Welcome Complaints--Don't Hide From Them

People are going to complain regardless--wouldn't you rather control the environment?

Most people complain about something. It is human nature. We complain when the weather is too hot or too cold. We complain when traffic is too slow or too fast.

And we definitely complain when we have a bad customer experience.

When I was a waitress, we used to cringe when someone complained. It meant that we did something wrong--that there was bad service. Or they were just plain unhappy. The complaint never led to change--I just tried to pacify the customer. 

Now that I am older, I realize that complaints may not be all that bad. Especially in the automotive industry. How can you fix something if you don’t know it’s broken?

And according to Forbes and the BBB, our industry is broken.  Forbes listed the automotive industry as #1 in customer complaints in 2014. The BBB list of top customer complaints for 2014 listed the automotive industry with three of the top ten spots: one for service, one for used cars, and one for new car sales. There is already a prevalent distrust of this industry, and it is reinforced with these statistics. This is an indicator that something needs to be fixed, or changed, or taught differently.

Why complaints are good for business

Complaints are an information gathering tool. When someone complains, they are telling you something that is not being done well in your dealership. Whether it revolves around phone skills or knowledge or full disclosure, there is an inevitable breakdown in skills or communication.

Welcome these complaints! They are excellent knowledge. You cannot fix what you don't know is broken.

Complaints add value and insight to current processes. We may think a process is seamless and perfected, but when customers consistently state otherwise, there needs to be a change. And the complaints are usually specific enough to see if there is a trend in patterns of behavior.

Training is Important

Use these complaints to direct us towards change. And the change should come by way of education. Education and training are priceless in the automotive industry. We need to train our employees how to interact, speak with, and listen to our customers so that they leave with a feeling of value and worth, not of being duped or defensive.

80% of complaints are handled by the front-line reps. The secretary, the BDC rep, or the salesperson is generally the one who will hear the complaint first--especially if the person is looking for a resolution, not just an opportunity to complain. If someone just wants to complain, they will do that regardless--online, in person, to anyone who will listen. But if a resolution is what they desire, they will look for that from your front line workers.Train them in the ways of diffusing the situation and conflict resolution. And if the issue cannot be resolved in that moment, train them in the proper steps of escalation and who to go to next.

Find training that works for your dealership. It will cost some money in the beginning, but will definitely save or even make you money in the long term. When you invest in your employees and decide to do this with excellence, the excellence will be mirrored by your staff and evident to your customers.

Finally, make sure there is a process in place to record the complaints so that management can review them and find areas that need change. Only 5% of all complaints make it to upper management. How can processes be corrected if only 5% of them are evident to the agents of change?


  • Don’t shy away from complaints--welcome and listen to them

  • Train your front line employees in conflict resolution and how to communicate with all customers--not just the ones who complain.

  • Make sure there is a process where the complaints are transparent. That is where change will occur and  training will develop.