GUEST EDITORIAL: THE NEWBIE FACTOR
by Joan Taylor 05/07
Your “Case of the Naïve Newbies” editorial in a recent site update was a good one! I’ve encountered that level of “cluelessness” quite a few times, and I know that you and many other RVers have, too; regrettably, the experience seems to be pretty common.
I think we agree that there are several reasons for the often scary level of ignorance on the parts of (too) many new RVers; in my experience, I believe that these reasons fall into two main categories and involve “abdication of responsibility” on both the parts of the manufacturers/dealers and the new RVers themselves.
In a perfect world, manufacturers would produce sensibly-designed, well-engineered, and solidly-constructed RVs and provide ongoing, cooperative product support for their dealers and individual customers. (Chassis, appliance and systems manufacturers would do the same!) Manufacturers would include a comprehensive, organized, and easy-to-follow user’s manual for the coach and RV’s systems (in addition to the individual appliance manuals). Dealers would employ a stable workforce of trained, experienced, product-knowledgeable, honest salespeople who would deal in a straightforward manner with customers, providing suggestions and “guidance” (in the best interests of the customer instead of the dealership) as necessary. The dealership would deliver a “no punch list” unit, provide a detailed, thorough, and, if the rig’s systems are sufficiently complex, multi-session orientation and introduction to all the rig’s systems, including prompt follow-up to customers’ after-purchase questions. The dealership would honor its warranties and provide competent, timely, no-hassle after-sales service and support; maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction would be paramount in their business plan. Yeah, well, as I said, in a perfect world……
The real manufacturer/dealer scenario is very different from the ideal, of course, and I would say that most offer pretty much of what contractors and tradespeople call “the taillight guarantee”; the work guarantee is good for as long as you can see the taillights of the guy’s truck. Dealers and “box” manufacturers (and chassis, appliance and systems manufacturers) routinely play the “drive off the lot and cease to exist” and “pass-the-buck” games. The initial product is (far too often) poorly designed, sloppily put together, and overloaded without so much as a can of beans in the cupboard. The dealer (far too often) does a lousy job of PDI, fixing obvious problems pre-delivery, and of orienting the buyer to the RV’s systems and operations; he wants the buyer off the lot and gone, hopefully, without various parts obviously falling off and before the buyer realizes that maybe W.C. Fields was right, after all.
While I know that there are a few manufacturers who do produce and support high quality products and dealers who do make all phases of customer service their top priority, I believe that they’re the minority. And, I doubt that this will change very soon; the RV-buying customer too often has been naïve, gullible, and very slow to take the responsibility of doing his/her pre-purchase homework and educating himself/herself to the point that his/her RV-buying-and-using decisions don’t result from ignorance, haste, and confusion.
This too-common, disquieting lack of “buyer savvy” validates the decision, however tacit, of dealers and manufacturers to continue doing business as usual, i.e., producing the same poor quality, “buggy” products and giving marginal, if not downright bad, post-purchase orientation and service; as long as the stuff keeps rolling off the lots, there’s very little incentive for manufacturers and/or dealers to improve product quality or customer service, including thorough pre-delivery customer orientation to the rig’s systems and equipment. But, manufacturer and dealer shortcomings aside, I feel strongly that the onus for selecting an RV and learning how to use what he/she ultimately buys falls squarely on the RVer; he/she must be his/her own “educated” advocate through the entire selection, purchase, and learning-to-use process. Yes, a manufacturer should provide a comprehensive and comprehensible manual and a high-quality product, and the dealer should provide excellent pre-delivery rig preparation, customer orientation, and post-purchase service, but in my experience, this doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. It will be a very long and frustrating ordeal if an RVer depends on a dealer or a manufacturer for buying education or for a bail-out (or even much, if any, support!) when it becomes obvious that he/she made unwise choices.
