Two years ago this week, I purchased a brand new Dodge Grand Caravan SXT from Charlie’s Dodge in Fort Pierce, Florida. I purchased the van from a lovely young woman whose tenure at the dealership was fleeting…. obviously Charlie’s Dodge in Fort Pierce, Florida had no room in the company for someone who treated customers with respect, especially customers of the feminine persuasion. I came to that conclusion after dealing with the dealership over the past two years.
My Dodge van came with a 36,000 mile warranty which meant returning to the dealer for service work. For the first 18 months, the service department performed these ritualistic lube/oil and filters without trying to extract excess cash from me. Then, about 3 months ago, I began to get the hard sell. There were about $600 worth of services that my van NEEDED in order to continue to function. Without these ESSENTIAL services, surely my van would cease to function and fortunately, I had the professionals at Charlie’s Dodge in Fort Pierce Florida looking out for MY well being. All I had to do was hand over the cash and all would be well.
What they didn’t know at Charlie’s Dodge is that my father owned a car dealership as I was growing up. I also am the proud owner of a husband who is very automobile savvy. Between the two of them, I have at my disposal two very knowledgeable advisors on the necessary maintenance of my cars, both of whom recommended I tell the service department that I may have been born at night, but not last night in response to their "efforts" on my behalf. So, I instead politely told the gentleman at Charlie’s Dodge that I would pass on their recommended services.
I returned with another problem just last week and <feign surprise> it was something NOT covered by the warranty. Again came the hard sell on the unnecessary services (which amazingly did NOT include the previous recommendations, but a whole new set including new brake calipers for a car with less than 30K miles!) It was the same bit, different script as last time only this time, they tried even more dirty tricks… including leaving the "authorization" blank but having me sign it. I was not amused… and ended up throwing a FIT to get my car back without them performing the array of unnecessary services. They even tried to lure me back in the next day. My salvation was they didn’t have the brake calipers in stock. Alas, more is the pity for the next sucker who wanders in with a 2005 Dodge Caravan…. Charlie’s Dodge now has a set of brake calipers they need to unload! BEWARE!!!
I was shaken by the experience and struggled to get a handle on why I had been so affected. After all, from their point of view it is just a game. After all, I’d come back a second time after playing the first round… only this time it was different. Not only will I NOT return for service, I also WILL NOT be purchasing another Dodge product despite the fact that I really do like my Dodge Grand Caravan. I was really bothered by the whole experience and it affected the rest of my day.
About two years ago, just prior to purchasing my new Dodge van I had a similar experience with the Chrysler dealer in Fort Pierce. I was told that my 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan needed $1700 in repairs. That sour service experience swayed my purchasing decision from a Chrysler to a Dodge. When I visited an independent shop, the needed repairs were about 1/10th of the grossly inflated figure. I tipped the mechanic $50 for his honesty and I’ve been trusting his judgment ever since. Not surprisingly, that Chrysler dealership closed up shop about a year later.
The only reason I wasn’t taking the new Dodge van to Dave was I had three years of free repairs with the purchase of my new unit. After two really SOUR experiences, I’ve decided I’d rather PAY for needed repairs than deal with the abuse doled out by Charlie’s Dodge’s.
Then it hit me…. why this bothered me so much. I remember having car dealers as clients back in the days of my advertising tenure. I remember slaving to create messages to "lure" customers to the dealership. My recent experience with Charlie’s has rendered every dollar they spend on future advertising muted. No amount of advertising will EVER lure me back to be used and abused by them again.
Of course, the people who are in charge of promoting and marketing Charlie’s Dodge are the ones who will take the heat when their advertising dollars stop generating the desired results. Because no amount of advertising can counteract the effect of hundreds of disgruntled customers just like me, out doing our part to protect other unsuspecting customers from falling prey to their tactics.
These disgruntled customers who go to work…. go to church… or even who go to their kids’ ball games… will be sure to pipe up and share when the topic comes up about buying a new car. These disgruntled customers will be EAGER to share their tales of horror…. and the effect will be multiplied if two similarly abused customers come together and compare notes. Other people will listen to these tales and will remember them, because no one wants to make a bad major purchase decision. They will be sure to make note of where they WILL NOT be shopping for their next car or truck. Every advertisement they hear will serve as a reminder of the one place they want to make sure they don’t shop.
I guess I’ve answered my own question, "How do they expect to stay in business when they treat their customers like this." They can’t. The downward spiral has already begun…. the service department gouging is an attempt to pump cash into a dying business. And I did notice that they were able to "fit me into their schedule" very quickly… unlike my initial service appointments of two years ago.
The lesson for me and business owners like me is this: Advertising will only hasten the demise of the business bent on self destruction. Self destruction is defined as abusing and using your customers. There’s always another business waiting in the wings for a chance to do the job well…. and they will be awarded the customers you’ve used and abused.