Hello shoppers...



My first car (pictured, above, in 1983) which I got when I was 15 (on Christmas Day, 1979) was a '72 Chevy Bel-Air. Between that day and the day the car was retired in the winter of 1985, I:

1. Drove it into a ditch while trying to memorize a speech I was looking at, instead of the road.

2. Ran it into the back of a guy's truck which I wasn't looking at, while I read a magazine.

3. Didn't read the opening marked "motor oil" when I put transmission fluid in it.

4. Changed a flat tire with an even flatter spare, 7 times.

5. Set fire to the engine while trying to unflood it by pouring gas into the carburetor.

6. Traded it a week later for a '72 Corolla.

26 years later and eight months ago, I immersed myself once again in the world of auto repair, this time at a safe distance, as a Secret Shopper - which became a review of 15 Des Moines area auto repair shops.

Last week I did some work on my Prius (I washed it) and thought it might be interesting to revisit some of those same shops, plus others. Except this time, I decided to shop them from the comfort of my post-Christmas rear end.

I created a fake person ("Carol Hartog") and a real email address (hartogcarol@yahoo.com) and submitted a fake service request to 29 shops over two different days (Monday and Friday of last week) using their website portals. I sent the request through the service department portals of most of the major dealerships in the Des Moines area, plus select franchise locations of places that specialize in auto repair, and some mom and pop stand-alones.

Today's Part 1 includes those shops I contacted last Monday, December 27th. Tomorrow's Part 2 shops were contacted on Friday the 31st

Most of the sites have specific scheduling portals. With these, I put in the make/model of car, the service needed and the dates and times I wanted the service done. If there was no specific scheduling option, I emailed the request to the shop owner, or a service advisor, or went through the company's corporate portal. 

For all of them, I wrote and submitted the following scenario:

I have a '72 Bel-Air Chevy with a broken hood, a burnt engine and four flat tires - it needs an oil change.

Kiddin. I actually wrote this:

I've got a 2001 Saturn that's been having major transmission problems, and need a quote on a replacement tranny. Also need 4 new tires - please include these in a quote. Thank you.

Carol Hartog

Full disclosure: I am a customer service trainer for Westside Auto Pros, an auto repair shop in Clive. (They were also secret shopped for this review). Part of my training with their staff includes how best to follow up with, and engage customers (email and phone) who have scheduled service via WSAP's website.

The "perfect" email response, in my training world, looks something like this:

Hi Carol!

Thank you for scheduling service with us!

We can definitely help you with your transmission problem, and take care of your tire needs. Which day would work best - Thursday or Friday morning? We have a free shuttle service and can take you to and from work while your car is being worked on, or we also have free pick-up and delivery. Let me know which day and time works best, either via email or you can call me directly at 555-5555.

Thank you for choosing Westside Auto Pros! We look forward to seeing you this week!


Jonnie Wright

Master Customer Happy Care Empathetic Expert Uber-Mothering Specialist

Westside Auto Pros

The opening "hi" line is happy and informal and personalized, so the recipient feels like it was a person who wrote it, not a response bot. The second "thank you" paragraph expresses how thankful the writer is that the customer reached out to them. The third paragraph immediately allays the customer's fears: "We can help you with that!" The next sentence empowers the customer by giving them options. It also asks the customer a question, and questions draw us in and make us feel like the person asking them, cares. The "shuttle" sentence displays a desire to make it as easy as possible for the customer, plus brands services that the customer may not be aware of. The "call me directly" line tells the customer that this person is taking ownership of their satisfaction. The next paragraph thanks the customer again (kill 'em with kindness) and expresses enthusiasm for seeing the customer. The signature is ridiculous.

The perfect phone interaction mirrors the email. The perfect duration for receiving a response (phone or email) after requesting service, using an online portal, is two hours.

Think I'm micro-managing this? Yep. In the ultra competitive world of auto repair, the players have to be nearly perfect - they have to get it (W)right, 99% of the time.

Many of them do not, and pay the price.

If you Google search "auto repair complaints," you get 6,620,000 pages. Do the same with "auto repair accolades" and nothing comes up. That could be because I spelled it with two k's. Regardless, the internet is a hornet's nest for people who want to complain. Like bloggers.

Carol is complaining about a worn-out tranny and poopy tires, and needs help. Let us see how - or if - these shops come to his rescue.

(Reviews are in alphabetical order.)


Aamco Total Car Care

7501 Hickman Road, Urbandale

Request submitted: Monday 2:59pm

Response received: NO RESPONSE

Acheson Auto Works

8000 University Blvd, Clive

Request submitted: Monday 2:50pm

Response received: NO RESPONSE

All Pro Servicecenter

1121 Railroad Avenue, West Des Moines

Request submitted: Monday 2:52pm

Response received: NO RESPONSE

Beckley Automotive

901 8th Street, Des Moines

Request submitted: Monday 2:35pm

Response received (email): Tuesday 11:11am


I wouldn't be the one to replace a Saturn transmission.

Thanks for asking

Steve Beckley

Beckley Automotive

Comments: Steve addresses the transmission issue, but not the tires, which he does sell. It's not a terribly warm and fuzzy response. It feels like the owner really doesn't want Carol's business.

