Still in a Holding Pattern: Some Constructive Suggestions for the Big Dealers

She said…

We are still homeless. I know, this could be worse. With the number of people losing their homes to fire and storm this year I don’t want to sound whiney or petty about this. But we are now in our second week out of our home. All told, we have spent close to six weeks this winter out of our home. I am not saying that this is anybody’s fault and I’m not writing this as a complaint. Most of our down time has been waiting on parts. I would just like to draw some distinctions between recreational RV owners, those folks who take the rig camping a couple of times a year, and those of us who live and travel in our RV’s full time. And I would like to make some suggestions to the big dealerships who would like to corner the high-end full-time market, some ways to engender customer loyalty and not just last-resort, best deal shopping.

One of the things Shannon and I discussed when we made the decision to buy our RV new from a dealership instead of second-hand from a private party was the warranty (which we are very glad we have) and the service department; the fact that, in our minds anyway, we should be able to go back to the place we bought our RV, and they would be able to take care of us.

To recap. We purchased our 2016 Fleetwood Bounder 35K from La Mesa RV in Albuquerque, New Mexico in July of 2016. We took delivery in August. We were extremely happy with the experience on the sales side of the equation. Our sales rep, Stacey Smith, had spent lots of time with us on several visits prior to our purchase. We were never pressured, always treated with deference and respect.

Our initial warranty work was done at REV in Eugene, Oregon, one of three Fleetwood service centers across the country. One of the cool things about the REV Service Center was that they had hookups in the parking lot, so we could stay in our home at night while they were working on it during the day. There were fifteen water and electric spaces and a sewer dump on site. We just had to have slides in, jacks up and animals in the car by 6:30am so they could move the rigs into the service bays. At the end of the day, we would return home to our rig parked in the same spot we had left in the morning. People who were waiting for parts could continue living in their homes on site. While we were there, there was one guy who was taking advantage of the free camping, in a Tiffen Allegro Bus, no less, but everybody else was there to get the work done and be on their way.

When we arrived back in the Four Corners last November, we had several maintenance issues and knew that we would be spending some time away from our home while the RV was being serviced at La Mesa in Albuquerque, three hours away. The living room slide was adjusted (the simple fix and the only thing not covered by warranty) the fireplace insert, screen door latch, and Illumaplex panel were replaced. The Illumaplex panel took three weeks to arrive and install, but we had prepared for a separation of indeterminate length by packing all of our essentials and emptying out the fridge and freezer.

Our only issue with this, our first experience with the La Mesa service department, was the lack of communication. If I drop off my RV with the expectation that I won’t be needing it until the family reunion sometime in June, just call me when it is ready, and I don’t expect the service liaison to call every day with updates. But a call or even an email notification every few days letting us know the status of our repair would have been most helpful. The other thing is, with overnight shipping available literally all over the world, why does it take three weeks for anything to get anywhere? And would I have been willing to pay extra for expedited shipping to get me back in my home? You bet I would.

When we weighed anchor to launch our second year on the road, the living room slide had to be jacked up to bring it in, so the simple fix hadn’t worked, and we made an appointment with the La Mesa service department for another go at it, hoping it would be another simple adjustment and we could be on our way. It was determined that we needed a new slide motor. The good news is that this is now covered by warranty. The bad news is that we are now well into our second week of waiting for yet another part. My comments remain the same. . .please let us know what is going on!!! What would we have done if we didn’t have family three hours away who were willing to take us in (with our dog and cat) for the duration?

So, finally, here are some suggestions that might make all of us full-timers a little more enthusiastic about touting the advantages of shopping one big dealer over another:

  • Make it part of the customer service liaison’s job to actually liais with the customers. This could be done with email or text notifications if it is deemed too time consuming to actually call the customer every few days.
  • Find some way to show some concern for our discomfort and inconvenience while you have our home locked in your back lot. Acknowledge that I am losing money on reservations and/or am spending money on alternative housing. Is there anything you can do to assure me that you can keep me plugged in or keep me in the sun so my solar system protects my fully-stocked freezer? Are there any arrangements you can make for discount housing in the area? Would the Visitor and Convention Bureau be willing to supply information on things to do in the area while we are stuck here? Come up with some ideas to help make my unplanned stay in your area more comfortable.
  • Finally, it would be really cool if La Mesa Albuquerque, and all other locations, would put in a few water and electric sites so that those of us who are living in our RV’s don’t have to leave our homes. We don’t mind living in parking lots if we know it is just for the short term. This alone would make a huge difference in your approval rating.

When we picked up our RV from La Mesa after the first round of repairs after Christmas, we were approached by a customer in the parking lot who had just purchased a new Bounder 35K. He asked us how we liked ours, and he asked us about our experience with the service department. My response was that they were as good as any of them, which is not a glowing commendation. It is, however, what I have heard about most dealer service experiences from other full-timers. What if he had asked me that question before he had finalized his purchase? And what if I had been able to say that La Mesa went above and beyond to take care of us while they were taking care of our home? We are your face in the world. We carry more weight than any other advertising you could do.