Thursday, December 13, 2012

Seinfield At Your Local Dealer: My Dealer “Soup Nazi” Is Not MyGuy

by David P. Carlisle

Seinfeld provides useful metaphors for life and business. One of the TV show’s most interesting constructs was the “Soup Nazi.” It’s about this guy who sells the best soup in the world and treats his customers like dirt. Maybe less than dirt. The Soup Nazi is about accepting the worst to get the best. Based on the recent Dealer Technician Survey, GM (Chevrolet) is an industry leader in technician training, experience, and retention. These techs are the “soup.” Serving the soup at my local Chevy dealer is a cadre of Seinfeldian “Soup Nazis.”

If you aren’t with Chevrolet, don’t feel too smug – this story could be told about every brand and segment; cars, trucks, tractors, and bulldozers. This is a story about why your next generation of service customers is fleeing dealers/distributors and why service market share is so low. At the heart of the problem is the stone cold fact that most dealers treat service and parts as a source of business profit. Not as a profitable business … that should be nurtured, cherished, and grown.

My local Chevy dealer, who I love, is not “my guy.” I continue to return for more “soup” because they are service and maintenance quality zealots. And, I continue to have this nagging fear that, someday, I will screw something up and they will say, “no soup for you!” Then I will have to take my cars and trucks to a place like Sawyer Automotive.

Here’s a capsule summary of my last visit from two weeks ago. It’s typical. My pickup’s check engine light went on the previous week, I needed my annual state inspection, and OnStar told me that the pressure was low in one tire … it also told me I had a while to go before I needed an oil & filter change. It had been months between LOF’s and I felt queasy, so I called my dealer and talked to a service advisor (SA). He said to drop off the truck anytime. I gave him high marks for that. As I pulled into the service lane the next day, the SA greeted me and noted the mileage. I followed him to the write-up area and he asked me a bunch of questions. I told him again about the check engine light. He said that they charged $95 to “read the codes.” I knew that I could have read the codes on a mobile phone with a $24 Bluetooth connector. This was irrelevant to the dealer Soup Nazi. He suggested I rotate my tires. I agreed. No hesitation and no eye contact. I wanted the “soup.”

I left the pickup and waited for a call back. It came in about two hours and the SA said that they found a defective glow plug covered by the warranty – so, GM paid the $95. Yeah, right. He told me that the truck’s alloy wheels had rusted to the hubs and the tire rotation was a real bear. Oy vey, alloy wheels “rusting?” He said the air filter was dirty and asked if I wanted a new one for around $120 - $140 (my mind was numbed and I could not remember the exact number …what planet was this guy from?). I said “no.” He was a bit incredulous and asked me several times again. I gathered my courage and said “no” each time he asked. I was at my computer while we spoke and Googled ACDelco air filters for my 2008 2500 HD diesel Silverado. Found one for $38.59. Perfect match. Clicked and ordered it while the Soup Nazi asked one more time. It takes about 90 seconds to change that type of air filter. OK, I really could do two in 90 seconds.

My daughter picked up the truck, paid for the work, and gave me the RO. The truck failed the state inspection because the check engine light had been on and the truck needed to be driven for another 50 miles to make the electronics work. Sounded weird, but reasonable. I was not going to call out the Soup Nazi on this one.


The RO I received was a customer dissatisfaction work of art that should be acquired by MOMA. The first page summarizes the bill that came up to $144.27. I wasn’t shocked; I was amused. Most prominent is a statement that asks me to call back if I was not “COMPLETELY SATISFIED” with the repair work … he is asking for “all 5’s” on the Chevy survey I’m due to get.

Listen. You don’t tell the Soup Nazi nothing! You just take the soup, shut-up, and pay for it. Or, next time, maybe there’s “no soup for you.” Everybody knows this.

To the right of the Soup Nazi’s plea for love is a summary of the costs for a state inspection, tire rotation, and LOF. Labor, the cost component that every customer distrusts and uses to peg dealers as the high cost provider, comes to more than half of the RO. Hmm, this “labor” is for services that are typically menu priced. I’m scratching my head on this one. $20 of the $144.27 is for miscellaneous charges (that includes a second state inspection charge of $6.50) and GOG, whatever that is. 14% of the bill is for stuff I never asked for and can’t identify. Oil, filter, tire rotation came to $139.05 (including the GOG and hazardous waste fee). That seems ridiculous compared to what I see around – Jiffy Lube quoted me $74 for the job, including 10 quarts of oil. Oh, that Soup Nazi!

