Our Nightmare Before Christmas – Customer Service and the RV Service Industry

New to Us CamperFrom the start, Bruce and I have always agreed that we would not use this blog as a personal soapbox, but our recent experiences with a local RV dealership have left us so frustrated that we wanted to share them with you.   So without naming any names and airing too much dirty laundry, we would like to tell you our story. We would also like to open up a discussion and hear your thoughts about the state of customer service in the RV industry.

Just like used car salesmen, RV dealerships often tend to get a bad rap.  Many times this is not deserved and although we had a bad experience this time around, we have also had some good ones as well.  In fact, several of our good experiences were with this same dealership.  We were so pleased with our first experience with this dealership that when it came time to buy our next RV that we didn’t even give shopping anywhere else a second thought.  We found the perfect ‘new to us’ Winnebago and signed on the dotted line.  Since we bought used, there were some warranty issues that needed to be fixed.  The fiberglass was also looking a bit dull, so we had opted to purchase the Cal Tex treatment, an ‘RV Spa Treatment’ to remove the oxidation and apply a new clear coat to restore the shine.

The camping season was coming to an end, but we wanted to go out a couple of times before it was time to put her away for the long winter.   Three weeks later we dropped her off for the above mentioned service and to get the unit winterized.  It was a balmy 60° Saturday in Minnesota the day we left her at the dealership.  But as is common up here in the north-land, the next day the weather took a turn for the worse.  Fall was over and winter was definitely here to stay.  The dealership was closed, so we spent the whole day on Sunday hoping that our new baby was safe and warm inside the garage.

A phone call to the dealership Monday morning confirmed our worst fears.  The unit had been left outside and damage had occurred.  The dealership did not take responsibility because they said the damage could have occurred prior to us bringing it in for service. This was not the case, so we fought back. The one week battle that ensued could be best described as a three ring circus with a dash of indifference thrown in for color.  We persisted, and in the end they agreed to fix the damage.  They got to work and we started dreaming about the day that our RV would once again be sitting in our driveway, waiting for camping season to arrive.  Days and then weeks passed, and we called to ask about the status of the repairs.  After being transferred to several different people we got our answer, “We’re waiting for parts.”  We inquired about when they would be in and the repairs finished and asked them to call us to keep us informed of their progress.  This process was repeated several times over the next few weeks, each time it was the same response, “We’re waiting for parts.”  Each time we were the ones who had to call to ask if the unit was ready to pick up.

Finally, six weeks after we dropped it off, they told us it was ready to go.  Excited, but weary after our endeavour, we arranged to pick it up.  We asked them to bring it inside for our appointment so that we could inspect the repairs and they agreed.  We checked for leaks and found none, the warranty items were all fixed to our satisfaction, but we were more than disappointed with the condition of the exterior of the RV.  Due to some overzealous buffing, several of the decals on the RV were torn or had rough edges, others were covered with a dull film that was not there before and could not be removed.  One had obviously been replaced and stuck out like a sore thumb, shiny, bright and new.  We were angry and dumbfounded at the same time.  Did they really think we wouldn’t notice?  Once again we are ‘negotiating’ with this company to fix the damage that they have done.  We will keep you posted on that saga…

Our complaints with this company are not with the job that was done. Although we were displeased with the additional repairs that had to be made, we understand that accidents happen. We all make mistakes. How the mistakes were dealt with and how we feel we were treated is where we take issue with this company. We felt like we didn’t matter and that their attitude was “If we pretend that there isn’t a problem it will go away.” Here are a few examples of the areas where this company fell short when it came to customer service. When handled in the right manner, they are also the areas where companies can turn a disgruntled customer into a repeat customer for life.

Phone Tag
“I’ll check and call you back.”  If I had a dollar for every time that I heard that line over the last six weeks, I would be a very wealthy woman.  If I also had a dollar for every hour that I waited for the phone to ring with the answer to my question, I would be able to retire tomorrow.  The number one rule of customer service is to let the customer know you care.  You can’t fix everything right away, and some things you may not be able to fix at all, but avoiding the customer does not make the problem go away. An open line of communication is key.

I Can’t Do That
Both Bruce and I are in the IT service industry and we deal with customers on a daily basis.  As employees, we understand that sometimes there are some decisions that you just can’t make yourself for a multitude of reasons.  We also know that even if we cannot make these decisions, that there is always someone else who can.  Rather than offer to find someone who would be able to say ‘yes’, the employees at this dealership simply said ‘no’.  They were also very good at deflecting the conversation with a multitude of excuses.  When asked a direct question, more often than not the answer was, “They had to ask so-and-so and they weren’t in today”.  We were also amazed at how often their source for parts was closed. Taking action rather than making excuses is the key to showing the customer that they are important.

