It's the First Impression, Stupid

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IN PAST COLUMNS, I have said that everyone in our industry should get out and ride, with the intention that our actions will cause potential riders to follow suit. Leading by example, I embarked on an 800-mile loop through eastern California on my motorcycle (I won't say what brand), and the state's Central Valley. The trip helped me remember the different terrains, mountain roads and other scenic routes that are in our own backyards.

Our customers have been known to take trips like these, so perhaps putting together brochures with maps and landmarks for them to take on trips would be helpful.

On the first day all went well — the day was trouble-free. The second morning, I went through my ritual of checking my bike — you know, oil, air pressure, visual inspection and so on. (You might also want to consider putting a similar checklist together for your customers. Make sure you have your store information, logo, Web site and phone number on your checklist so that they have all the information available at their fingertips — just in case they want to buy something from your store. I might also suggest laminating this checklist so that it can be reviewed over and over.)

Back to my story. During my check, all seemed in order. Off I went into the clean air. The sun was out, and I had just left a smoke-filled sky at home in fire-weary Northern California. Several hours on the road, the bike seemed to develop an attitude. Ignoring warnings, I proceeded to ride on.

About every 100 miles or so, I stopped for gas (now somewhat of a supply issue due to stations starting to close in nonmetro areas), snacks, water and a good stretch. This is where the bike's problems started to rear their ugly little heads. After getting my change back from the attendant, I looked at my bike and noticed that the handlebars were dropping toward the tank. I grabbed them and they were extremely loose. Having ridden for years, I carry a tool kit. I am not a mechanic by any means, and this bike has a console so a lot is required to remedy this problem. It seemed O.K. but certainly needed to be corrected ASAP, so I dug into my saddlebag to retrieve my Dealership Network Guide to look for a dealer. Bad news: The next dealer was about 175 miles away.

As time went on and miles went by, I came upon a new facility right off the freeway. I took the exit and rode up to its service department write-up area only to be greeted with a not-so-enthusiastic service writer. (Please use what is about to happen as a bad example for your dealership. I hope I never see this at your store.)

My first impression of the dealership was Wow! What a great new facility with a great, inviting location. Or so I thought. The service writer came out, with no hello, no personal greeting for me — a customer who has just ridden tens of miles to get there. Instead, he said, "What's your problem today?"

I explained my issue with the handlebars, told him that I have my factory warranty information and asked him if he could help.

His Reply: "Did you buy the bike from us?"

My response: "No, I live about 250 miles north of here."

His Reply: "As you can see, we are having an event. You can leave it until Monday morning and I will try, but cannot for sure have it done." I bit my tongue, said, "Have a nice event," and rode off to the north.


And as I was riding, my shifter foot lever fell off. Not the end of the world, but certainly a nuisance. So I pulled over, went back into my saddlebag, got my small vice grips out, my Dealership Network Guide and got ready to ride off again. I called another dealership that was up the road, explained my new problem and was fortunate to get the service department manager. His reply was music to my ears: "No Problem! I will be awaiting your arrival, and you are in luck. We are having an end-of-the-year party, and the best tri-tip in our town is being served today, so bring your appetite." What a great first impression, and I hadn't even arrived yet.

During our conversation, I had described myself and my bike to him. Upon my arrival into the parking lot, I was met by the department manager, who handed me a bottle of cold water. He had already started the repair order right after I spoke with him on the phone. Much like the previous dealership I visited, this dealership also had a large event going on. But it didn't treat me like a nuisance, and started repairs on the bike immediately.

The porter tagged my bike and took it back to the service department. The service department manager then escorted me to the sales floor, and along the way introduced me to the staff. He told them I was temporarily down for a while and to take good care of me. A tri-tip sandwich was brought over to me by the clothing department manager, who advised, "Save room for the cake; we have two kinds this weekend."

Within a half-hour, the service department manager told me that the tech needs me so that he can adjust the bars to my liking. I got fitted and went back to the lounge. They came out again to say "You are done!" We did the paperwork and off I rode.

This was a great, sincere experience that should be the norm for all dealerships to follow all the time with their customers. Good customer service is a necessity these days, and we need to always be on top of it to keep our customers and to make new ones.

Steve Zarwell is a dealer consultant and a member of the Dealernews editorial advisory board. Contact him via