Dealers are in for a wild ride. The next 5+ years will be filled with revenue from recall work; a shortage of technicians; shop capacity that can’t keep up with demand; parts availability issues; and, as a result, irate customers.

Recalls certainly challenge consumers’ patience and dealers can find themselves in a constant battle, fighting to put out fires, attempting to appease and retain customers.

A lack of parts availability for these recall repairs has already presented a huge challenge for many dealers. Customers are upset and there is sadly very little dealers can do to help. How do you handle a customer that has been informed that they will now have to drive an unsafe car for as long as 6 months before a part is available?

As it is such a huge issue, many media outlets have turned to tabloid press tactics, blowing things out of proportion due to some localized dishonest dealers that do not necessarily represent how dealers nationwide would choose to handle their customers.

A local Cincinnati news outlet reported an incident in which a customer was sent a recall notice from a local dealer. The customer went in to get the repair completed and the part wasn’t available and needed to be ordered, so the dealer told the customer about some needed front end work, to the tune of $922. The customer accepted the work. Two weeks later, when the part arrived, the customer returned to the dealership to get the recall repair completed. Another inspection was done and the customer was informed that his vehicle now needed an additional $2,000 worth of work. Needless to say, the customer declined and went to an independent repair facility for a second opinion. There he was told that he only needed $300 worth of work. While one might think this is an isolated incident, the article quotes an article in Consumer Reports which stated that, “some dealerships are exploiting safety recalls as a marketing hook to sell additional repair work.”

Due to these type of media reports, along with that Gallup poll that annually ranks car dealers near the bottom, sadly this industry does not always enjoy a very good reputation in the eye of the consumer. Recalls bring an even bigger challenge to this perception – even for the good, honest, transparent, customer-centric dealerships.

One dealership by itself, perhaps can’t change industry-wide perception. However, what you can do is have some impact on your local community. Do everything within your power to set yourself apart from your competition and, perhaps, earn new customers through a commonly used public relations technique.

When a business is under fire and the news is full of how “bad” they are, one of the tactics that can be used is to get out as much content as possible, in as many places as possible, that tells the other side of the story. If the public only hears how everything is bad, you should tell your customers and community why YOU are good. In order to do this, you DO have to make sure it is the truth. So, if you need to change things to ensure that you DO offer a great customer experience, then take a look at what you need to do internally first, to ensure you do maximize the customer experience for each and every customer.

Then, put out content in as many ways and on as many channels as you can that reassure people in your community that you care about your customers and that you are there to help. Make sure that you are including these messages in your newsletters and on your website. Place it on all your social media properties. Include it in your print ads, email communications, radio and TV ads. Identify happy customers that you assisted with a recall repair and get testimonials from them. Perhaps film your service advisors talking about challenges the dealership is facing with parts on a specific recall and put that online on your site, on YouTube and on your social media. Publish blogs and press releases with dealership specific information on parts availability, average timelines for repairs and resources that your dealership has to help make everything more convenient for your customers. It may not all be great news to the consumer, but the point is to be a resource of real information and be a trustworthy source for the consumer.

Don’t stay silent. The media has already done a great job of filling the vacuum with bad news, souring public perception. And, be careful not to keep forwarding the negative message that the press puts out there. Don’t talk about all the bad news in an effort to counter it. Your job is to forward positive news about your dealership. Yeah, it’s tough as there is a lot of truth out there and this current recall situation certainly is not a pretty picture. However, the goal is to fill the vacuum with YOUR message. One designed, in essence, to counter at least some of the negativity. Doing this can help to spread the word and reassure the community that your dealership is a great place to do business with. That you care about your customers and the local community.  If done properly, all of this content can also serve to increase your page ranking in search results and grow your dealership’s digital footprint.

Sara Callahan | Carter West Public Relations