Minor mechanical issues can snowball into major arguments when car dealers don't take the time to communicate properly with clients.

The emotional issues that occur when a consumer’s complaint escalates into a dispute should not be underestimated by service providers.

South Africa’s reputation for having aggressive drivers is well known and this condition is quickly transferred to people’s attitude where their vehicles are affected.

Over the years the office of the Motor Industry Ombudsman has dealt with countless complaints where emotions have gone awry. Many times there have been legitimate technical reasons for a consumer to be upset, but more often than not the main reason behind the commotion is communication -or lack thereof - between the motor dealer and their customer.

One of the most common reasons for consumers to have emotional outbursts and temper tantrums are service providers’ lack of response to telephone callers, or promises to return calls being ignored or forgotten.

This leads to frustration that sometimes escalates into unreasonable behaviour.

One of the fundamental ways of preventing consumer frustration is to keep the consumer informed. Surely a phone call after the booking-in rush is over, to inform a consumer of the state of play as far as the service or repairs to his or her vehicle is concerned, will not take long and will prevent frustrating situations that inevitably lead to confrontation and unpleasantness.

Today there are so many and varied methods of communicating with one’s customer that it is almost unforgiveable if regular communication does not take place. SMS’s are a very useful tool as they can keep the consumer informed without the service adviser being tied up in long time-consuming conversations.

Regular contact with a customer can lead to that important relationship that ensures return business in the future.

One of the ways that contact can be kept without the consumer feeling harassed is to provide snippets of advice straight from the vehicle owner’s manual.

A twofold result can be achieved in that the consumer is educated in looking after his or her vehicle and the relationship between the motor dealer and the consumer is maintained. Advice can take the form of service interval reminders and the weekly checks that have to be carried out by the vehicle owner.

News from the dealership giving information about possible events in a personal and informal way can go a long way to cement the relationship between motor dealer and consumer.

Advice given in a friendly way on the importance of keeping to the service intervals to comply with the vehicle warranty will go a long way to avoid unnecessary disputes and arguments at a later stage.

These few simple, and what should be well known, rules have often resulted in the success or, in the event of ignoring it, the failure of businesses. A customer informed is a customer again. - Star Motoring

Johan van Vreden is SA’s Motor Industry Ombudsman.