vehicle repair customer service comparison

I just got home from the Trailhead Bike Cafe, and on the drive home I couldn’t help but think about the difference between today’s vehicle repair experience and the one I had last week at Midway. It’s an interesting contrast of customer service philosophies, from my point of view. I went into each place to get some basic work done, and let them know I would be waiting while they did the work (rather than leaving and coming back later). I’ll give a thorough description of both experiences below, but here’s a quick table for comparison:

  Midway Auto Team Trailhead Bike Cafe
Actual time required for work: ~45 minutes ~45 minutes
Initial time estimate: 6+ hours We can do it today
updated time estimate: ~4 hours We’ll …probably get to it today
revised time estimate: 2 hours uhh… we didn’t know you were waiting for us to work on it…
Actual time spent: 90 minutes over 4 hours

An important aspect of customer service is setting and managing expectations, and another key component is communicating effectively with your customers (which includes listening to them and understanding their needs). Midway set clear and specific expectations, and kept me informed as they were able to revise their estimate. Trailhead was unable to provide a clear estimate at any point, and seemed unaware for the first three hours I was waiting at their cafe that I was waiting for them to do the work on my bike (rather than just to kill time?).

Here are the full stories:

I needed to have some recall work done on my Vibe, and the nearest GM dealership to me is the Midway Auto Team on Bell Road. Poking around their web site, I easily found the hours their service department is open, though their ‘schedule an appointment’ web form wouldn’t work on my iPad, so I just took my vehicle in fifteen minutes before they were scheduled to open (figuring a lot of people would be dropping their vehicles off before work). There were already several vehicles ahead of me when I arrived (6:45AM, 15 minutes before they “opened”) and when I pulled up, within a few seconds a rep walked up to my car and asked if I had an appointment. I said I didn’t, showed him the paperwork for the recall work, and asked how long he thought it would take. He said they should have it done by afternoon, probably by 1PM, and started taking down my car’s info. While he was doing that, I explained that I would be waiting (and wouldn’t need a ride to work or wherever), and asked if it would take much longer to also do an oil change, adding a nice sized charge to the (otherwise free-to-me) service call, and he said it wouldn’t take any longer, updating his estimate to say there were a few cars ahead of me so it would probably take two hours to get me in and two hours to get the work done. I said I was sure I had plenty of book to read, and he directed me to the waiting area. I went & started reading, and about fifteen minutes later the rep came in and said that, since I was waiting he’d managed to bump me up the queue and it would probably be less than an hour to get my car in and an hour to get the work done. By 8:15AM, the work was done and I’d paid and was on my way out of there. The Midway Auto Team was proactive about keeping me updated and about adjusting to the fact that I was waiting (where the rest of their customers had dropped their vehicles off to be picked up at the end of the day or on another day) and trying to improve my experience.

