<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> RV Servicve Facilities: How they can provide quality service.
Little Log


by Tom Gonser (Revised 02/2016)

Most seasoned RVers would agree that there are few things more important to a satisfactory RVing experience than timely access to competent RV service. Service issues are likely not even considered by those entering the RVing lifestyle, but they will almost certainly have an impact on whether they’ll stay. And as RVers learn more about the importance of quality service, it begins to drive buying decisions as well. A manufacturer’s reputation for customer support is a critical component of any thoughtful evaluation of what brand to buy. And a dealer’s ability to provide quality after-sale service support is equally important in determining whether a lasting customer relationship will be created.

Some years ago we wrote an article about RV service issues – but from a different perspective. While we've had our own share of frustrating experiences in getting timely and competent service over the years, we've also observed some aspects of the problem that often seems to be overlooked. And there are a number of steps an RV owner can take to greatly improve the odds of a successful service appointment. We published these thoughts as an editorial. We have since seen reprints of it posted in several RV service facilities; and it has been reprinted with permission in other publications..

We now want to explore this issue from the flip side, and explain what RVers are looking for in an RV service facility. We do not expect to see copies of this editorial posted in the customer lounge of RV service centers. However it would be our hope that it might find its way to the employees’ bulletin board, and be the object of discussion among RV service managers and techs. Our purpose is not to condemn or complain. Rather it is to articulate the issues of RV service as seen by RV owners. Hopefully by examining these issues dispassionately some of the concerns RVers have might be more clearly understood by those we would hope are listening – the service managers and service techs.

There may be some logic in following the sequence of events that are common to most service visits. The “trigger”, of course, is invariably something that has gone wrong. All too frequently this seems to happen at the worst possible moment. We’ve just packed up for our annual two-week vacation and discovered the refrigerator won’t cool down; or the heater won’t come on; or the automatic step on the motorhome stopped working. Sometimes the situation is even more dire – we’ve just discovered a massive leak in the slide room, and the forecast ahead is for nothing but rainy weather.

Whatever the cause, the invariable result is disappointment that frequently translates into frustration. It’s in this unhappy frame of mind that the call to the service facility is often made.

SCHEDULING THE APPOINTMENT: Service issues entail everything from increasingly annoying inconveniences to issues that can completely shut down the unit and make travel impossible. But whatever the degree of disability, the owner wants to get the problem cured – and at the soonest possible moment. When that first call is made the owner’s attention is focused on timing: How soon can I get this into the shop and get it fixed? How often have we made that call and been extensively interviewed on every detail of our RV, its age, where it was purchased, and then offered a detailed explanation of what the problem appears to be – only to THEN be told that the first available appointment is six weeks from now!

We understand that RV service shops are often scheduled well into the future. But we certainly don’t expect to spent a lot of time going through the coach’s history, explaining in detail the problem, only to learn that there’s no practical way we can solve our problem with this service center. In fact it will only serve to increase the level of frustration before making a call to the next shop.

There is a difference here between issues that result in some degree of “inconvenience”, and ones that are truly disabling. In our view every service facility should schedule its work in a manner that anticipates a reasonable number of jobs that require prompt attention to get the owner back on the road. There is also a difference here when it comes to manufacturers and dealers of the unit involved. If a dealer has profited by selling me an RV, and presumably I’ve paid a fair price, I feel far more entitled to expect a timely response to my needs, consistent with the severity of the specific problem I’m experiencing.

Oddly, there’s even a right way and a wrong way to say “no, we can’t schedule your appointment until [some unacceptable future date]”. Some service shops have an amazing lack of diplomacy when dealing with customers. “No, we’re all jammed up in here and there’s no way we can get to it for six weeks”. Compare that to the empathetic voice that explains patiently the reason they can’t schedule you right away, but offers some suggestions of other places that are qualified to help and may be able to do so much sooner. If that shop happened to be a dealer service center, and I concluded they were simply disinterested in whatever problems I might have, you can bet I’m not going there when it’s time to consider a trade. And regardless of what type of shop it was – dealer, independent service center, or whatever – it’s a certainty I’ll share my impression with lots of RVers down the road, because RVers talk about that topic much more than perhaps you realize.

SETTING THE APPOINTMENT, AND GETTING IT RIGHT: Hopefully I’ll be able to set an appointment within a reasonable period of time. But there’s much more than just an issue of timing here. Did the shop really have the expertise, and take the time, to understand specifically what my service needs are? Most importantly, if there are parts involved, do they have those parts or can they be ordered in time for the appointment? It is exasperating to show up for a scheduled appointment only to learn that the part you needed hadn’t been ordered yet. Perhaps some shops think it’s okay if all you need to do is get a priority shipment dispatched, which may arrive in a day or two. This is incredibly insensitive to the RVer who has already spent more days of his RVing life than he can count waiting, waiting, and waiting some more in an RV repair shop.

