How to Handle Car Dealer Complaints


Car dealer complaints are going to happen, but it’s how you resolve them that’ll set your dealership apart from the rest.

You’re having a great day at work. Your sales team has been busy closing deals, customers seem happy, and it’s even looking like you may get to go home on time.

When you return to your office after lunch, the red light on your phone is blinking, indicating that you have voice mail. You pick up the receiver to listen to the message, assuming it regards something fairly routine. Instead, you hear the angry voice of a dissatisfied customer with a litany of car dealer complaints.

She called the main number to make a complaint, got routed to a few different employees, and eventually, found herself in your voice mailbox. Now she’s not just mad — she’s furious and feels like no one cares about her. She’s screaming and threatening to tell everyone she knows how “awful” your dealership is. And you have the pleasure of calling her back to smooth things over.

Does this happen far too often at your dealership? Unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon experience for dealerships and customers alike.

A recent survey conducted by Total Dealer Compliance (TDC) revealed high levels of dissatisfaction with how car dealer complaints are handled and resolved. 30 percent of the more than 200 adult-aged car buyers who took the survey said they’ve complained to a dealership before; 55 percent of those individuals reported being unhappy with the resolution.

Your dealership doesn’t need to be bound to those statistics. Overhaul your internal processes so that car dealer complaints go to the right person (the first time) — and even avoid some complaints altogether by addressing them before the customer ever leaves your dealership.

01-how-to-handle-car-dealer-complaints-01Hire a compliance officer to oversee car dealer complaints

First of all, if you don’t already have a compliance officer on staff, now is the time to hire one. Compliance is of the utmost importance in car dealerships, and by law, you must appoint someone to oversee and enforce the dealer’s legal responsibilities. It’s not enough to dump those tasks on the plate of your sales manager or accounting manager, so invest in hiring an individual who lives and breathes compliance 24/7.

Why should a compliance officer oversee any car dealer complaints? Isn’t that more of a customer service issue?

You want a compliance officer in charge of complaints because too many unhappy customers and complaints can lead to formal investigations that question your dealership’s compliance in many different areas.

Max Zanan, President of TDC, says that, “Compliance and customer satisfaction go hand-in-hand. A clear complaint resolution process that is overseen by a compliance officer is the most effective approach to resolving customer complaints.”

02-how-to-handle-car-dealer-complaints-01Make it easy to submit car dealer complaints

No one wants to speak with an upset customer who’s calling to complain. Why would anyone want to make it easy for customers to submit their grievances with the dealership?

According to Lee Resources International, for every customer complaint, there are 26 other unhappy customers who remain silent. And you know what those 26 individuals do? The White House Office of Consumer Affairs notes that every dissatisfied customer will tell 9-15 people about their negative experience; about 13 percent of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people.

One of the best things you can do when you create your dealership’s complaint resolution process is to acknowledge that you are going to receive complaints — no matter what. Even the world’s top businesses that seem to be doing everything right receive customer complaints. Change how you receive and react to negative feedback, and you may just win back those unhappy customers.

How can you make it easy for customers to submit those complaints?

Offer several different avenues and opportunities to do so. Contact forms, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses should be visible and easy to find on your website. On social media, encourage customers to private message you with any questions or concerns in your profile bio. And finally, encourage careful follow-up by salespeople after they close a deal to ensure the customer is totally satisfied. They may be more likely to open up to a salesperson they have grown to trust.

Make sure every single person that works in your dealership knows who dissatisfied customers need to speak with — the compliance officer. If a customer calls the dealership to complain, immediately forward their call to the compliance officer. If an e-mail or contact form from the website comes in, forward it to the compliance officer. Find an unfavorable review on Yelp or another review site? Tell the compliance officer, and they can decide how to handle it.

03-how-to-handle-car-dealer-complaints-01One of the most frustrating things for a dissatisfied customer is getting passed around to multiple people or feeling like no one cares about helping them. Instead of playing a game of “Hot Potato” with an angry customer, send them directly to the individual who can assist them in resolving the problem.

The best place to resolve car dealer complaints, however, is right in your dealership — before the customer has a chance to leave unhappy. An individual that’s more forward will tell you they aren’t pleased, and you can begin to work toward a resolution. Others, though, don’t like to complain.

Watch for changes in personality, attitude, or body language with those people. Were they happy and chatty at the beginning of the meeting, but now they’re more reserved? Are they crossing their arms across their chest or avoiding eye contact with you? It may be worth a gentle inquiry to ask if something is wrong or if there’s something they’re unhappy with. By addressing any issues upfront, you can hopefully avoid a future complaint — and maybe even turn it into a positive review in the process.

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Patrick H.
Patrick H.