Two Tales of Customer Service


In the past couple of weeks I have had the distinct pleasure of driving nearly 3,000 miles through 8 states in the U.S.A. using two different cars.  When one puts that many miles on vehicles in a week, something is bound to go wrong – and it did.

First Experience – how to satisfy your customer

While making our way home from South Dakota for a soccer tournament, at around 9:00 pm, our 2007 Ford Freestyle decided it did not want to accelerate properly.  Fortunately for us, we were outside St. Louis, MO and happened to see a Ford dealership (Pundmann Ford) by I-70.  Unfortunately for us, they were getting ready to close and could not look at the car until the morning.  Since the on-site rental car shop was closed, they graciously offered us a ride to a nearby hotel.  In the morning around 8:00 am, they called and informed me of good news and bad news: Good news – they found the problem and it would be covered by the extended warranty I purchased; Bad news – they did not have the part and it would not be in until the next morning, but he could set me up with a rental (covered by warranty).  So, the Family and I decided to make plans to “see” St. Louis.  About an hour later, they call back to inform me they’d been looking for the part at dealerships in the area and found one – I’d probably be on the road by late that afternoon, and they would call back with a status.  An hour and a half after that call, they call and tell me the car is ready, and they’ll be sending a driver to get us.  By 11:00 am, we are on the way home.  Outstanding service – they communicated with me throughout, and went out of their way to make sure we were taken care of.  Whether they treat all customers this way, I’m not sure, but the team at Pundmann Ford sure satisfied our expectations.

Second Experience – how not to satisfy your customer

When I returned from our South Dakota adventure, I needed to drive to Nashville, TN for some client meetings.  No problems there, but when I returned home, my 2001 Ford Focus decided it wanted to overheat.  Since there is a Pep Boys one mile from my house, and since they have worked on the car before, I took it there about 2:30 pm on Thursday.  I told them I’d be around the corner at another store, and they said they would call with what they found out in about 45 minutes.  About 75 minutes later, I returned to check the status, and the service person said, “Oh yeah, they want to do an engine diagnostic test.” Having worked in the industry, I knew this was necessary, but also realize it is a complete RIP OFF what you pay for this. All they do is hook up a computer, press a few buttons, read and interpret a few codes, and that can help them diagnose the problem.  Anyway, turns out it’s a water pump and thermostat.  I tell them to go ahead and ask when the car will be ready.  The service rep tells me around 3:00 pm Friday.

At 4:00 pm Friday, having heard NOTHING, I call to check the status.  After the service rep comes back on the phone to double check my name (I guess he can’t find my car), I am informed they are working on it and it should be ready by 5:30 pm or so.  At 7:00 pm, again, having heard NOTHING, I call to check the status.  I am now informed that the technician is 90% done, but they need another part from the dealer – seems the thermostat housing that used to be one part number is now 2 part numbers, and the second part number won’t be in until 8:30 am Saturday morning.  I am told my car should be ready by 10:30 am.  I express my EXTREME disappointment on why it takes 27 hours for them to realize this is 2 parts, and how I had to call twice to find out what was going on.  It is the 21st Century, and one would think that a parts supply store like Pep Boys would know what parts and part numbers it takes to repair a vehicle.  Why it took 27 hours to discover this befuddles me.

So on Saturday, I can’t get to the store until 1:00 pm (well after the 10:30 am promise time), and I suppose that’s a good thing because the car is still not ready.  Again, no call – NOTHING.  The Service Advisor eventually tells me it will be another 30 minutes – after he walked the shop looking for my car.  When I check again, the car is ready, but it takes another 15 minutes for them to figure out the bill (big one too!!).  The Service Advisor politely mumbles, “sorry about your wait today.”  TODAY?!?!?  He obviously has no idea how many times I had to check on my car.  At that moment, Pep Boys had a chance to make things right, but it came and went.  I paid my bill, took my car and drove home.  I think I’ll give Pep Boys another chance to make good.  A sign on the wall in the shop says they have a 100% service guarantee – we’ll see how they define “service.”

The Difference

The difference between the two situations is simple – Communication.  In the first, although disappointed at first that the part would not be available until the next day, the Pundmann Ford folks communicated openly and honestly with me about the status of the vehicle.  They then were able to over achieve their commitment.  If I lived in the area, that’s where I would go for service.

In the second experience, there was silence.  I had no idea what was going on with the vehicle, and had to personally check on the status each time and was given 4 times that the car would be ready  – only to be told I would have to wait longer each time. Had Pep Boys decided to pick up the phone and inform me of the status, the delay would have probably been more bearable, and understandable.  However, it appears someone is asleep at the wheel at Pep Boys.

So, when dealing with customers the key is to communicate – the news may not always be good, but most customers will understand if you are open and honest about their situation. 

Let me know your thoughts!


Follow-Up: In the past several weeks, I have been contacted by Pep Boys Customer Service, first through Twitter (@pepboysauto).  We have worked together to resolve my issues and I have spoken to the Service Manager of the store who acknowledged he has an issue with status communications and is working with his team to improve.


4 Responses to Two Tales of Customer Service

  1. elliotross says:

    Amen 🙂

    Communication is absolutely key – I have had the same problem (also automotive) and the lesson for myself in business is to do that communication again, and again!

  2. Andrew Meyer says:

    You know, one of the business lines people have suggested for Ford is servicing their cars. It certainly sounds like there is an opportunity for Ford to offer a price competitive option to Pep Boys. Plus it would get more foot traffic at their sales locations which would increase sales.

    It’ll be interesting to see if Ford can open a stream of revenue from this source, but I’d be willing to bet if they put out some type of offer that “we’ll meet or beat and service quote”, they’d develop a good line of business and put a bunch of charletons out of business.

    Happy trails,


  3. Glenn Whitfield says:


    The challenge becomes I believe that most dealers make their money off of service and not selling cars – however that may mean changing the process of selling a car (set pricing, eliminate the “sales” man, or something else). The costs to train technicians as “Certified” mechanics on all the latest technologies is very expensive. If Ford (the corporation) were to supplement that cost (offer at lower rates or something), then there could be a business model that works. It would certainly be worth looking at. I know now the last place you want to take your car (after it is off warranty) is to a dealer – unless you’re out of town, of course!!

    Good to hear from you!


  4. elliotross says:

    Ford is doing well on express service lanes for that type of market.

    And yes – today after sales parts and service is the main revenue stream.

    (I work in a distant relative to the industry)

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