Automotive companies need to hold car dealers and dealerships accountable for business conduct and ethics. Oh wait, that may not be profitable…
I normally don’t write posts of this nature, but the depth of the research I conducted made me feel obligated to write it. While there is a tone of automotive innovation stories, there is a clear lack of business and regulatory articles that help customers.
Ford Bought My Car …and Now It Has Disappeared?
I am writing this post because I sold my car to a Ford dealership in Washington upon moving to Seattle. It took me 45 minutes to sell it, even getting a decent price. However, it is taking months to get a check and straight answer about what is actually happening.
The dealership, Sound Ford in Renton, took my car the minute I arrived on the lot. I filled out the necessary paperwork and they said that I would have a check in three days after they paid the bank. Three weeks later, I called to inquire about my check. They said the bank did not have the title and recommended I fly back to California to get it. That was my first red flag.
After researching title reissues in California, I filled out forms and sent them instructions to mail it in and get what they needed. Three weeks later, they said California rejected their request and they needed another form. I filled that form out, too. Another three weeks of silence passed. Angry, I called the sales representative and threatened legal action. It was then that the finance manager Tobias called me back. He first said, “They haven’t given you a check yet? Let me look into it!” Then seven more days went by.
I then called Tobias again. Tobias then said, “California keeps asking for more documentation from my title specialist. We sold your car, and now that finance company we approved the new owner through will not approve the loan without the title, and they are holding other deals, as well.” I informed Tobias that he cannot sell a car in Washington without a title. Then, all of a sudden, he had another call to take. I have not heard from him since.
Automotive Manufacturers Do Not Regulate Dealerships
Due to my experience noted above, I started to research how automotive companies regulate dealerships. I emailed a few contacts at Ford and started an epic conversation with their Twitter customer service. Ford’s Twitter customer service department said they would put a ticket in the system, but it did not guarantee a response. The bit.ly link they sent to me with contact information was the crappy dealership’s website I had already dealt with.
With further research and a trip to Yahoo! Answers, I found that automotive manufacturers do not regulate dealerships, as they are independently owned and operated. While I understand the model, it clearly leaves room for improvement. In most licensing and franchise deals (which auto dealerships are not), there are many rules and regulations to operate under the licenses/franchised brand name, including a code of ethics. For dealerships, there is no such regulation or oversight. The only way to file a complaint in most states is by filing one with the state.
Let’s Stop Touting Automotive Innovation Until They Can Master Customer Satisfaction
As a writer, I have written about automotive innovation, from Ford to Fiat and Fiskar to Audi. I have been a big proponent of smart technology and efficiency in vehicles. I always believe looking to the future and writing about it. But as I have come to realize in many areas of business, automotive needs to catch up with the current customer expectation in order to achieve the innovation everyone says it is in the process of achieving. Dealers need to address customer satisfaction and auto manufacturers need to develop a balanced system of dealership rewards (instead of disjointed one), before focusing on building more efficient distribution strategies or building revenue. If you address transparency and build amazing customer service, customer centricity will lead to revenue growth. Mckinsey has outlined it and EY wrote a lovely little piece on the future of automotive which states exactly that.
Who Is Going to Build the Dealership of the Future?
So, who is going to build a truly successful automotive dealership that has a customer first approach? What auto maker is going to hold their dealerships accountable? Email me, I’ll be happy to write your story. Make it tangible, make it transparent and make it real. And as for my next car, I’ll purchase it online, most likely a Tesla that I research on TrueCar. Until then, I will happily walk, bike and take the bus around Seattle, dreaming of the day my $1,100 dollars arrives from Sound Ford.
UPDATE: The twitter conversation prompted the GM to call me. After 20 minutes, he said he’d have two women call me with a check ETA as he had no knowledge of all that’s happened til today. I said it wasn’t acceptable, I wanted payment. He said he could not do that. He understood that they should have never had sold the vehicle, and that they where having lots of issues. They also cited problems of California to Washington transfers. I once again asked for payment. He was silent. At this point, I’ll be filing complaints in the state, as well as seeking legal action.