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Smoothing the customer’s warranty experience

By Craig Thomas

Consumers are rarely happy when their warrantied vehicle develops a fault. The degree of their annoyance will vary, but the dealer responsible for fixing the car will – by the very nature of the interaction with their customer – be in a reactive mode. What happens next will not only affect the owner’s attitude to the dealer in that instant, but also in the longer term. A relationship can be sealed or damaged irreparably in a matter of days, even hours.

Dealers must therefore put in place a series of robust processes that will make the customer’s experience of the warranty claim as painless as possible.

Dealing with the fault speedily is the first priority.

Chris Sturgess, chairman of Leicester-based Sturgess Motor Group, said: “If it’s a forward booking, you have a degree of notice to schedule a car into a workshop and it gives you the ability to make sure parts are available.

“As far as a drop-in warranty issue is concerned, like a recovery, you always need a degree of contingency in place, whether it’s booking time for the workshop or availability of a diagnostic technician to jump on to the car as soon as it lands, to give some form of diagnosis and get parts on order.”

Simon Bottomley, chairman and managing director of Thurlow Nunn, explained how they take a different approach, but one that is still customer-centred.

“The attitude is, we’ll make it work. You can’t really plan slack into your workshop loading – the business doesn’t have the margin to do that. But what we do have are staff who absolutely understand that the primary role is to look after the customers. And if that means that someone will work late to look after a customer, then they’ll do it.”

 “The important thing is the customer and not the piece of paper with the details of the warranty on it”
Simon Bottomley, Thurlow Nunn

All the dealers AM spoke to said they did their utmost to ensure customers were not inconvenienced and all offered a courtesy car or a range of options.

Bottomley said: “We try to keep them mobile, so that might be a courtesy car, free lifts, or collection from work.”

Sturgess not only uses a courtesy car to keep the customer mobile, but also has one eye on the next potential sale: “If there is the opportunity to put a customer into a higher-spec loan car or a new model loan car, then that’s great.”

Other means of enhancing the customer experience tend to be exceptions, rather than the rule, though.

Robin Luscombe, managing director of Luscombe Motors, said: “If it’s a vehicle fault where we haven’t done anything wrong, we just put it right as fast as we can and get it back to them. Occasionally it might be human error, then we might offer them as a goodwill gesture. But in most cases, if you just deal with it quickly and efficiently then everybody’s happy.”

Sturgess agreed: “Your chief concern is all about a quick and accurate turnaround, a ‘right-first-time’ fix. Most people are more interested in getting them mobile, back on their way, their car fixed accurately and in a timely way.”

Bottomley’s philosophy is to go above and beyond the warranty agreement: “The important thing is the customer and not the piece of paper with the details of the warranty on it. If the right thing to do is to go a little bit beyond what the warranty says, to make the experience right, then our guys are empowered to just add a little bit more.”

Building a long-term relationship with the customer is a key objective for all our dealers.

Luscombe said: “We have manufacturers’ CSI, we encourage customers to leave reviews on websites and we contact them after the work’s done to make sure everything’s OK. We’re about long-term customer retention and good service.”

Sturgess, on the other hand, is careful to maintain a balance, when keeping in contact: “We do a telephone follow-up soon after the event, just to make sure everything’s OK, but one has to be cautious of not bombarding people with surveys. It’s about making sure that a follow-up is timely and relevant, with the emphasis on relevant.”

Thurlow Nunn takes a more localised approach: “We don’t do our own satisfaction surveys. We found that it just confused the customers, so we leave that to the manufacturer.

“But we do have a robust CRM process, where we pre-book the customers for their annual service or MOT. They will get reminders and, if they want to change that date, because it’s a year in advance, we do a follow-up call beforehand.”

With the customer happy, all that’s left is for the dealer to get paid by the warranty provider.

For Sturgess, trust is key: “You’ve got to work to the warranty company’s procedures, but there’s got to be an element of trust as well. So if you get a good relationship going with that warranty provider, and they rely on you for accurate diagnosis, and a timely and cost-effective repair, you’re more likely to get authorisation. If you achieve that level of trust, you end up with a quicker turnaround and a higher degree of customer satisfaction.”

Similarly, Bottomley sees working with warranty providers as a partnership: “We only deal with companies that we think share similar values to us. The people we deal with genuinely understand, in our view, that we have to look after the customer.”

However, Luscombe has dispensed with warranty providers completely, with his dealerships offering their own solution.

“A used car warranty is technically a used car mechanical breakdown insurance policy. So when you sell a used car and it develops a fault, it’s easy for that fault to slip between what is and isn’t covered on a warranty – and the dealership has to cover the cost out of goodwill to the customer. A lot of things fall through the gaps and it is those things that lead to poor customer satisfaction.

“So we’re basically collecting the money that would go to the insurance company – without their profit margin. If we’ve sold a car and something goes wrong, then we’ve got the funds to put it right.”

Customers may not be happy about their car developing a fault, but forward-thinking dealers can turn that negative into a positive for everyone.

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