Over the last few days I heard two stories about customer service in the car industry. These two stories have highlighted for me the fact that customer service is no longer just about providing a quality product – its about inviting our customers to join with our company and participate in its future. This is part of the holy grail of marketing…
Over the last few days I heard two stories about customer service in the car industry. These two stories have highlighted for me the fact that customer service is no longer just about providing a quality product – its about inviting our customers to join with our company and participate in its future. This is part of the holy grail of marketing: to assure the life time value of a customer. To do this in the 21st century, its not just about making sure the customer has a good experience when they purchase from us today, but that we also get their loyalty and their emotional commitment to deal with us in the future however far away that future may be.
The first experience that was related to me was a friend of mine who drives a VW Golf. One of the problems with the Golf is that it was designed in Europe and has certain weaknesses that become apparent when driven on some of the roads in Africa. In particular the sump of a Golf is quite exposed under the base of the car. Driving along some of the roads that we do, picking up a rock or bouncing on an uneven road can take out a Golf’s sump quite easily. This happened to a friend of mine near Sun City. Having had his car towed into Rustenberg to an approved VW dealer, he wondered how long it would take to be fixed. His worst fears were compounded when he saw this repair shop was completely booked up. He explained that he was from Joburg and could not wait overnight. In response, and with ruthless efficiency the Rustenberg service repair shop made sure the job was done within an hour and a half. Sump replaced completely done and sorted out. My friend was so impressed with the service he took extra time to go in and find the manager and owner of the shop. He thanked him effusively for his efforts.
This mechanic-cum-franchise-owner, in the middle of small farming community of Rustenberg, grabbed my friend’s hand tightly, locked eyes with him, and said, ‚But of course. You are family‛. Now of course it might be that VW’s new by-line, which was updated a number of years ago, has not yet reached Rustenberg. But instilled deep in the heart of all the agencies that work with VW is the concept that any driver of a VW vehicle is part of a larger VW family and deserves special effort and attention and respect. This is a powerful message. My friend said he walked out of there with tears in his eyes. Do you think his next car is going to be anything other than a VW? He is part of a family after all and that gives him a great reason for purchasing his next car from VW as well. That repair shop in Rustenberg is not going to get any profits from my friend’s next purchase. They certainly deserve it. I wonder if VW know how good it is, or if they’re just lucky to have someone like this on their team?
The second story is not as uplifting. Another friend was involved in getting his BMW serviced. Just a standard service. The car was serviced properly and delivered back to his home and everything was fine except that when he got back into his car he saw that the cigarette lighter was missing. It wasn’t a major item but needed to be replaced, so he phoned the BMW service centre, and told them the problem. They apologised profusely, obviously saying that it should never have happened. The service manager personally spoke to my friend and told him that they would immediately take a cigarette lighter out of stock, place it in an envelope marked for his attention and leave it at reception. He could just pop in anytime and pick it up.
My friend put the phone down and felt good about the call. But then he started thinking. Surely they should deliver the cigarette lighter to him. Before phoning back to BMW, he thought he’d do a little research. So he thought he’d phone around to other car companies and ask them what they would do in a similar circumstance. He started by phoning Lexus. He got through to the service manager, introduced himself and told him what had happened at BMW. After a bit of explanation as to his purposes, he asked the service manager what Lexus would do.
‚That would not happen, Sir‛, was the standard response. But my friend pushed his case � what if it DID happen. Again, the Lexus service manager explained that it wouldn’t happen since at the end of every service they have a check list and a person checks every item, and then rechecks it with the customer. Again, my friend pushed his case, insistently asking what would happen if all these fail-safes failed. ‚In that case, I would get your address and my driver would arrive and install the missing part, and you would check the installation and then you would both sign off on the job, and my driver would leave‛ explained the service manager. My friend thanked him for his time and made ready to phone BMW again armed with this competitive knowledge. But before he had a chance to do so, the phone rang. It was the Lexus service manager. ‚Sir, my driver is about to go out to one of our customers and he has to drive right past your house, could he go and collect the lighter and deliver it to you?‛ The offer seemed genuine, so my friend accepted. Within one hour he had his BMW lighter installed by a Lexus service operator and when my friend needed to replace that BMW I am sure that you would not be surprised to know that he bought a Lexus.
The point of the story is simply this: if you are spending as much money as you do in delivering good service (BMW did not deliver bad service at all, remember), how much extra do you have to spend to deliver great service? Surprisingly brilliant service? In most cases, the answer is: ‚very little‛. A large part of what we need to do to is ensure that our customers want to purchase from us again. And better yet, that they tell their friends to buy from us, too. The key to doing this involves ensuring that the standard customer service issues and quality assurance mechanisms are in place. This is a given. But it doesn’t go far enough in today’s highly competitive, relational world. Today, a bit more is needed. That extra touch is the relationship. It is not just about giving our customers a good experience. It is about inviting them to join your family. And the only way to do this is to ensure that your employees feel part of this family, too. Only then will they go beyond standard operating procedure. Only then will they convey to the clients they meet that extra sense of belonging so necessary for competitive advantage these days.
In TomorrowToday.biz’s framework called ‚Who’s watching the village‛, we identify four areas that companies need to focus on in order to ensure that their customers and their staff feel that they are part of the family: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity (see http://www.tomorrowtoday.biz/wwtv for more detail). We use the analogy of the village, explaining that people need to be an integral part of the village. No longer are people buying from your company just because of the products you are selling. You see, you and your competitors are selling the same or similar products and services for the same or similar price to the same of similar market, using the same or similar methods to advertise in the same or similar ways through the same or similar channels. And, hey; you even swap staff every few months! So people are not buying something from you because of what you are selling, people are buying from you because of who you are. And they buy from you again because they feel part of your family and they feel that they belong and participate in the community that makes up your village. How are you doing with developing a village feel amongst your staff and your customers? And who is watching your village?

TomorrowToday Global