Yep, the Soup Nazi put a sticker on my windshield telling me to come back for another oil & filter service in 3,000 miles. OnStar, and my truck, do a pretty good job of telling me when to change the oil and filter based on engine conditions; for me, it is about every 7,500 miles.

Looking further on the RO is a vibrant pink star with another plea for “all fives.” On Friday (one day after the service), I got a call from the dealer asking for “all 5s” … and on Saturday I got an email asking for the same thing.

Sometimes I wonder if OEMs understand that this is going on with a significant portion of their dealers … and that it putrefies the statistical validity of their post-service customer satisfaction surveys. Why are they wasting all that money? Momentum and organizational stultification.

Well, it gets worse. As I said, I failed the inspection due to the “check engine light.” The dealer printed out the inspection report and on page 2 it contained a list of “local registered emissions repair shops.” My Soup Nazi dealer is not on the list. I called up the SA to ask him about this – I got garbage. So, I asked to be transferred to Frank who runs fixed operations. My entire family loves Frank – he is a great guy. He told me that they don’t want to be on the list because non-Chevy owners might bring in their vehicles for repair, and he does not have the proper diagnostic equipment. I asked how Sawyer Automotive, who is on the list, does it. Well, they are different … and Frank started in on Massachusetts Right to Repair. (Hmm, if right to repair benefits Sawyer, why can’t my Chevy dealer leverage it? I guess they are different.)


OK, there was a silver lining on the RO. Buried in the detailed accounting was an innocuous little line that said I got a $29 break on the costs. It was a “certified certified service special.” I had no idea of this until I discovered it in my forensic probing. Thank you. Er, ah, somebody???

Bottom Line: A younger digital service customer (DSC) would puke at this sort of stuff, tell all their friends via social media, and never come back. Instead of becoming “my guy”, my Chevy dealer would become “that guy.” That’s a big problem. It is a big problem because my local Chevy dealer is very very good at servicing and repairing vehicles. They simply do not have the faintest understanding of what goes on in a customer’s mind during (and after) a service experience at their shop. You might look at this and say to yourself, “hey, this is a one-off and not representative of most dealers – especially not ours. I know this because I talk to them and we have policies, training, and programs that would prevent this sort of stuff from happening. We’ve got this sort of stuff covered.” Probably not.

Let’s go back and ask the question, “what would ‘my guy’ not have done?"

  1. My guy does not charge $95 for 3 minutes of work checking the “check engine light” code. Heck, AutoZone jobbers do this sort of stuff for free and there are even iPhone apps that do this. $95 is ridiculous and evidence of greed which leads to distrust.
  2. My guy does not charge over $100 for an air filter that you can buy on-line for $38.59. The $120 - $140 sticker shock is the result of a dealer double-or-more-net pricing strategy that is just plain stupid. Assume that your service customers shop at Wal Mart and the internet and understand “fair” pricing for, at least, wipers and filters.
  3. My guy doesn’t tell me that alloy wheels “rust.”
  4. My guy doesn’t add on another 14% to my RO for stuff I have no idea what it is.
  5. My guy doesn’t let me leave the shop thinking that their labor rate is exorbitant. In fact, my guy does everything in his/her power to menu price and reduce the sticker shock of labor costs.
  6. My guy has menu prices that are competitive, like the Ford dealer a few miles away, and Jiffy Lube, on things like oil and filter changes and tire rotations.
  7. My guy doesn’t tell me to come back in 3,000 miles when the oil and filter service interval is more like 7,500 miles.
  8. My guy wouldn’t let me leave the shop with a list of other places that can fix my emissions “problem” without putting a sticker on the RO/inspection report saying that they, too, can fix my vehicle.
  9. My guy would never give me a $29 discount and not merchandise it.
  10. My guy does it right, the way I want it and doesn’t have to ask for “all 5s” four times before I get a factory survey.

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