“When the service department is in the middle of the war, the little battles for the best result of the customer may differ from reality.” That sentiment is from David Wood, owner of Smitty’s Lawn & Garden in Olathe, Kan. He wrote in response to an editorial in our online eBrief newsletter. The editorial detailed the frustrations shared by a rural lifestyle friend trying to get his mower repaired. He worked with 4 dealers, waited weeks and was very unhappy about the lack of customer service.

Those two viewpoints set the ugly scenario happening every day at dealerships, with manufacturers being the player behind the scenes. Wood and others say customers have unrealistic expectations. Many not only are unfamiliar with what goes into repairing a machine, but come into the dealership with lesser quality equipment they bought at a big box store. “Could it be possible that the ‘throw away’ cheap equipment that is not worth repairing is giving the industry a bad name?” Wood proposes.

Half of the dealers in our 2015 Business Trends & Outlook report say they are concerned about warranty claims. “The OEMs don’t really care what happens in our service department. Just buy stuff,” says Wood. Another dealer says, “There is little or no margin left on most parts.”

Manufacturer reps weighed in with their own perspective, saying that dealers who don’t meet customers’ requests are missing opportunities. Floyd Jett, regional sales manager at Hitachi Power Tools, says, “Most dealers forget the best opportunity is when a customer has a problem.” 

Dave Elias, territory manager at Modern Power Products, says, “What an awesome opportunity for the dealership. The customer has an older unit that may be due for replacement, if not now, in the near future.”

Dealers struggle to balance business reality with a customer who expects their repair to be a priority, no matter if it’s the first time in the dealership or if their equipment should really be scrapped.

Dealers may be caught in the middle, but you also have the power to fix the problem. Customers need your knowledge and expertise to fix their equipment or advise them on new. And most manufacturers, even those with a big box distribution, can’t stay in business without a dealer network. 

Floyd Jerkins of Jerkins Creative Consulting offers this advice, “Never blame the manufacturer for anything in front of the customer. When a salesperson throws a manufacturer to the wolves, they look bad, too. If there are issues with the parts or warranty, you need to deal with it. You are the front line, not the manufacturer. The customer may want to fire the manufacturer, but don’t give them a reason to fire you, too.”

Rick Bailes of Bill’s Tractor, Adkins, Texas, and a member of our editorial advisory board offers this perspective: “Just because you may not want to work on it or be able to doesn’t mean you can’t sell yourself as a good business.” 

So, take control of the battle. Push your concerns with your manufacturer and raise the issue with your dealer council — or bring it up yourself at national dealer meetings. If the lack of support from your manufacturer is hurting your dealership’s reputation, be bold and change product lines.

Keep educating customers in the hopes of winning new business, but be practical enough to lose those customers who aren’t interested in relationships. There is a lot of business to be had. Just look at the numbers from our 2015 Rural Lifestyle Dealer Business Trends & Outlook survey. Nearly 84% of dealers expect revenues to be as good as or better than last year.

However, a word of caution: The market may not always be this good, so customers you secure in the good times are customers you’ll have in the bad times.