With more than 63 million vehicles with open recalls currently on US roads and highways, you would assume that consumers would make recall repairs a priority. So why are consumers so apprehensive to repair those recalls at the dealership? As a dealership professional, doesn’t it make you wonder why consumers don’t want to come in for repairs that they won’t have to pay for? Do they really hate going to your dealership that much?

The issue is highlighted in a recent survey by the University of Michigan, which found that 38% of consumers fail to complete recall repairs because they are fearful the dealership will pressure them into additional repairs or services. Another 37% don’t take their vehicles in for recall repairs because of the difficulty involved in giving up their vehicles. Finally, 36% felt the repair would take too long.

It doesn’t appear that we’ve done a good enough job of persuading consumers that America’s dealerships are here to help. These consumer fears seem to translate into the huge amount of recalled vehicles on our roads, versus the relatively small percentage of consumers who actually bring their vehicles in to get an outstanding recall repaired.

To overcome these challenges, here are some suggestions that have produced good results for the thousands of dealers we work with:

  • Messaging: Make it very clear in your messaging that your dealership is there to help vehicle owners and that you are only interested in completing the recall repair. Include messages that reinforce the fact that the recall repair is free of charge and that no additional services are necessary. Yes, I know, service departments are designed to optimize revenue from every customer. And these recall customers can, in fact, be rather profitable due to additional repairs that are needed. But don’t lead with that. These customers have been inconvenienced with a faulty product they now have to bring in to get fixed. It’s all in the timing, right?
  • Multiple Communication Channels: Effectively reaching and communicating with these consumers requires multi-touch campaigns. Persuading a consumer to act on a recall notice is not a simple one-time campaign. Consumer engagement should include First Class direct mail, email and telephone outreach. This tends to achieve response rates up to five times greater than direct mail alone. Also, the average consumer’s response time to a recall communication is 45 to 90 days, so do not expect immediate results.
  • Training of all Customer-Facing Employees in how to handle Recall Customers: Ensure that your service department is set up to handle this unique customer when they do come in. Some recalls come with a threat of danger if left unrepaired, which can be very upsetting to the customer. So, make sure everyone – from the receptionist to the service advisor – is trained in correctly handling this customer.

The best start is to simply apologize for any inconvenience the recall may have caused them. Remember, to the customer, your dealership is simply an extension of the OEM.

Own the problem. Customers don’t want to hear finger-pointing or excuses about lack of parts (valid or not.) They simply want their vehicle fixed with as little inconvenience as possible.

  • Scheduling/Parts Availability: Be sensitive to the consumer’s impatience, especially when scheduling an appointment. Make sure you have the parts in stock before scheduling the service appointment. If parts are not available, have a good explanation ready to sooth your customer. There’s nothing more frustrating to a consumer than to come to the dealership in attempt to get their recall repaired only to be told the parts are unavailable. Make sure that whoever schedules appointments knows which recalls have limited parts availability so they can coordinate with both parts and the service advisor to avoid irritating a customer.
  • Loaner Vehicles/Customer Convenience: If the recall repair will take a bit of time, provide loaner cars to recall repair customers, if possible. Loaner vehicles can give you a competitive advantage to help in winning that recall repair business. In fact, if your dealership has this service available, it would be wise to start including that messaging in all of your marketing and digital properties. You may be surprised at how far people are willing to drive to get their recall work done with you. Most consumers want their vehicles to be safe. If you can solve this difficulty for them, you could start conquesting your competitor’s service customers.

If you do not have loaners available, consider improving your shuttle service so these customers are assured a ride home, to work, or some other location, to make the experience that little bit more convenient for them.

  • Smart Recall Marketing: On the flip side, the University of Michigan survey also asked what would make these customers come in for a recall repair. 52% of respondents replied the ability to bundle a recall repair with regularly scheduled maintenance. And 51% said that a free oil change or tank of gas would be enough.

Consider identifying recall repairs that are lucrative enough to include an oil change or tank of gas and use that in your marketing, and/or identify customers that need recall repairs who are also due for maintenance, and reach out to them.

Recall repairs continue to consume a large portion of any franchised dealer’s service department resources. That is only going to increase and will be the status quo for a long time to come. Both dealers and consumers know that recalls are a huge issue. For consumers, the issue lies in fear for their safety and the inconvenience of getting the vehicle repaired. While, for dealers, the issue tends to be frustration due to the limited availability of service bays or lack of parts or technicians to repair the vehicle, along with the threat of poor CSI, as these customers can be upset and difficult to please.

So, while many dealers feel recall customers are irritating, demanding, emotional and impatient; perhaps this survey data about why consumers AREN’T getting their recall repairs completed will help change that viewpoint.

In summary it’s up to all of us to create the kind of conditions and incentives that compel consumers to bring those recalled vehicles into dealerships. Whatever the investment your dealership makes in a comprehensive recall program, it is likely falling short of the estimated opportunity. Are you getting your share of the 63 million recalled vehicles in your service lane? If not, then it’s time to sharpen those pencils again.

Learn more about the benefits of reigning in the recall revolution by attending Chris Miller’s session “Forge a Recall Department into a Revenue Rocket” at the Digital Dealer 23 Conference & Expo. Register now to attend 100+ educational sessions.


Author: Chris Miller

Chris Miller is President of Recall Masters, a leading provider of automotive recall news, data, training, and communications. Privately held and based in the San Francisco Bay area, the company is dedicated to helping automakers and their dealers expedite the repair of recalled vehicles and make the roadways safer for everyone. Christopher has more than 17 years of experience building software to automate marketing communications. He has worked with marquee brands including HSBC/Household Automotive, Washington Mutual, Residential Pacific Mortgage, ServiceMagic, Monumental Life Insurance, Mercedes Benz USA, BMW/Mini North America, Volvo North America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Moxy Solutions, and Costco Automotive Group.
EMAIL: chris@recallmasters.com

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