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Turning Recalls into Customer Service Opportunities

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In February 2017, BMW recalled more than 230,000 cars and SUVs in the U.S. that may have faulty Takata airbag inflators after the original inflators from another manufacturer were replaced. Takata airbags have come under scrutiny upon evidence they can explode with too much force and discharge shrapnel toward the driver and passengers. The Takata recall has become the largest recall in the industry’s history with 19 automakers in the U.S. recalling 69 million inflators. 

Recalls can be a thorn in the side of automakers; brand loyalty is critical for OEMs and they are under scrutiny when problems with mandated products arise.

While collision repair centers will not be held liable unless the airbag replacement is done poorly, says Creighton Magid, partner in charge at Dorsey & Whitney in Washington, D.C., this is still an issue every collision repair shop should both be aware of—and of which it can take advantage. In addition, Magid advocates for further future action that ensures regulations are met between the automakers and suppliers.

 

Breaking Down the Issue

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) first recalled the airbags in 2014 following Senate testimony from Stephanie Erdman, whose face was severely maimed in a 2013 accident. In her testimony, Erdman said that what should have been a moderate impact changed her life forever.  

 

“It’s not an option for [manufacturers] to not put airbags in their cars.”

—Ron Reichen, Owner, Precision Body & Paint

 

Magid says there are numerous issues with the case. First, it comes down to the design of the airbag, specifically the inflator. However, the broader issue, he says, boils down to the fact that some Takata engineers knew of the problem but did not promptly report it to authorities, resulting in serious injuries and even death.

Magid says that while the case is unprecedented in recent times, it also encompasses the same regulatory issues seen in other cases of the airbags being installed in so many vehicles. 

In mid-December, the NHTSA created a strategic plan to work toward a future free from motor vehicle fatalities, which included areas in proactive vehicle safety, advanced vehicle technologies and human factors, according to the administration’s 2017 crash report.

 

Problems to Come?

It’s like bad service at a restaurant, says Ronald Reichen, owner of Precision Body & Paint in Bend, Ore., and an industry veteran of nearly 45 years. If the customer receives bad service from a waitress or other staffer, they are unlikely to come back in the future. For recalls, the most dire of circumstances would mean the customer never buys that brand of car again. In most cases, however, Reichen says it will be a simple hang nail and not a black eye to the automaker’s business.

“It’s certainly publicized more with social media today,” Reichen says. “It goes out quicker than how communication used to.”

Reichen remembers past recalls like Audi had a bad power steering unit in the ’80s, yet these recalls did not do permanent damage to the manufacturers.

 

How to React and Interact

Reichen says to be proactive when responding to recalls. Reichen checks for cars in his shops’ management system that match the model and age of the recall. Then he emails, calls or texts customers to promote customer goodwill.

While the recalls can be a hindrance for automakers, Reichen capitalizes on looking out for their client’s well being. Most collision repair centers, he says, restore cars so they perform as the manufacturer originally built them. If shops reach out to customers immediately following recalls, it could be used as good marketing tool, Reichen says.

“It’s not an option for [manufacturers] to not put airbags in their cars,” Reichen says.

As merely the installer of the parts, Reichen does not think the recalls will hinder relationships between the customer and repair center.  The average person will recognize that parts don’t last forever and eventually wear out. 

Reichen says he personally is not worried specifically about the Takata airbag recall because he says part of the failures have been traced back to areas of high humidity; his business is in the Pacific Northwest. For the airbags he inspected, Reichen says he has not seen damage from humidity. 

For small businesses, Magid says the lesson from the Takata airbag recall means they need to be prompt in addressing problems that arise from their own products, particularly if those problems could impact driver safety. React promptly and be forthright with customers.

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