Winning Back the Customer’s Trust

April 5, 2018
The keys to calming frustrated clients include offering them loaner vehicles, the occasional gift card, or a chat with a dealership leader.

When Patrick Murray needs to solve a problem, he reacts with the requisite urgency.

If, for instance, he needs to quickly get a thermostat in stock to fix a vehicle at Arundel (Maine) Ford, the longtime parts and service director considers all options.

“We’re going to do everything possible,” explains Murray, who, although fairly new to Arundel Ford, has been in the industry for 45 years. “If we find that part in St. Paul, Minn., we’re going to get it shipped to us.

“If there’s something that you have responsibility for, don’t try to pass that responsibility off to somebody else—step up. Fix it.”

Of course, as any parts department leader knows, sometimes issues arise that can’t be avoided, and customers are left irritated. Murray mentions back-order situations, for example—he admits that industry-wide issue is one he has certainly encountered in his career.

Fortunately for Murray, over the course of 45 years, he has learned how to react to such concerns, and promptly diffuse them.

The Backstory

Murray has worked for three different dealerships and multiple OEMs over the last four-plus decades. And, at each of those locations, the venerable parts department leader has dealt with customers who became irked by being forced to wait around for back-ordered parts.

It’s a situation that’s difficult for dealerships to avoid entirely.

“The biggest thing in a parts department that frustrates a customer is when we’re faced with a back-order situation,” Murray notes.

The parts and service director consistently hears from colleagues throughout the industry who groan about back-order scenarios.

The Process

Just because back-order issues are prevalent virtually throughout the industry, that doesn’t mean they’re acceptable to Murray. He especially didn’t want to encounter them upon arrival to Arundel Ford roughly two years ago, considering that dealership’s fixed operations was already struggling a bit with customer satisfaction.

So, when Murray took over as parts and service director at the Maine facility, he implemented more than just a parts matrix. He made certain that his staff never turned a blind eye to customers’ frustrations, especially when back-order situations arose.

Nowadays, if Arundel has to overcome such an ordering issue, Murray demands that his parts department addresses it head on, taking steps such as the following:

  • Area dealerships are consulted for the part(s) in question.
  • A national search is conducted.
  • If the issue can’t be rectified in a few days, customers are offered a loaner vehicle.
  • If necessary, parts can be taken from a new, stock unit.
  • Displeased customers are occasionally offered gift cards.
  • On rare occasions, Arundel Ford will absorb out-of-pocket expenses.

The Pivotal Element

“The biggest thing, when you’re trying to earn back trust, is you need to own it,” Murray says.

Customers need assurance that everything possible will be done to circumvent the problem, Murray adds.  

“Whatever occurred to put that customer in a position that they feel they can no longer trust you, or that they don’t want to do business with you, you need to get at the root of that. If it’s because you’ve let them down, you need to address that with the customer, and make sure that they understand, ‘Listen, I know we didn’t treat you the way a customer should be treated.’”

Murray instructs his staff to, ideally, avoid back-order issues by knowing the historic usage of parts in their inventory (the staff knows it needs ample thermostats during the winter, for instance). He also instructs his parts department staffers to address upset customers by showing empathy, and assuring them that the dealership will do everything in its power to minimize their inconvenience.

And, he doesn’t hesitate to personally get involved, if needed.

“I listen to the customers’ concerns and do whatever it takes to find an equitable solution,” Murray says, “to show the customer we’re serious about earning not only their business but their trust.”

The Results

One thing that has helped Murray survive for 45 years in the auto industry is that he isn’t afraid of change. That helps explain the fact that he has become a big advocate for online reputation management.

If a customer is critical of Arundel Ford’s fixed operations segment, Murray is probably aware, and likely in the process of addressing the issue. On the rare occasion in which his departments get criticized via outlets such as social media, Murray responds quickly.

“We’re constantly looking at Yelp,” he notes. We will “call out to the customer, get a full understanding of what happened.

“The first thing you do if you have a bad review: state to the person that you’ll be reaching out to them, that you want to resolve the concern. You do that initially, [and then], once the resolution is agreed upon, post the resolution.”

Murray’s philosophies appear to be working. He currently works at a dealership that has garnered a 4.6-star review, on average, on Facebook. His four-person parts department at Arundel has seen its retail parts gross profit improve from 31 percent to 42 percent over a recent 12-month period. Additionally, retail parts and labor sales increased 25 percent year over year.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” says Murray, whose facility has a 95.1 score with regard to the ‘fix-it-right-the-first-time’ category. “Every customer gets treated with respect.”

After all, he adds, “every [customer] is important, and you can’t afford to lose any one of them.”