How to Cope with Your Motorcycle Dealer
Twenty years ago, it was common for people to refer to motorcycle “stealerships” (so clever), and gloat about how they purchased products for less on the Internet. Many people felt they were smart to go to the dealership to try on a jacket or helmet, and then go home and order it for less from a discount outlet. After 2008, motorcycle dealerships began to disappear, and are now somewhat of an endangered species. Could there be a connection? There’s a lengthy book’s worth of reasons for this of course, but let us move on rather than endure a textbook on the economics of the motorcycle business.
Let’s say you have a dealership near you that sells motorcycles you own, and/or like. Let us posit further that you have spent money at this dealership and have developed a good relationship with the people there. You wish to spend money there again. Today’s topic: what to do when something goes wrong.
Motorcycles are built of materials and put together by people and robots, and even the robots are programmed by people. They are sold and serviced by people, and function in environments that cause wear and tear. Eventually, something is going to go wrong.
I worked for two different dealerships over the span of thirteen years in various forms of what could be termed “customer support.” One of many tasks given me was dealing with customer complaints that came to the dealership, usually by e-mail. The e-mails came directly to me or were forwarded by a manager who was happy to pass on the problem. There were good reasons for this also, because I was unlikely to be the source of the problem, and could approach it without ego interference.
In some case, as chaos theory would tell us, it was clear that the dealership had gone off track and crashed. In my experience, when it was obvious where the fault lay, the dealership would try very hard to make things right. (Disclaimer: I worked for two very good dealerships. This attitude is not universal, alas)
One very effective technique was to simply ask the customer what we could do to make he or she satisfied. The answer was usually easier and less expensive than what the dealership might have offered. But not always.
One I recall with fondness was a very nice man who brought in a Honda sport bike for a major service. He was going to be out of the country for at least a month, so assured the service department that they could work on it whenever time allowed. Several weeks later, he came by to pick up his bike, and problems ensued.
The Service Manager came to me with a red face and told me we had a real problem. I.E., the customer’s bike was missing! Thinking very rapidly, he told the customer that at times long-term projects were moved to our warehouse (that was true), and that if he came back on Tuesday, we would have his bike for him. Customer said that was fine.
As the manager suspected, the motorcycle was not in the warehouse. A brief investigation, helped by security camera evidence, showed that the motorcycle had actually been stolen by a not very intelligent employee. When the customer returned this was explained, and he was offered a jaw-dropping deal on a trade-in for a new model, which he was thrilled to accept.
But sometimes, customers were…wrong. There was the man who was irate because the Service Department was not prepared for the appointment he had made. While he ranted, questions were asked. His appointment was actually at the competing dealer down the street. Or the customer who was upset because his front tire had been installed backwards. He was complaining at length while the counter guy spooled up the computer. Pointing out to the customer that his front tire had been replaced 5 years and 20,000 miles ago allowed to customer to remember and then apologize profusely; he had forgotten the flat tire on his trip last year that caused the front tire to be replaced by a dealer 1,000 miles away.
Mistakes happen on both sides, but how you handle them makes a huge difference. I had a customer who was active in the HOG chapter who sent me an e-mail asking why the charge to remove a tire and mount and balance a new one was less at a competing dealer. I explained that dealerships offer thousands of products, and prices can and do vary for many reasons, and if the other dealer was willing to do it for less, he could consider having them do it. Done. Or so I thought.
Not by a long shot. He wrote again the next day, and the day after, and each time I tried to answer his questions reasonably. It got worse. His e-mails got more and more hostile, and became personally antagonistic. I did stop responding, but I was flummoxed. I had no idea what was going on, and not a clue as to what I should do. Fortunately, I saved all of his e-mails. Eventually, the owner got wind of this and summoned me to his office to ask what in the world was going on. I had no idea, I explained, but forwarded the file of e-mails to him,
At our second meeting the owner was furious, but not at me. He directed me to find out what was required to boot someone out of the HOG chapter. I protested that this was a customer who had purchased a new Harley every year for 5 years. I received a cold stare and the words “What’s your point?”
Lesson #1: I learned that in the case of the two dealerships I worked for (admittedly a limited data base), complaints were to be dealt with, but any customer who was abusive to a staff member was to be cut off immediately.
In any case, we both learned that any member of a HOG chapter is such at the pleasure of the owner of the dealership, and can be removed by a simple letter. I wrote the letter (irony) and the customer went away. Of course, many members of the HOG chapter blamed me for this, and I could hardly explain things.
Not to pick on Harley owners or HOG members, because there are plentiful examples from riders and owners of all brands. When I worked at a BMW dealership, I’d occasionally receive complaints from older owners of older BMWs who were upset that parts and service cost a lot more than when they had purchased their bikes – 20 years earlier.
A Kawasaki customer crashed a bike on a test ride, in the parking lot. Brought it back a few months later with crash damage to the fairing on the other side for a crash settlement as part of an insurance claim, and was angry the dealership would not lie on his behalf, even when it was explained that insurance fraud was a serious crime the dealership would not commit.
On rare occasions the dealership decided to “fire the customer,” as he or she was such a pain that it was not worth the business. One of my favorite tasks was to be asked to write a letter that was polite, professional, and calm in tone, that upon being read would result in the customer not returning. This was a very delicate task, and I really enjoyed the challenge.
Hundreds of examples, but let us move on. What to do when something goes wrong?
First of all, let the dealership know something is wrong. They cannot fix a problem they are not aware of. Do not go storming off to social media land or Yelp or whatever without first letting the dealer know there a snafu has occurred. You may think that there is a problem when in fact there is not. If a problem does exist, it is much more productive to give them a chance to fix it. If you blow your stack on the Internet the damage is done, and the hot air you blew will be returned by a cold blast from the dealership.
Case in point. Last week I decided I should give myself a new helmet for Christmas. Do I need a new helmet? What’s your point?
At the Triumph Best of Britain gala in Seattle the other night I chatted with my favorite Triumph of Seattle employee. Do they have my chosen brand of helmets – Arai – in stock? Pfff – of course. Would it be less expensive now or after the New Year? Actually, for a few reasons – now. If I came in and drove a hard bargain with my favorite employee, I could get a deal.
The next day I called and asked about a couple of models. No response. Second try. He said he would have another employee call or text me with what they had. No response. No response all day.
Nothing is worse than waiting for a response that never comes. By the next morning I was – disappointed. Instead of giving way to my inner child (who is not very inner), and going off on a rant about what a good customer I had been for many years (true), how my last three motorcycles have all been Triumphs from this dealer (true), and how I have purchased all my gear from this dealer for years (almost true), I stifled myself. With difficulty. Instead I sent a simple e-mail expressing disappointment.
My phone rang about the time I finished typing. He had received my message and called immediately. A bit of research revealed that he had made a typo when forwarding my e-mail address to the employee. Stuff happens.
The second employee sent me a list in a few minutes with the model and color of every XL Arai they had in stock, with excellent sale prices, and some information about what would be coming in early 2020, albeit at higher prices.
Job done, even though I chose not to purchase one of the helmets on hand, as I did not like the colors offered. But I will. Eventually.
If you want to do business with your friendly dealer, give them the same chance you would give a friend who you thought had screwed up. A good friend is hard to find, and worth the effort. These days, so is a good dealer.
Copyright 2019 David Preston