What Seems to be the Problem?
Those of you that follow this blog know that I love to share a good story, but how many times do you have to tell a story before telling the story gets old?  I know that management always wants to hear ‘your side’ before making a decision and this is a good thing, but I also know that small companies like this  do not operate in a vacuum.  I was amazed at how many times I would get ‘dumped’ to the next person up the chain without even an introduction from the previous employee and I would have to start again… from the beginning…  and tell the whole story.  Management’s lack of knowledge of my problem made me feel like they were out of touch with what was going on in their dealership.  Perhaps examining this relationship would be a good place to start improving customer service.  If an employee does not have a good line of communication with management and they don’t feel like they can come to them with problems, then they will try to keep the problems from management, because they will be worried that they will be blamed for them.  Once again a failure to communicate is the underlying issue here.

Long story short, we no longer trust this company enough to do business with them again.  After a long relationship with them, it saddens us that we have come to this decision, but in the future we will spend our money at a dealership that values their customers enough to take care of them after the sale.  Sadly, it seems that the RV industry, like so many others, no longer value customer service.  Perhaps it is due to the economy, or perhaps it is simply due to a change in the attitude of society in general.  Whatever the reason, we hope that by sharing our story with you, that we will somehow make a difference in that attitude, no matter how small.

We would like to hear about your RV dealership experiences too.  Without naming names or pointing fingers, please let us know what you think about customer service in the RV industry, either here or on our facebook or Twitter page!  We also know that we have some followers in the RV industry.  We would also like to hear from you about what you do to make your customers feel like they have been taken care of, or perhaps lessons you have learned about how you can improve customer service in the future.

6 Replies to “Our Nightmare Before Christmas – Customer Service and the RV Service Industry”

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about your “experience” with Rv dealers…Sadly your story is repeated over and over each year.
    We have not returned to the Dealer of our Rv repairs. We elected to go directly to the Factory, as most of our repairs were warranty items. The Factory has treated us with great respect and has repaired ALL defects without cost to us, even some items that were outside the warranty period at no cost. (Although we did have to pay for our fuel to get there and $20.00 a day in their campground on site.) I know you do not want us to name Dealers, but you did list a Manufacture (Winnebago) in your post, so I’ll list our RV as a Tiffin!! Merry Christmas to you..

    1. Thanks Ken!
      Going straight to the manufacturer is a great idea. I would think that the manufacturer would have much more of a vested interest in providing great customer service to protect the integrity of their name. Since we are in Minn-e-snow-tah, a trip to the factory in Iowa wouldn’t be too much of a drive for us. When we were looking for our ‘new to us’ RV we also considered a Tiffin that they had on the lot. It was a beautiful RV and very well made, but in the end we went with the Winnebago because of price, age and mileage. We are looking forward to putting this entire experience behind us, staying at great campgrounds and making some new memories.

  2. We recently bought a brand new trailer at a popular RV dealer. At first we were treated like royalty, we had cash to put down on our first purchase together and my boyfriend and I were so excited. We found our dream trailer, triple bunk beds for our girls ( 2 human, and 2 dogs), and a well thought out layout. We had explained beforehand that we were in town only for the day and were spending the night so we could take our new trailer home. At first we were treated with respect and everyone was so helpful. We signed our papers and the trailer was ours… well not quite. We had filled out a pre approved form online and explained we would be paying cash and financing the rest. We also confirmed this by phone. In person it was a different story we went first from one person who made sure our truck could pull the trailer ( my boyfriend is a professional truck driver and pulls B trains on a “big” rig), and then went to the finance department where we spent another hour signing papers only to sign everything and be asked so how will you be paying for all of this. Well as we confirmed a large deposit and financing the rest. Will that had been lost in translation. So we had to come back the next day to redo all the paper work. This meant another 2 hours in the RV place, oh and then the trip to their supply store down the street to pick up our “needed” supplies for an additional $300.00. We said no to all of the up selling at that location. Once back to the dealership we were, detained further because we need to hook up the trailer ourselves, because that was extra charges as well. Every time we tried to just get this deal done there seemed to be more fees. Nothing was included. We were asked if we wanted additional insurance in case one of us got ill and could not make the payments. We both agreed as between the 2 of us we had dealt with over 4 mortgages from previous rental and owned properties. This additional insurance fee was not explained. As we were driving away I noticed that our quoted price of 14, 000 was now 18, 000. We were charged the full amount of the insurance up front of $4000.00! On a house mortgage the same type of policy is paid monthly! I called and complained about this. I had that insurance removed. Bottom line is we do not recommend this RV place and took all of their stickers off our trailer. Yes I do like our trailer but I do not recommend the dealer. I hope this is helpful for others looking to buy. Beware of whom you buy from!