In the past, I cut newbies plenty of slack when they made poor selection and buying decisions; I learned a lot of “RV stuff” the hard way, and I’m sure that many others have spent plenty of time in “discoveries” of the obvious and “wheel re-invention”, too. We’ve all seen/heard/read about the person who says, “I just bought this X; now what?” But, the levels of “greenness” were much more understandable (and excusable) when there were far fewer and less readily accessible information resources available; today’s RV learning curve is (or should be) considerably shorter than when you or I started out! It’s apparent that increasing numbers of people do take the time, ask questions, and make the effort to “do the homework” before buying; even a brief look at the queries on RV-related message boards and the interest in learning opportunities such as LOW indicate this. But, despite the availability of information and resources, it seems to me that so many people still fail to do even the most rudimentary research and just “shoot from the hip”; I’m pretty sure that there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse out there that results from a buyer’s gullibility, inadequate preparation and hasty decisions.
An RV buyer today has access to information that was simply not available ten years ago (or even five years ago!); the web has had an enormous impact on communications and information/experience sharing. Even with rudimentary “internet savvy” and web searching skills, a potential RV buyer can subscribe to message boards that are RV type or brand specific (or chassis, engine, or transmission specific); there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience (and, admittedly, plenty of self-styled experts and smoke-and-mirrors, too!) on some of these message boards. There are hundreds of RV-related websites, and quite a few provide a new RVer with basic information on “all things RV”. A novice or “wanna-be” can read “industry-influenced” publications, e.g., Trailer Life and MotorHome and other magazines, join the RV Consumers Group for access to their evaluations, buy and read any of a pretty good number of “basic RVing” books (and several of these include information on selecting and buying an RV) in print or by download, and scour web sites that provide reliable and current general information on selecting and buying an RV, on weight considerations, tow vehicle choices, and just about anything else to push a prospective RVer further along the learning curve. There are seminars to attend; in its day LOW was the “big one”. Escapees’ Boot Camp is another. Any gathering of RVs and RVers will inevitably produce a whole gaggle of folks eager to answer questions and give opinions. And, yes, he/she can visit RV shows and/or dealer lots to compare RV types, sizes, and brands; of course, RV shows and dealer lots are also great opportunities to listen to plenty of absolute drivel coming from the mouths of salespeople. But, a newbie won’t necessarily know that the babble is largely nonsense and/or outright lies or which opinions and information are credible unless he/she has exercised “due diligence” in learning how to avoid RV-related snake oil from manufacturers, dealers, and even other RVers. The whole process takes time and “learning how to learn” and discover which resources will be reliable and helpful in making the best choices. Too many people seem unwilling (or too uninformed) to realize this; I see this impulsive “I want it now” attitude as the most significant factor behind most consumer RV-buying mistakes.
Very little surprises me at this stage of life, but I do still read quite a few RV-related message board questions and posts that leave me gap-jawed; many questions/requests for advice (often spelled “advise”) display a complete absence of common sense, a startling amount of naïveté, and, often, an apparent eagerness to shift the blame for one’s own poor selection/buying/financing decisions onto somebody else. But, despite frequent evidence to the contrary, I still prefer to believe that most people are “educable” (some take a bit more effort than others!), and want to make thoughtful, appropriate, well-researched choices; some folks are asking questions and appear to realize that the responsibility for making the best-informed choices is ultimately on them. One can’t rely on a chassis and/or coach manufacturer, or a dealer, or an equipment/product supplier to protect him/her from the consequences of his/her own lack of preparation and poor decisions. “Caveat emptor” indeed!
Realistically, I don’t believe that there will be much change in the business practices of manufacturers and dealers; despite poor quality products and often abysmal customer service, most of the even “shoddy and sleazy” seem to be able to find enough customers to keep stuff rolling off the lots. I think that “consumer education” (through web and printed media and RV learning seminars, especially those with a “newbie component”) is the only practical, long-term answer; the RV marketers will feel an impact only when their bottom line is threatened, and increasing numbers of “educated” RV buyers can make that difference. The process of “education” is usually tedious, frustrating, and slow – a pedagogic version of “water on stone” – but I believe that it’s the only way to effect real changes. Maybe even in our lifetimes! ;-)
I hope you didn’t tell that newbie fellow where you lived!