May 27, 2008

The Car Purchase: Recovering From Bad Service

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. --- Bill Gates

Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business. --- Zig Ziglar

We can reduce mistakes but not prevent them. Since perfection is unattainable, quick recovery is the best strategy. This can increase your revenue thanks to reciprocity, the first universal principal of influence.

Here's an example with a happy ending: buying a car. Things when bad on the delivery day
  • delivery 5.5 hours late
  • obvious paperwork errors
  • extra 750km on the odometer
I kept being told the car would be ready in 15 minutes. In total, I waited in the dealership over 4 hours.

What Happened
The promised delivery time was 2pm. I arrived around 3:45pm, just after returning my leased BMW nearby. My new car, a Mercedes E-Class, was not ready. Neither was the paperwork, even though I'd answered the only outstanding question the day before to save time.

I was told the car and paperwork would be ready in 15-30 minutes. While waiting, I could enjoy a cappuccino. That sounded fine. But delay followed delay. Each time I was told the delay would only be 15-30 minutes. I left at 7:53pm, which ruined our evening plans --- a dinner to celebrate our son's report card.

The Guilty Parties
There were three guilty parties

The car was not ready on time. The waxing was underway 4.5 hours after the promised delivery time. The paperwork was not ready and needed three sets of revisions.

Why the delay? The dealership was very busy and staff were working 12 hour days. They were trying to do their best. So what? Customers don't care.
Yoda: Try not. Do ... or do not. There is no try.
The advisor
  • didn't mention the extra 750km on the odometer (2,500 km instead of 1,750 km) or reduce the price accordingly (I buy demonstrators when possible)
  • didn't give a proper estimate of the revised delivery time or advance notification of the delay
  • didn't check the paperwork for errors which would have slipped in if I didn't notice
  • didn't explain the features (try using a navigation system or tuning the radio these days) even though I asked several times while waiting
  • left me to service other customers
  • gave me the keys in a dimly lit garage :(
My biggest fear was reliability, which has been a problem for Mercedes. A friend with an earlier E-Class had various shocking problems including squeaky brakes and lights burning out. In Canada, sales have only rebounded recently after 3 years of declines. In contrast, BMW sales have grown for 17 consecutive years. Lexus sales doubled since 2002.

So I was very sensitive to flaws. The next day, I inserted my first CD and it got stuck and needed to be pushed in with another CD. The parking guidance system beeps to signal obstructions that aren't there. The navigation system gives poor directions compared to my 2006 TomTom with 2007 maps (perhaps the DVD --- dated 2006 --- is outdated).

Corrective Action
The advisor did followup with me --- which no previous advisor did. However, nothing happened.
Our relationship with you is of the utmost importance to us
--- covering letter, Mercedes-Benz Purchase Experience Survey
I got action after completing a satisfaction survey which was to "be reviewed carefully and acted upon". I specifically wrote that I no longer wanted to deal with that advisor or dealership. Guess who called? The manager of that dealership. I reiterated my desire to deal with someone else. The regional vice president called and we spoke for an hour on a range of issues. This made me feel much better because he listened and made me feel I was being listened to and that my concerns had some validity. I felt appreciated. This was more important than I expected. Immediately afterwards, I started feeling much better about the car since the Mercedes commitment to client satisfaction is more than words.

I was encouraged to follow protocol by returning to the original dealership. Since dealing with corporate-owned stores had been a major selling point I asked to go to another location. I was advised to go to the downtown Toronto location, their Canadian flagship (once renovations finish this summer). I agreed.

Here's what's to happen
  • discount to compensate for the extra kilometres
  • servicing the identified concerns
  • redelivery of the vehicle, including 1-2 hours to explain the features in details
I've since spoken to the downtown service manager who is coordinating and anticipate an excellent experience. That's why I'm posting now before the actual outcome.

The Wasted Hours
I got an apology for the hours lost waiting for delivery. Is that "fair"? Perhaps. They are doing rework to erase the bad day. That seems reasonable.

Lessons Learned
Bad news spreads fast and leaves a deeper impression. I'd rather be what Zig Ziglar calls a "good finder". To be fair to Mercedes-Benz, I didn't tell anyone about this unpleasant experience. I'm sharing it now because of the favourable outcome. Here are three lessons
  1. Keep your promises.
  2. If you break rule 1, give realistic estimates.
  3. Find someone who cares and the rest will work out
To err is human. To recover is divine.


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