle fixed right the first time? - As the advisor, I unfortunately don’t repair or diagnose your vehicle. Some of the time I wish I did because I already know the warranty parts the tech is putting on will not fix your issue. If I accurately captured your concern and the tech doesn’t fix it right unfortunately there was nothing more I could do. Especially when you have ridiculous complaints (like: C/S vehicle has rattling sound like a bag of skittles when driving 57-59mph over slightly rough pavement while going uphill).

2) Were you satisfied with the repair timeframe? - I am very sorry that the Manufacturer has your part on national backorder and I have no idea when the part to fix your car will be here. Not to be hateful, but I didn’t build, buy, or break your car. I am trying to help get it fixed, though. I don’t understand why it is “on me” to take the heat when the Manufacturer has a known product quality defect that is impacting repair time frames. The “quality” of many of the vehicle rolling off the line is beyond questionable.

3) Were you completely satisfied? - Right...you just brought your “brand new” vehicle in because it was broken. You aren’t thrilled that it’s already in the repair shop? Say it isn’t so. We’ve had several vehicles towed in for legitimate reasons before the vehicle reached 1000 miles. We’ve also replaced components on vehicles with under 100 miles because a problem was discovered during new car delivery. That gives you a good feeling about the future of your car, right? But hey, we give you loaners, coffee, and snacks when we do the oil changes - so be thrilled.

4) Were you satisfied with the facility? - Exactly, because as a service advisor I am absolutely responsible for the design/layout of the facility and the quality of the previously mentioned coffee/snacks/wine (not kidding, there really is wine). It was also my idea to place the dealership on a major highway that is usually under construction with closed exits and heavy traffic all around.

5) Were you satisfied with the cost of repairs? - Seriously, how is this even a question. Who wants to pay a lot of money to repair a vehicle? Most of the time it is an unplanned/unexpected expense that seems to come at the worst time. Furthermore, if you agreed to the price prior to repair (which is the only way it should happen), then how do you have a leg to stand on? No one ever said: “Gee I’m glad I took my car to the dealership because the cost of repairs are so cheap!”. On top of that, many people don’t realize the cost of the facility/special tools/diagnostic equipment that a dealership has that very very few independents have. That’s why the independent sends it to me for programming, for example.

6) Were you satisfied with the communication? - Ok, this one is absolutely on me. Can’t argue this one as it really is my primary job duty.

Very long story short - surveys are used by manufacturers to unfairly punish dealerships for a lot of issues that are beyond their control. Then dealerships use the same surveys the manufacturer punished them for to punish their own employees via pay...you know, because shit rolls downhill. The current survey system is the very definition of broken.