    1. Dealerships definitely concentrate on aftermarket sales, don’t they? I would bet that is how they make the majority of their money on the sale. We generally say no to all of the add-ons too. They are only useful if they add value and that is rarely the case. In this case we thought the Cal Tex product was a good choice because the fiberglass was starting to show some signs of age. The rig is definitely shiny now, but the damage to the decals sticks out more than the dull finish ever would have and since there are rough and lifted edges it will only get worse over time. We did not spend our hard earned money to have our RV look worse after the treatment than it did before.

      Wow! $4000 up front is over 1/4 of the price of the trailer! That’s highway robbery for payment insurance. I think you made the right choice removing that. You could probably put together your own little rainy day fund by squirreling away a little each month in a savings account to do the same thing. Then you could also use it for repairs if necessary. Enjoy your new trailer and I hope that you are able to find a reputable company to do any service that you need in the future.

  3. Like many people we started out tent camping, graduated to a pop-up, then to a trailer. We bought the first two trailers that we owned from a local Gulfstream dealer who turned out to be very honest, and has since became a good friend that I now tow trailers to RV shows for. Alas, when we decided to change to better floor plans, we could not find the one we were looking for in the brands that he carried, so we had to look elsewhere. We ended up buying a Flagstaff from another local dealer who gave us a fair price and also dealt honestly with us in other matters.

    I precede my comments that follow with the information above, so as to show that not all dealers are bad, and so we were used to being dealt with in an honest manner. Perhaps this is why we, and some other people get caught off guard by some of the bad ones. We can get complacent and therefore not do our due diligence when doing business with one that we do not have experience with. So was the case when we traded for our present camper a year ago. We had decided upon a certain model within the Open Range brand, but unfortunately the nearest dealer was 100 miles away, and did not have that particular model in stock. We contacted the factory and were directed to another dealer who was 250 miles distant, and were put into contact with them. We were quoted an excellent price less trade, and they were very reluctant to consider a trade-in. We told them that this would be a deal breaker, and that we would look elsewhere. The next day, the dealer called back and proposed taking our trailer in on consignment, assuring us that they could sell it in their market in “no time.” Since the nearest other dealer we could find with the trailer we wanted was over 800 miles away, we decided to take them up on the offer.

    As you have probably already guessed, this was a mistake. We left our trailer with them in early June of 2011, and did not hear from them for a couple of months. We also noticed that they never listed our trailer on their website with all their other used, and new trailers that they had for sale. When we called to inquire about the status of our trailer and why it wasn’t listed on their website, we could get no satisfactory answers. Instead, all they would say was that the trailer would sell in due time. Every time we wanted an update on this, we were the ones that had to initiate the call. In the meantime we had to keep insurance on this trailer which was very expensive. This went on until this past June (2012) before we decided we would have to take matters into our own hands. We drove the 250 miles to the dealer to pick the trailer up and found it was sitting on a back lot and was very dirty, evidence that they had not even washed it since we left it there, and the cover for the propane bottles were missing, which the dealer did replace. The representative with the dealer did not try to make any excuses, but it was painfully obvious that they had made no attempt to sell my trailer. While pulling it back home, one of the tires had the thread to separate before we left the city. We knew that the tires had probably dry rotted, although they still looked almost new. After putting our spare on, we continued toward home, very slowly, and made it to within 70 miles of our destination before another tire went out. At that time, we were very fortunate to be able to limp into a nearby dealership that allowed us to leave the trailer there until we could return with another tire. The next day, I returned with the tire and was able to pull the trailer about 40 more miles up the road to a shop where I had all the tires replaced.

    Later, the next week, it took me about 3 days to properly clean the trailer and get it ready for sale. After putting the trailer on Craig’s List, it sold the first day listed. The moral of this story should be obvious, always do your due diligence before dealing with any dealer and explore all your options before agreeing to a deal. If we had done so, we could have saved our selves a lot of heartache not to mention, expense.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your last experience, but I’m glad that you have had some good ones too. I know that there are many good RV dealerships out there and the next time we will definitely ask around for references before servicing our RV or purchasing a new one.

      I hope that by selling your trailer yourself, that you ended up getting a better price for it than you would have gotten through the dealer. Putting your trailer ‘out to pasture’ is a definite head scratcher. Other than that it would possibly cut into their own sales, I can’t think of any reason as to why they would promise to take yours on consignment and then make no effort to sell it. It really makes you wonder about their priorities, doesn’t it?

      I hope that you have many great years in your new trailer and that those memories far outshine the bad experience that you had during your purchase.

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