As explained in the post I wrote while I was there, I needed to get some work done on my bike. Their hours of operation are not on their website, though I did find them on their Facebook page. I showed up at about 8:15AM, 15 minutes after they opened, and asked if they could do the tuneup my Groupon was for today, and they gave a vague, noncommittal ‘we can do that today’. As with the recall work, I walked in with a piece of paper which entitled me to a chunk of work that would be free-to-me (today; I’d already paid for the service, just as GM would be paying for the recall service on my car) and explained to the multiple employees standing around what I needed done and that I’d be waiting in their cafe. I also added about as much additional expense to that work as I’d added at Midway (I needed a new bike pump, and the bike needed a couple of replacement parts, and I said “replace whatever’s worn out or needs replacing, I haven’t ridden it in eight and a half years, and I want it in great condition when you’re done”), asked if they had any problem with me hanging out in their cafe area while I waited, and they said that was fine as long as they were open. When I asked how long they expected the work to take, their answer became more vague, now only ‘we can probably do it today’. I walked to the cafe side, ordered my food/drink, and set down with my iPad to write and wait. While I was waiting, I chatted with the employees a bit, now and again, and a couple of times when the person I thought was working on my bike came out for a drink refill, I asked him how it was going and he said it was going fine. After about 3 hours, around 11:15AM, when I’d finished working on my long post about my bike and biking history and needed a break, I got up and was looking at the locks (I want to buy a new bike lock), and asked one of the guys (who I had been chatting with all morning) what he thought of the various models they had. He told me the one I preferred wasn’t good enough, then proceeded to recommend a style of lock they don’t actually carry. He went to go look up its price online and we were discussing the fact that someone who really wants to get through the lock really won’t be much more stopped by the $80+ locks than the $25 locks, but he still thought the $80+ one he uses is better, when another customer came in and I said something along the lines of “go ahead and take care of him, don’t let me keep you, I’ll be here a while, I’m just waiting until you’re done,” gesturing toward my bike which I now realized was still behind the counter, untouched. They hadn’t even taken it into the part of the shop where they work on bikes, it was just propped up behind the counter. (I hadn’t realized this earlier because the cafe part of the shop is a bit around the corner from there, so I couldn’t see that my bike hadn’t moved; I’d simply presumed they were working on it.) He went to take care of the other customer, I returned to my iPad, and a little while later I heard one of them saying softly to the other what sounded like they ‘didn’t realize [I] was waiting’ for them to work on my bike. Forty-five minutes after that, around 12:15, the repair guy came out with my bike and said it was good to go. After I’d paid, as I was walking over to grab my bike and head out, he said that the only thing was that the tape on the handlebars was a little sticky, and if I wanted to replace that part I might want to come back… which didn’t make sense to me, since I’d specifically authorized him to re-wrap my handlebars and had seen it on my receipt and … apparently there was a miscommunication somewhere because a not-worn-out wrap around my handlebars had been replaced and the clearly just held together with worn-out electrical tape, and I thought that’s what you were asking about four hours ago wrap around a different part of my handlebars was … still just badly wrapped up with worn-out electrical tape. And then it became clear that he simply didn’t have what was required to replace/fix that, he’d have to order it, and if I’d like to bring my bike back in, it should take about a week. As I’m walking out the door, he begins to explain this. After waiting over four hours to have forty-five minutes of work done, after the terrible job of communicating and setting expectations they’d all done, and after they’d not replaced what clearly needed replacement while replacing what clearly did not, while not asking me about it or explaining what they were/weren’t doing until after I’d paid and was walking away, I decided not to turn back around and hand my bike back to them for a week.

Most likely, I’ll never return, either. On the other hand, I was very pleased with Midway. I’ve heard only horror stories about people taking their vehicles in for service at dealerships, and reviews I could find online for Midway placed it on roughly even footing with most other dealerships in Phoenix, which is to say a mix of generally average and of exceedingly angry reviews, but my experiences with them (their parts counter, in the past, for this and my previous vehicle, as well as with this service visit) have been wholly positive. Midway even charged me $10 less than their posted price for the oil change I’d requested. Trailhead seems to have charged me $10 or $20 extra for parts I’m pretty sure I didn’t need. I’ll be glad to go back to Midway Auto Team for service if/when my Vibe needs it. Midway didn’t even mention my coming back in, they told me everything had checked out fine, and my immediate independent thought was that I wanted to bring my car back to them for service. Trailhead left part of the work unfinished, told me that if I bring it back in they could fix it, yet I wouldn’t trust them with my bicycle again at this point.

Now, it isn’t that I feel my time is super-valuable or that I hate waiting or that I think I deserved to ‘jump the line’, and that’s why I thought Midway’s 90 minute wait for a 45-minute service was superior to Trailhead’s 4+ hour wait for a 45-minute service. (I say 45 minutes because I’ve had similar tuneups done on that bike before, while I watched, several times. I know how long it takes. I also had a time estimate on the recall paperwork & know how long an oil change actually takes, and combined it couldn’t have been more than 45 minutes if they’d done the two jobs serially.) Instead, it’s about my overall customer service experience. One business made me feel valued, clearly paid attention to me, and wanted to provide the best possible service in the least amount of time. The other business didn’t seem to be aware of what I was there for, made me feel forgotten and unimportant, and clearly didn’t care about my time or perceived level or service, let alone providing me with maximum value.

Sigh. That’s enough rambling/ranting/repeating-myself for now. Yes, I’ve been awake nearly 24 hours now. What of it? I’m going to bed. Hopefully tomorrow I won’t write two huge blog posts in a row, eh?

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