Big O Tire

3880 NW Urbandale Drive, Urbandale

Request submitted: Monday 2;55pm

Response received: NO RESPONSE

Cottman Auto Care

6800 Hickman Road, Des Moines

Request submitted: Monday 3;11pm

Response received (phone): Monday 5:16pm

Troy: "Hi, can I speak to Carol?" (Speaking.) "Hey, this is Troy with Cottman Auto Care. How are you doing tonight?" (I'm good!) I understand you've got some issues with your transmission on your Saturn. Can you describe what's going on?" (I made some stuff up.) "Okay, can you get it here?" (Yes.) Alright, well how about Friday morning, Carol? Would that work alright for you?" (Yes.) "A lot of times it's the solenoid - it's a very common problem on those Saturns. You have a great night, and we'll see you on Friday."

Comments: Troy was fantastic! He  greeted me with a nice salutation, instead of rushing right to the problem. He tried to diagnose the problem, then allayed my fear about a cause. He was extremely helpful and polite, used my name during the conversation and wished me a great night at the end. TOTAL ROCK STAR TREATMENT!

Flatt Tire

724 SE 14th Street, Des Moines

Request submitted: Monday 2:45pm

Response received (email): Monday 4:30pm



We need to know the specific model of your Saturn and at minumum the engine size in order to give you an accurate quote.  To insure total accuracy the VIN# would make things even easier.  This will also help with finding which tire size you have on your vehicle.  Thank you.  We look forward to giving you an answer when we get this information.



Flatt Tire Center

"You too should ride on a Flatt"

724 SE 14th Street

Des Moines, IA





-----Original Message-----

From: NoReplyEndeavorContact@endeavorsuite.biz

Date: 12/27/2010 03:45 PM

To: info@flattdm.com

Subject: Contact Request


A new contact request was placed from your website (http://www.flattdm.com/) on 12/27/2010 at 2:45PM.


Name: Carol Hartog

City: Des Moines

State/Region: Iowa

Country: United States

Postal Code: 50265

Email: hartogcarol@yahoo.com

Message: I've got a 2001 Saturn that's having major transmission problems, and need a quote on a replacement tranny. Also needs 4 new tires. Please include those in a quote. Thank you.

Comments: It starts out with the customer's name - great job. There's no greeting/salutation - the writer jumps right into the nuts and bolts. The email writer could have presented this as a question: "Can you email me the VIN #?" That feels a little nicer. The body of the email has a few spelling issues. The "thank you" is more effective if it's in its own paragraph. There is no specific name in the signature, just the corporate info, which means there is no identifiable person taking ownership of Carol's problem. There is also the "original message" and "NoReplyEndeavorContact" (which seems strange) and all the other stuff after the response, which again plays into the robotic feel.

Graham Tire

3935 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines

Request submitted: Monday 3:14pm

Response received (email): Tuesday morning 9:36am


we will need more info to give an accurate quote on the Saturn, would be best if we have car here to get information for you.

we can get close with some info if you like-

need year, make, and model of saturn (LS LW SI SC)?

vin #

engine size

build date

type of transmission automatic/manual with or without overdrive

If I know the model should be able to narrow down the options for the tires, transmission is at best a guess without the car being here.

Free free to give me a call ,glad to help out

Jeff Chapman



Comments: It took a little too long to get the email, but it was pleasant enough. Jeff asked for a lot of information, when he might have been better served to simply encourage me to contact him to discuss it further. The email has some capitalization issues, but is polite, and especially kind at the end. Jeff should have identified that he is with Graham Tire, in the email signature.


Premier Automotive

6815 Hickman Road, Urbandale

Request submitted: Monday 3:06pm

Response received (phone): Monday 5:08pm

Tim: "Can I talk to Carol?" (this is he) "This is Tim with Premiere Automotive. I was wondering if we can get you scheduled for this Friday morning." (Yes.) "Okay - we'll take a look at that tranny and give you a quote on tires. Thank you sir. We'll see you then."

Comments: Tim got back to me in just a few hours - great job! He was very pleasant and business-like on the phone. He got me scheduled and didn't try to do anything else, which was okay. He probably should have asked me about the specific problem with the transmission, and he definitely should have used my name (which he had) instead of "sir."

Silzer Automotive

3025 Douglas Avenue, Des Moines

Request submitted: Monday 3:08pm

Response received (phone): Tuesday 8:47am

Todd: "Is this Carol?" (Yes.) "This is Todd at Silzer Automotive. Do you know what model it is?" (No.) "Do you know what size tire it takes?" (No.) "There are two sizes - a 195 and a 205. Call me and let me know what size it is." (Okie dokey.) "Thanks a lot."

Comments: Todd got back to me later than an auto repair shop owner would like to see. He was nice on the phone, asked me reasonable questions about the tire size and thanked me. Unfortunately he didn't ask about the transmission issues. Fair or not, as a potential customer, I'm thinking that if he didn't see that, what else might he miss?