It’s essential that RV service facilities recognize that RVers do NOT like to be confined to your customer lounge any longer than is absolutely necessary. We didn’t buy expensive units to spend days waiting endlessly for parts to arrive and repairs to be made. This problem can be minimized in part by ensuring full and meaningful communication takes place at the time the appointment is scheduled. It’s up to the service facility to manage its schedule in such a way as to ensure needed parts will be there on time, and that service techs qualified to do that type of work are available on the appointed day.

ARRIVING FOR THE APPOINTMENT: This might be classified as the “intake procedure”. The essential ingredients here are fairness of process and professionalism in its execution.

Let’s look first at the process. It’s important that the service facility have a fair and objective way to establish the order in which RVers arriving for a scheduled appointment are handled. Let’s look at one real-life example of why this is necessary, and the impact of not having adequate control over the intake process. A large dealership in the Southwest that did a large volume of service business is illustrative. During the peak of the snowbird season, the demand for service is extremely high. Everyone wants in “now”, and has what to him at least is a service issue of urgent priority. A call is made to the service department, the problem is described, and a service date established. The appointment is for 8:00 AM.

On the morning service is scheduled, the RVer is certain that there will be many other RVers with service appointments that same day, so instead of arriving at 8:00 AM, he decides to get ahead of the game. He’ll arrive instead at 7:00 AM, and be at the front of the line. Right? Well – not exactly. It seems there are 20 vehicles scheduled at 8:00 AM, and by 7:00 AM 12 of them are already in line. (Who knows whether some of them arrived in darkness and snoozed in their rigs!).

But having your rig there early isn’t enough. You also need to be first in line to get the attention of the assigned Service Advisor. So you rush to the cubicle office of the Service Advisor, only to find 5 other RVers have already gotten their first. Oh well, at least you find you’re in front of 4 more RVers who arrived closer to the scheduled 8:00 appointment time. But of course you dare not move from your little piece of real estate, because the moment you do you’ll go to the end of the line. So you wait, impatiently, sensing the increasing competition between you and all others who are vying for the early attention of the assigned Service Advisor.

About 8:05 you get your first glimpse of your Service Advisor. But two other RVers already discovered him coming through the parking lot, and they’ve already begun explaining their problems to him. He’s trying to deal with both of them, but as he approaches his now-crowded office space he knows the chaos has already set in, so he invites one of the two to “step into his office”, and tells the other he’ll be with him in just a moment. You can feel the competitive tension in the air now, as those early rising souls that thought they were going to be ahead of the game realize they’ve now been out maneuvered by a couple of late-arriving but very savvy-at-this-process RVers. Everyone is now “looking out for himself”, and the mood is hostile. It’s clear that is to become the order of the day – which it inevitably does.

What’s wrong with this picture? The dealership has made no effort to establish some fair and rational way for the intake of scheduled appointments. As a consequence the day begins with this “dog eat dog” process, which has a very negative impact on all the RVers with appointments scheduled for that day – and the Service Advisor as well. We don’t advocate any one particular system for eliminating this chaotic intake scenario. There are lots of options, such as providing a sequential number to each RV owner at the time of the appointment, or staggering the scheduled appointment times by half hour increments – and then sticking with it. But the complete failure to anticipate the consequences of having some reasonable system is inexcusable, and dooms any service visit to a negative experience even before the work is started.

Note: This large dealer and service center has since gone out of business. The "culture" of this former dealer, as reflected in the above discussion, may well have contributed to its demise;

PROFESSIONAL CUSTOMER RELATIONS: Here we address the issue of attitude, respect, and professionalism. The “attitude” will likely have been influenced by the phone call that set up the appointment. But the real test comes with the first exposure to the service department representatives – usually a service manager or advisor. RV owners have a legitimate expectation to be treated courteously and professionally. The service manager or advisor’s approach will be extremely important in setting the tone for the entire experience to follow. If that tone is friendly, and reflects genuine interest and concern in the customer’s problems, a cooperative relationship is likely to follow. If the RV owner has confidence that his issues are understood, and that the service advisor will actually be “representing him” by checking on the status of things as the day progresses, he won’t feel it necessary to be trolling by the open shop door every few minutes to see if something is going on with his rig.

If on the other hand the RV owner senses that he is just another statistic to be accounted for that day, an attitude of mistrust on the part of the owner is inevitable. Instead of an understanding, cooperative relationship, the RV owner will feel instead that the relationship is a sort of adversarial one – one which will require him to keep after the service advisor all day long, to ensure his problems are being taken care of. That process is destined to be counterproductive for both the RVer and the service advisor. And whatever the outcome that day, the experience will be remembered as a negative one.

