Daze of My Life/A Dealer with No How

by Kenneth B. Lourie

I admit that I am not the most important person in the world, other than to my golden retriever, Bailey, that is; but as a paying customer, I would like to think that I deserve a modicum of respect and gratitude for my patronage - especially in the automobile dealership business, where the competition for the consumer’s new-car, used-car and/or car-repair/maintenance dollars is extremely high. But alas, poor Kenny, it was not to be. I was treated, unapologetically, like any other curious and intrusive know-it-all customer. That is to say, my complaint was basically ignored.

The short story is that I had scheduled a “wait appointment” at the dealership to have my car’s oil changed and tires rotated. Therefore I was present, sitting and waiting, as I have done many times before. Usually I sit in the unoccupied service manager’s office adjacent to the waiting room. There’s a desk and a chair in there, and some privacy, and sometimes I use the 45 minutes until my car is ready, to write, if I get any ideas. As it so happens, there’s also a large window looking out into the service area so I can watch what’s happening to my car, or in this case, watch what’s not happening, and therein begins my tale of woe.

After arriving at 8:50 a.m. (for my 9 o’clock appointment) and checking in with the service attendant, I handed over my keys and went to sit in my normal spot. At 9:05 I saw my car driven inside to the service area and hoisted up on a lift. For the next five minutes, the service attendant and the mechanic who had driven my car inside talked. At 9:10 a woman wearing a striped denim work shirt with her name printed above her shirt pocket left the waiting room - where she had spent the previous 10 minutes talking on the telephone, directly in front of me - and entered the service area. She walked over to the service bay where my car was and spent the next 15 minutes talking to the mechanic standing there, who, up to the point, didn’t appear to have done any work. After watching these employees chat for 20 minutes, I decided to say something. For all I knew, the mechanic was supposed to be working on my car, not just standing nearby talking with somebody.

I walked over to the service attendant, who was now back sitting at his desk, and explained what I had seen for the last 20 minutes, and asked for his help. Initially he said the woman was a customer. I said, “She’s wearing a shirt with her name on it, so I think she works here.”

He opened the door into the service area and saw the woman I had described and confirmed that she was an employee. Then I asked if the man standing next to my car was supposed to be working on my car or was he supposed to be talking to this woman? The service attendant responded by saying “Maybe he’s draining the oil.” For 15 minutes?

Then the attendant said, with all the sensitivity he could muster, “It’s going to cost you the same.” Then he walked into the service area and himself began a five-minute conversation with the same mechanic and woman, occasionally even looking in my direction, as I was still sitting in plain sight in the manager’s office.

Ten minutes later the service attendant walked into the office where I was sitting to tell me that my car was ready. No explanation. No apology. No discount. No respect.

I can’t wait to receive the follow-up telemarketing phone call from the dealership inquiring about my oil change on Saturday. They’ll ask if I was satisfied or dissatisfied. And I’ll answer them, just like I did the last time, “Extremely dissatisfied!” And they’ll ask “Why?” And I’ll say, “Please have a manager call me, I’ll be glad to explain to him.”

Do you think the manager will call? He didn’t the last time. And six weeks later, he still hasn’t called. I guess at some automobile dealerships, customer service is only about asking questions, not answering them.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.