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Tripp Babbitt

Quality Insider

Mid-life Crisis Interrupted: A Trip to My BMW Dealership

When quality customer service is the road less traveled

Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - 09:39

Springtime. Birds, sun, warmer weather, and a chance to get the “Z” out for a spin. I drove it at every opportunity during this winter, of which there weren't many (rough winter). As I sat in the cockpit of my machine and turned the key in the ignition, I heard an unfamiliar click and dying of sound and light. 

The next moment I found myself strapping the jumper cables to the Infiniti and charging up my mid-life crisis. Having no problem with instant gratification, I took her out for a drive.

The next day, the same (and now familiar) click of the engine, and a no go. The next logical move was to call my local BMW dealership for a battery replacement. I told them of my problem and was put through to the parts department to see if they had my battery model. I was asked if I wanted to install the battery myself, but knowing my mechanical capability and not being sure whether the battery was the only problem, I replied “no.”

So I scheduled an appointment for 10:30 a.m. the following day. The next day, I arrived at 10:25 a.m. for my diagnosis and battery replacement. Fifteen minutes later, I was greeted by my service advisor, who informed me that the battery and service would cost $230 plus $120 for the diagnosis. Although the price seemed high, I felt that this matter had to be settled, and off my BMW went to get fixed.

I was told that the car would be ready in about an hour, so I took advantage of the lovely waiting area complete with free coffee and soft drinks. While I waited, I observed the events of the service desk, as customers walked in and out.

During that time, it became painfully clear to me that service agents don't like to answer questions via the phone when customers call in. Only after some firm talk from the receptionist would a service agent pick up the phone. I suspect (as I listened to the phone calls) that part of the problem was the inability of the service advisor to actually answer questions, many of which required a technician’s expertise.

I continued to listen, even as I took a couple of my own phone calls. Then, I checked my watch and realized 90 minutes had gone by, and still there was no sign of my car. I asked the receptionist about it and she said she would get back to me. She did, and I was told it would take 5 to 10 more minutes.

Thirty-five minutes later, my car was ready and I went to the cashier. As I was getting my credit card out to pay, I was told the paperwork hadn't arrived so I would also need to talk to the service agent. I walked over to the service agent, who was on the phone (but on-hold), and he told me that I should consider extending the battery warranty for two more years.

I was surprised that the battery wasn’t under warranty, but at that point, I just wanted to pay and get out of there. I could have played nine holes of golf had I known that this was going to be such a long wait. It took 134 minutes from the time I arrived to the time I left. The dealership had badly missed its promise of fast, timely service.

So it is with service in auto dealerships: They have little (if any) commitment to fast and timely service, nor an understanding of the notion that maybe customers have better things to do than wait. Providing efficient service isn’t just offering a nice waiting room, but in eliminating the wait and improving communication.


About The Author

Tripp Babbitt’s picture

Tripp Babbitt

Tripp Babbitt the managing partner for The 95 Method - Executive Education and Advisors. The 95 Method is about giving organizations a method to use new theories to grow business.  Babbitt can be reached at tripp@the95method.com. Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt

Tripp also does two podcasts: The Deming Institute Podcast and The Effective Executive podcast. 


Auto Dealer Service

While I will agree that the commitment to customer satisfaction when it comes to the service department of auto dealers is seriously lacking, I was a bit disappointed in your article. It would have been nice to get some input as to the reasons why, what did the dealer say was the reason for the delay, what quality issues were lacking, etc., etc. While I understand the frustration of having to wait 134 minutes for a battery change, I do not feel sorry for you at all as most of us cannot afford a "Z" toy. So if having an expensive play toy costs you a few extra minutes at the dealership - so be it. Do you want some cheese with your wine?

Next time, maybe you could spend a bit more time analyzing where and why these problems persist rather than just complaining about them. Maybe give us something substantial to read and think about rather than just the rantings of an unsatisfied customer. Needs some substance.

Customer Perspective


The issue in changing thinking is perspective. First you have to know you have a problem before you take action. Looking at things from a customer perspective and understanding customer purpose and demand is the first step. Sorry, I don't begin with standardization like the toolheads do. Truly you are missing the point, but most do.

Tripp Babbitt

Auto Dealer's Service - Ba!

Recently I took my 2002 Honda S2000 in for an oil change at the local Honda Dealer. I use to perform these oil changes myself but I am \now 60 years old and don't like to crawl under cars anymore. As a quality professional I always check the work performed the following day when I am home (I don't trust the performance of any dealer's service process). Upon checking the oil level I noticed that the Dealer had under-filled my oil by 1 quart. As some of you car buffs know almost all current cars take 4 quarts of oil with a filter replacement when serviced. The S2000 is different since it has a high performance 4 cylinder (racing like) engine and takes 5 quarts. After discovering this service quality defect I went back to the dealer and obtained my missing quart of oil from the service manager and told him I would add it myself when I get home since I did not trust them to do the job correctly. The service manager didn't offer any assurances re: how we would change his process to prevent this defect in the future. When I received the service customer satisfaction survey I of course gave them low scores. The moral of the story is that next time I will paste a sign on the oil filler cap stating "Five (5) quarts of oil required and make sure you use 10W30 oil". This episode also made me wonder if they used the correct oil weight as well - most all cars use 5W30 oil not 10W30 oil. Hopefully this will mistake proof this process (poka-yoke). The Honda service process should also incorporate this type of notice to the auto technicians in the work orders but most likely they won't read it anyway!

auto dealerships

I have never encountered a dealership that I would bring my car to for service, other than for warranty or recall work. When I do have to go, I get the run-around or they tell me to leave it there and they'll look at it when they get a chance. Um, when do you think you'll "have a chance" and what am I supposed to drive in the mean time? My husband loses his mind when he has to order parts from our local dealer because the service desk can't even look up muffler bearings without the VIN number (yes, boys, I know - I was being cheeky)!

My mother, however, has found a very customer-oriented dealership in NJ. They cater to the numerous senior citizens in the area and if necessary, they'll come to the house and pick the car up. She has had all the servicing done there, including oil changes, and I have never heard a complaint. And trust me, Mom would complain!

Dealer Service

Car dealers do have that bad reputation for the most part. Its sad especially since you are paying top dollar for a battery and installation. That battery is about 75 bucks at Walmart or Autozone and takes about 10 minutes to install, especially given the battery for your Bimmer is in the boot. I just replaced mine not to long ago.