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Prodded by auto makers dealerships are out of control with customersatisfaction surveys
<p> Prodded by auto makers, dealerships are out of control with customer-satisfaction surveys.</p>

Please Tell Me I’m ‘Truly Exceptional’

My 1-year-old Mazda6 hasn’t given me a lick of trouble, but it needed a 15,000-mile (24,140 km) checkup recently so I took it to my local dealer.

Suspiciously convinced for years that dealer service bays were nothing but a source of exorbitant repair bills, I was pleasantly surprised with my first dealership visit for the 7,500-mile (12,069-km) checkup because it didn’t cost me a penny, even with a full synthetic oil change.

So I was feeling pretty good about going back to the dealer for the next scheduled maintenance, and the second experience was as good as the first. Heck, I got a “free” car wash – even the tires were shiny.

What soured me on the second visit, however, had nothing to do with the garage, the service personnel, the work performed or the assortment of magazines in the waiting room. It was the darned email survey that came afterward.

I knew it was coming because we’ve become a nation obsessed with surveys. In our new kitchen at home, we have a crappy dishwasher that doesn’t do its job and it’s less than two years old. It was not cheap. But I don’t want to call anyone about getting it fixed because I’d rather avoid the interrogation that will follow.

Every organization needs to take the pulse of its customers from time to time. I completely get that. A handful of questions should suffice.

The QuickTouch survey from Mazda, on the other hand, had 28 multiple-choice questions, as well as more than a dozen opportunities to write additional comments. From start to finish, the electronic survey dragged on for 17 pages, and I spent nearly a half-hour on it.

Any other day, I would refuse to waste so much time. But after enduring the first few pages and realizing the marathon nature of this exercise, I figured a blog item might come out of it. Not that I want to call out Mazda. All auto makers send out laborious surveys.

This survey asks, among other things, if the charges and the work performed were adequately explained, if the wait time was reasonable, if setting the appointment was convenient, if the service advisor answered all questions and treated me with honesty and respect.

That’s all fine, but the questions are worded to require ratings of 1 to 10, with 10 representing “truly exceptional,” 7 being “outstanding” and 1 being “unacceptable.”

What really bothered me was the service advisor who told me the survey was coming and then asked me to fill in the top scores for all questions. He said if the scale for a particular question goes to 10, that he would really appreciate being rated a 10 because 9 is considered failure.

He was sincere and asked what else he could do to improve my dealership experience, anything that might prevent me from awarding top scores. I said everything was fine, I paid the tab and he walked me to my car.

And as I drove home I stewed about our chat at the service counter and the technician’s brazen request for top scores for a survey I hadn’t even seen.

I don’t fault the service advisor, but the upper-level executives who set up such a ridiculous system that forces employees to beg for affirmation and then compounds the matter by inconveniencing a paying customer who has better things to do.

The service advisor did not say his compensation is tied directly to survey scores. But a co-worker had a similar experience at a dealership and was told by an employee that, “My job depends on it.”

Really? Is a score of 9 deserving of a pay cut or outright dismissal? Or are bonuses for scores of 10 that generous? It’s bad enough to set up such a ludicrous system, made worse by sharing the ugly details with customers, many of whom feel guilty. If an employee isn’t getting the job done, there are better ways to find out.

This all-or-nothing scoring mentality suggests there are no rungs on the ladder to success when it comes to dealership performance. The message is, if the best you can do is an A-, don’t bother taking the test; you’ve flunked.

If we rated our political leaders, school teachers, professional athletes and, yes, automotive executives, in this manner, they’d all be unemployed. If journalists fell under this measure, I’d be digging ditches, collecting empty cans outside stadiums and hocking my guitars.

I went to the dealership for a routine oil change and scheduled maintenance. The only way that experience would be truly exceptional were if someone from the dealership came to my house, picked up the car, took it to the garage for service and then a team of dancing girls returned it to me, all free of charge.

Ward’s Dealer Business Editor Steve Finlay says automotive retail experts know they need to change customer-satisfaction surveys, and that auto makers feed the problem with unreasonable expectations for perfection.

Without a remedy, customers like me will think twice about visiting dealerships for maintenance unless absolutely necessary and will become even chummier with their trusted neighborhood mechanic at Midas.

If Mazda really wants the truth about my dealership experience, here it is: The only negative aspect was the survey.

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