Toyota of Des Moines

4475 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines

Request submitted: Monday 2:43pm

Response received (automated email): Monday 2:43pm

Thank you for scheduling your service needs with us. The details of your Requested Service Appointment are below. Someone from our service team will contact you should there be any scheduling conflicts. If you have any questions or need to reschedule your appointment, please contact your service advisor. Thank you and we greatly appreciate your business.

Toyota of Des Moines

Service Scheduler Appointment Confirmation

Advisor Information:

Phil Gronewold

Email: service@toyotadm.com

Phone: 800-779-6578

Location: Toyota of Des Moines

4475 Merle Hay Road

Des Moines, IA 50310

Your Information:

Carol Hartog

Email: hartogcarol@yahoo.com

Phone: 515-480-4190

Vehicle Information:

2001 Saturn VUE

Other Information:

Advisor: Phil Gronewold

Make: Saturn

Model: VUE

Mileage: 67,000

ServiceDatePadding: 5

Best Date: 01/01/2011

Best Time: 8:00 am

WaitOrDropOff: DropOff

Rental: No

Service Items:

Additional Services: I've got a 2001 Saturn that's having major transmission problems, and need a quote on a replacement tranny. Also needs 4 new treads - please include those in a quote. Thank you. Carol Hartog

Response received (phone): Monday 4:19pm

Brianna: "Hello. Can I speak to Carol?" (This is he.) "Carol, this is Brianna from Toyota of Des Moines. You sent a request for service for your Saturn? (Yes.) We only have one service advisor who works on them and he's here on Wednesdays. I can put your request on his desk if you'd like and have him call you." (Okay.) "The Guys said that you may want to try Bob Brown, since they'll probably be cheaper." (Okay.) "Thank you."

Comments: The automated response was fine. It could have been made more personal with a separation of the "thank you" at the beginning and end. Brianna was pleasant on the phone, and used my name. She mentioned that they only have one guy who works on Saturns, and that he's only in on one day, which made me feel like they didn't really want my Saturn business. Unfortunately, that feeling was solidified at the end when Brianna directed me (according to "the guys")  to one of TDM's competitors, and then sort of threw her own company under the bus with the statement that Bob Brown would be cheaper, thus implying that TDM is expensive. Strangely, she said this after I'd agreed to be contacted by their Saturn guy in the service department.


16000 Hickman Drive, Clive

Request submitted: Monday 3:28pm

Response received (email): Tuesday morning 8:14am

before i can give you a quote on a transmission i need to know what kind of transmission it is, i also need the tire size so i can give you the correct price   thanks Ron

Comments: There is  no greeting, no using of my name, no personalization, no capitalization, no punctuation and no signature. There is no attempt to reach out and massage the customer - it's purely a request for facts, written by a very busy man. It also came from a Hotmail account, which gives it an amateurish feel.


2135 West Grand, West Des Moines

Request submitted: Monday 3:29pm

Response received (email): Monday 5:33pm

Carol,  I will be glad to help you, but I need to know what model of Saturn and engine size. Also is it an automative or manual trans? If you have athe Vehicle Identification # and Tire size would be helpful, but no nessacary. Thank you, Vic.

Comments: It's a prompt response, and starts out by using my name - awesome! Vic also uses the problem-solving power phrase: "I will be glad to help you." He is kind as he asks for more information, and thanks me at the end. The email needs spell-checked before it's sent, for spelling, punctuation and capitalization.  There is also no email signature, and the email came from a Hotmail account, which feels strange for a large company.

Westside Auto Pros

1901 NW 92nd Court, Clive

Request submitted: Monday 3:33pm

Response received (phone): Monday 3:36pm

Tina: "Hi, this is Tina from Westside Auto Pros - is this Carol?" (Yes.) "Hi, Carol! How are you?" (Fine.) "We can certainly help you with your transmission issues. What is the car doing?" (The problem is described.) Well that's not good - let's get you in here and take care of it. We can also get you some new tires. We'll price some out for you when you bring it in. Have you been in to Westside Auto Pros before, Carol?" (No.) "Awesome! How did you hear about us?" (Just browsing on the internet) "Well thank you for choosing us! I've got an opening on Thursday or Friday morning - which works best?" (Friday.) "That's perfect! We look forward to seeing you Friday at 9am, Carol! Have a great day!"

Comments: Since Tina would know my voice in a schnap, I used one of my Secret Shoppers. Tina called that person's cell number, and I listened in, and took notes. Tina was fantastic! The response time was the fastest of all the repair shops - three minutes. That's what I'm talking about. Tina was energetic, warm, personable and empathetic on the phone. She asked the right questions, gave options, used Carol's name, thanked her and wished her a great day. Tina could have asked for the tire size, and should have mentioned the free shuttle service and pick up and delivery options, just from a branding standpoint. Otherwise, Tina was top-notch. They must have an outstanding customer service trainer...

Tomorrow: Part 2, including Karl Chevrolet, Charles Gabus Ford, Dewey Ford, Firestone, Stew Hansen Dodge, Midas, Des Moines Imports, Bob Brown Chevrolet, Tires Plus, Stivers Ford Lincoln and Hummels Nissan. 


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       


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Phone: 515-480-4190

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