Protect your business and THE business

April 2022

By Michael G. Charapp
Charapp & Weiss LLP

Dealers today find themselves with increased responsibilities. Historically, they have taken care to protect their own businesses from lawsuits that can lead to crippling losses. Today, they find they must also protect THE business – selling new vehicles via the franchise model.

Many in the public, encouraged by cheerleaders in the media, enjoy criticizing franchised dealers. The criticisms are repeated ad nauseum: franchised dealers are dinosaurs; they don’t operate in the public interest; there are more efficient ways to sell vehicles today.

The critics champion a process in which vehicle manufacturers or distributors control the retail sale process. Of course, that is an example of unquestioningly preferring the unknown over the known, ignoring that dealing with retailers under control of the factory means no brand price competition, no challenges to find better ways to serve customers than other dealers of the nameplate, no incentive to confront the factory on product problems for the benefit of customers, and any number of other detriments that top-down command imposes.

It is no mystery why franchised dealers have been the most efficient and customer-centered marketers of new vehicles for over a century. Dealers have met every challenge to their superiority as vehicle marketers. They are evolving today to meet new challenges as you read this.

Whenever we are asked for the best way to protect a dealership from lawsuits, our answer has been unchanged for years. It also happens to be the best way to protect THE business. Have a complete complaint handling system.

Complete complaint handling system? Most lawsuits result from customers who are not satisfied with responses to their complaints. Either the complaint is not answered, or it is not answered with care, or it is not answered to the customer’s satisfaction. Not surprisingly, that is also one of the reasons franchised new car dealers get a bad rap. Customers with complaints feel that they are not treated with the respect they believe they deserve.

Implement a complete complaint handling system to protect your business and THE business.

  1. Appoint one person at a dealership to be in charge of complaints. If there are multiple  people with responsibilities, complaints will fall through the cracks.
  2. Each complaint must be forwarded to the person in charge to be logged. The complaint log should be reviewed daily to ensure continuing action on open complaints.
  3. Each complaint must be treated seriously. Dealer personnel may see similar problems repeatedly until they become routine. For the customer, it is the most important issue they face. Treat it that way.
  4. Delegate handling the complaint to the person best able to investigate and resolve it. For example, a service complaint it should go to the service manager. A complaint about the handling of the customer in F&I, should go to the F&I Director.
  5. Every issue raised in the complaint should be addressed. If the complainant takes the time to contact the dealership, dealership personnel should take the time to address each issue.
  6. The person to whom the complaint has been delegated should work with the complainant to see if he or she can be satisfied.
  7. If it can’t be resolved, the complaint should be escalated to the person in charge of complaints or even the dealer.
  8. The person in charge of complaints should follow each complaint until it is either resolved or dealer personnel reach the conclusion that, despite the best efforts of the dealership, it cannot be resolved.