EXTENDED SERVICE CONTRACT ISSUES: While not popular with RV service centers, these contracts can be extraordinarily important to some RV owners. They may have paid several thousand dollars for a contract they assumed would insulate them from all but a small deductible on RV repairs. They were not told that many RV service facilities really don’t like to deal with them, and consider them a sort of nuisance component of any service appointment. In fairness, many service centers have had experiences that resulted in those attitudes. But the plain fact is for many RV owners, the service contract is a security blanket that they rely on to protect against costly out-of-warranty repairs. And they have a reasonable expectation that you will respect their interest in having their costs covered by a properly processed claim under the terms of the contract.

It is unfortunately a fact of life that RV repair facilities often do not want to rely on extended service contract providers to be paid. Instead they want to collect directly from the RV owner, and let the RV owner in turn deal with getting reimbursed from the company that issued the contract. This is somewhat understandable, albeit an unwelcome discovery on the part of the RV owner. So if the service folks insist on direct payment from the owner, they should be prepared to explain precisely why that is the case, and assure the owner they will take the necessary steps to make it as likely as possible that he’ll be able to get reimbursement.

The more important issue, however, is not who initially pays the bill, but rather whether all reasonable steps are in fact taken by the service facility to ensure the RV owner will have the best possible chance to recover under his contract. This means of course making the phone call and getting the required “pre-authorization”. But an RVer is entitled to expect just a bit more here. Most extended service contracts are “inclusionary”, meaning that the contract lists every system, item, and component that is covered. If it’s not listed – it’s not covered. It’s that simple. Inclusionary contracts are inherently controversial because they have built-in gaps in coverage. But the service facility can do a very helpful and always appreciated service to the RV owner by asking to see a copy of the policy itself, and along with the owner to scan through the policy to see what covered system or component describes the needed repairs. Once the exact language is noted, the service facility should use exactly the terminology of the contract to describe the part or component that has failed and needs repairing or replacing.

PROGRESS REPORTS: At the time the vehicle is taken into the shop, the owner should be provided with a realistic estimate of the time required to complete the work. But equally important is some means of keeping the owner advised of the status of the project as it progresses. If I know my rig will require two days to complete all the repairs, I won’t be overjoyed at the prospect of cooling my heels for a couple of days – but I’ll begin making some plans for constructive ways to use the time. If I’m left guessing about how long it takes, I’ll probably be very disappointed when I learn late in the day that I’m going to be there for another 24 hours.

Good communication also involves maintaining a reasonable ongoing dialogue with the RV owner as the job progresses. The service advisor should ensure that the owner gets some feedback on the progress of his repairs at least once during the day, and again at the end of the day. The report should provide any updated estimate about when the job will be finished.

Most RVers don’t look forward to spending long periods of time at a repair shop. But if the initial customer contacts are positive and inspire confidence, if a realistic projection of time to completion is made, and if there is a good open line of continuing communication during the course of the appointment, the perceived negatives of surviving the service appointment will be minimized.

CHECKING OUT: The amount of time required to prepare the bill for service and get the RVer back on the road is usually just a tiny fraction of the overall time the RVer spends at the facility. But these can actually be the “longest minutes” of all. When an RV has at long last been fully repaired and is ready to be back “on the road again”, the owners are ready to leave RIGHT NOW. They know they need to first pay for the services performed, but they assume this can all be done in a matter of a couple of minutes. And Oh! How ready they are to leave!

But wait – where’s the bill? Someone is still waiting for “the paperwork”. Where is it? Who’s got it? Now a brand new type of frustration is setting in. My rig is finished, but I still can’t leave! Now it seems they’ve located the paperwork, but it’s had to go “to accounting”. The service advisor is sympathetic, and explains that this just takes time. Well, maybe it does. And in fact from personal experience we know it does. And we know too that those are the longest minutes we’ll spend at that facility – now wanting more than ever just to be out of there.

Is there a cure for this? Of course there is. Let the RV owner know his job is finished after you’ve done “the paperwork”, and you’re ready to check him out right now. After all, those were “short minutes” – and instead of incurring frustration hostility at the end of the service visit you’ll be seen as highly efficient and the RVer will leave with the happy feeling of being done, rather than the negative feeling of having to wait all those “long” minutes.

ADDENDUM: We’ve deliberately omitted discussion here of the qualifications and expertise of service techs, and the importance of “getting it right the first time”. Even the most perfect “process” for addressing the service needs of RV owners is meaningless if the quality of the work is inadequate. While that topic is critically important, it is beyond the scope of the message we are here providing.

While shiny new RVs and dreams of adventure on the open road are what entice people into the world of RVing, perhaps more than anything else it’s the challenge of finding easy and timely access to quality RV service that causes them to hang up the keys. How service facilities respond to the critical need to improve access to competent service delivered in a professional manner will be a key ingredient in defining the future degree of success of the RV industry. And it will increasingly become a major consideration when selecting a dealer with whom one can confidently purchase that new or next RV...