Marketing Can't Erase Bad Customer Service

May 18, 2010

Customer service is the process of taking care of a customer before, during, and after the sale. While the level of service may differ with the value or cost of the goods or service, the outcome should be the same: a pleasant customer experience that reinforces perceptions gathered through marketing materials, referrals, etc. That's the theory, at least.

The Marketing Department can do a stellar job of broadcasting "core values" and "company culture," but it is in the details, no matter how small, that a company improves on customer service and creates a pleasant customer experience. That's the reality.

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience the harsher side of that reality; one of our vehicles started making a whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, noise (yes, that is a technical term) somewhere around the rear wheels. The diagnosis: the repair would require a proprietary piece of equipment to fix the ailment. Now I had to venture out of my comfort zone of local experts.

I asked around and received referrals to the local dealership. This particular dealership has a good reputation in the community and was my next stop. The only person not talking on the phone assured me he was a service tech and could handle my request. From his somewhat reclining position, he gave the appearance he was listening, but returned a blank stare. After a few taps on the keyboard and a long awkward cell phone call, the service tech nonchalantly informed me it would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 for labor and several hundred dollars for parts because they really didn't know what it would take until they got in to it ... but ... if I would give him my name and the Vehicle ID number he would schedule my repairs for first thing in the morning.

Needless to say, I was not feeling all warm and fuzzy about leaving my vehicle with this tech or this dealership. I decided to search for dealership that would be a little more forthcoming with estimates and at least give the appearance they wanted my business. This was not a stellar experience.

Next, I phoned a dealership in San Antonio and was greeted with an automated phone system. After pressing several entries, I was routed to a live person who informed me that I reached the wrong department ... click! Persistence paid off; I successfully reached the service department. The tech was prompt, courteous, attentive, and was able to give me an estimate range within minutes. After a bumpy start, this encounter ended positively.

As we started for San Antonio, it was decided that another call to the local dealership service department might—just might—yield a better outcome and save transportation time. This time, the service technician was attentive, courteous, prompt, and thorough. In a matter of minutes I had a repair estimate and knew the time needed to complete the job and that the necessary parts were in stock. I was assured the he would let me know the actual costs before any work would be performed.

Wow, was this the same dealership that I had visited a few weeks earlier? I had said nothing of my previous experience. After leaving the vehicle, I received the promised call and confirmation of the original estimate. Several hours later, I was able to pick up my repaired vehicle and paid the exact costs I had been quoted. To my surprise, the vehicle was delivered washed. After much frustration, the dealership was able to redeem itself and provide a pleasant customer experience. Still ...

Several days later I had the opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with with the service manager and relate my experience (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Thing is, that conversation—the bad and ugly parts, at least—shouldn't have been necessary. This is a reminder to all of us that have interaction with customers and clients. We must pay attention to the details.