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Jared Hamilton
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Jason Unrau

Jason Unrau Freelance Contributor

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Lessons Learned from the Other Side of the Desk

Yesterday, I had an appointment for vehicle maintenance at the car dealership. It may not seem like a big deal and I didn’t expect anything of it at all. I was going in just for basic servicing, and the possibility of getting a brake job done at the same time. What started out as a mundane act turned into lessons I wish I had known – I mean really known – when I was a service employee.

My Visit

My appointment was booked over the phone which started out harmlessly enough. I called in and spoke to a gentleman who did his best to book my requested oil change. Unfortunately, his best left me cringing on the other end of the line. As he located my vehicle information from my phone number, he proceeded to mutter every keystroke he made. “Enter…enter…okay, where is it…alright. What was it you needed again? Right, an oil change. Enter…oops, that should be type A…”

After the painful time it took to enter in the oil change in the appointment, he asked if there was anything else. If I had all afternoon, I would have requested that he look up any other maintenance my vehicle was due for. So I left it at that, figuring I would see what was advised when I checked into my appointment the following day.

When I drove into the service department’s drive-thru, I was greeted by a warm smile. The service advisor I had the pleasure of meeting was new to the shop though I knew pretty much everyone else from my time there. She was green, but the service manager was walking her through the write-up step by step. Since I’ve been there before, I was more than happy to accommodate new hire training.

The duo confirmed my basic oil change request that I had booked over the phone, then asked if I needed anything else. A wiper blade, a bulb replacement, and a brake check were added to the list. Strangely, no additional maintenance recommendations came forth from them.

I took a shuttle to Starbucks and requested a shuttle pickup at a specified time as I was meeting someone at the dealership a little later. I got there quickly, but not before hearing the shuttle driver’s life story, his children’s future endeavors, and some quite personal and painful stories the previous passenger had told the driver. All of this was within a five-minute drive.

I settled in at Starbucks and received a call from the service manager an hour later saying I did, in fact, need new brake pads, front and rear. It was the only recommendation I received, and the phone call ended without an updated time frame, the cost for the brake job, or a confirmation for the shuttle.

When the scheduled shuttle time arrived, I packed up and waited outside for the shuttle. And waited…and waited. Twenty minutes after the scheduled pickup, I called to ask if the shuttle was coming, and was told it was canceled because my vehicle wasn’t ready. I politely explained that I had another engagement I had to get back for, and the shuttle was dispatched immediately for me.

The loose-tongued driver arrived and promptly told me the service manager canceled my pickup for what must’ve seemed like a good reason – my vehicle wasn’t ready. Yet, no consideration was given for my situation. How long did they think I wanted to sit at a coffee shop?

The rest of the visit was mostly straightforward. The repairs were completed in good time, I received a call as soon as it was finished, and my car was washed (always a nice touch). When I paid for my bill, I wasn’t given a detailed explanation of repairs completed and that’s likely due to the fact the talkative driver was now the cashier as well.

What I Learned

1 – Your staff dictate your shop’s potential. Although my repairs were completed properly and in a timely fashion, I experienced numerous staff-related problems.

  • The appointment booker wasn’t professional and didn’t recommend additional required maintenance.
  • The service manager didn’t recommend the required maintenance either.
  • The technician didn’t recommend additional maintenance.
  • The shuttle driver put forth a very unprofessional image in a very short time.

If your staff aren’t performing their role completely with every vehicle that comes through the door, you’re leaving money on the table. I was fully prepared to spend the money on maintenance because I know there must be additional maintenance due by now, at 80,000 miles. It’s most alarming that the service manager didn’t even check my maintenance history, much less try to upsell in the service drive-thru.

I’ll consider very carefully ever talking about more than the weather with the shuttle driver after hearing about the previous passenger’s private story. It made me uncomfortable, and I have a very tolerant disposition.

2 – No amount of communication is too much. If I, knowing the industry, was left without answers while waiting in the coffee shop, your customers without an automotive background will feel even more confused and anxious. I should have received a confirmation of a shuttle pickup, a detailed price quote, and an expected completion time relayed to me when I received the phone call.

3 – Don’t make assumptions. The staff at the dealership know me, and likely assume that I know what my vehicle needs for proper maintenance. The truth is that, while I know how to check for required maintenance, I don’t. I trust the dealership to check it for me and to recommend when I need work done. Also, it was assumed I was fine to sit at the coffee shop until my car was ready, but who wants to sit at Starbucks for four hours? I like my coffee and all, but that’s a bit much.


You may think that I’m being overly critical of my experience from yesterday, and I would agree if it was an isolated incident. The truth is I have received an upsell from the service department at the dealership only once in the time I’ve been servicing my vehicle there – a wheel alignment – and I followed through on it. You can be sure that I’ll be talking with the dealer principal about my experience just to bring it to light, not to bring judgment down on the staff.

To summarize, surround yourself with high-quality staff that project a positive company image and strive to provide the best customer experience possible. Demand the highest level of service and demonstrate it yourself. And always make sure the customer is fully informed and knows they are cared for.  

Mike Jeffs

Thanks for sharing, Jason. Good lessons to learn here on the Service side of the business. Small actions from your staff can have a lasting impression on a customer.

Roger Conant

Lots of moving parts to the esrvice business but no excuse for your experience. Sales sells the first vehicle...service sells the rest.  Thanks for the real world share.

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