In July of 2010 I decided I was old enough to buy my first grown-up car. I began by thinking though what my lifestyle was like; and therefore what car I might need. I considered that I lived along a dirt road, the fact that I rode a horse and spend a lot of time covered in mud, but that I also wanted to project a ‘professional’ and ‘successful’ image to clients in the city when in work mode.

So like all good Gen X’s I turned to Google to begin researching what was available in the SUV market, although I didn’t really want an actual 4×4 because I didn’t think I really needed one; and I was trying to hold on to some kind of environmental conscience, whilst also being completely self-indulgent. After about a month I had narrowed my search down to a choice between the Nissan Qashqai and the Hyundai ix35 (which conveniently comes in both 2×4 and 4×4 models). The latter is brand new on the market; and in my opinion, is certainly the best value for money in its style and class. The only thing left to do was to take them both out for a test drive.

So it was on a sunny Saturday morning that I walked into the Hyundai dealership in Centurion (having booked a test drive for 8 in the morning) for the first time. After less than 10 minutes, I was sold; and I didn’t even bother test drive the Qashqai.

The ix35 was easy to drive, spacious, high off the ground, had airbags in all the right places; a USB port; easy to use knobs for everything; and also it looked good. It was everything I wanted; and was definitely the best value for money (in terms petrol consumption and extras) that its competitors did not have. Everybody I spoke to about this car only confirmed my beliefs. Hyundai was the way to do, the best product for its price range on the market.

However sadly, this is where the honeymoon with Hyundai ended.

When I signed the offer to purchase in August 2010 the salesman did warn me that there was going to be a four to six month waiting list. I understood this, considering it was a brand new model and the fact that they come fully imported from Korea, this latter point especially I thought was worth waiting for. However, he also assured me that he would contact me at least once a month to let me know of my car’s progress, especially considering I put down a R1000.00 holding deposit.

By mid-October I had not heard from him; and after leaving numerous messages both on email and by phone, to which I got no response, I began to get a little nervous that my order had got lost in the pipeline. Unable to get hold of Centurion, I contacted the Midrand Hyundai dealership. There I was met with reassurances that they would contact Centurion and ask them to let me know what was going on with my car; and of course apologies that ‘clear communication’ had gone amiss. That was a Wednesday. By Friday; when I had heard nothing from Midrand (and now really nervous and suspicious that something was wrong), I contact Hyundai South Africa; and asked to speak to the national sales director. This had now become a matter of principle besides anything else.

In truth, by the Monday in mid-October, I did receive two calls, one from the national sales director and one from the regional sales manager reassuring me that everybody was waiting for the ix35 because they were 80 000 units short world-wide, that Korea was operating at 120%; and that there was nothing erroneous with my deal.  Whilst I was grateful for the communication and the reassurance, they had not heard me, what I was upset about was the service, not being communicated to and informed and updated, it was not the time that I had been waiting that bothered me.  Am not sure they ever understood that.

To cut a long story short, my deal was reallocated to Hyundai’s Edenvale branch where I was assured I would receive outstanding service going forward.  The salesman at Edenvale was better. At least he called me from time to time to let me know there was still no car, but I didn’t feel like he ever really cared. I am not even sure what I was expecting, all I know is that I became increasingly unexcited about spending R300 000.00 on a car; and began to doubt whether I wanted to have anything to do with Hyundai. The only thing that kept me in was the assurance from so many people whose opinions I trust that Hyundai’s are just fantastic cars. I did, however, keep thinking, if this is Hyundai’s before sales service, can you imagine how bad their after sales service is going to be?

November, December, January and February came and went. During the first week of March (now 7 months after I originally ordered the car) I received a phone call saying that Hyundai Edenvale now had an engine and chassis number for my vehicle. I was ecstatic and said immediately that I would make full payment for the vehicle during the course of the week, which I did on 11 March 2011. I received no communication that Hyundai had received my payment; and when I called them on 14 March to see if they had received my money; and also to confirm exactly when I was going to fetch the car, it became clear to me that there was something massively wrong with the deal.

I then called the salesman from Edenvale on 18 March to confirm that I would be there the following morning to collect my car. He again sounded like there was a problem; and again promised to phone me back which he never did. At this stage I was getting properly nervous about the massive amounts of money I had handed over to Hyundai without even being reassured that they had received it.  So by lunchtime on 18 March, I decided to try and get hold of somebody more senior. Nobody was around but I did manage to speak to somebody at the head-office who assured me she would let the national sales director know what was going on. She must have done this because about half an hour later, the regional sales manager contacted me to essentially gather information from ‘my perspective’ to establish ‘what was going on’.  Part of this conversation was the regional manager finding out which car I had ordered. I told him; and at the end of the conversation he actually said to me ‘are you sure you ordered a silver, because I have you down for a silky-brown’. At this point I seriously panicked. I thought after 8 months of waiting, with very little communication and having paid in full, Hyundai are not even sure what I ordered? I was at a point where I wanted my money back.

Before the end of the 18 March I had been assured that a vehicle fitting the specs that I had originally ordered was going to be allocated to be and fortunately they had one coming in on the next shipment. The regional sales manager was the lucky person who got to share this glorious news with me and he made out like they were doing me a huge favour. He even reassured me that they would honour the price they had quoted me a month earlier for my trade-in. Like that was supposed to make me forget about the monumentally bad service I had received to date?

On 28 March I wrote an email addressed to the national sales director, the regional sales director, the financial director, the human resources director, the dealer principle and the salesman from Edenvale documenting my journey with Hyundai since August 2010, stating my unhappiness with their service and nonchalant attitude; and explaining that I was going to use them as a case study to illustrate a bad customer experience in my training unless they wanted to change the outcome of the story. In other words, I gave them an opportunity to do what all good marketers and sales people should do with an unhappy customer, and that is, get creative so that you can turn an unhappy customer into a loyal disciple for life.  After all, I thought if I was going to use them as a case study it was only fair to let them know. I even left them with these two quotes to assist them with getting their creative juices flowing:

‘If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.’ – Jeff Bezos

‘Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.’ –  Bill Gates

I was not sure what I was expecting in response, but I was certainly expecting something more creative than a short emailed reply from their customer services manager reassuring me that both the national and regional sales managers had noted my concerns and that they were doing everything they could to resolve them.

The next time I heard from anybody at Hyundai was from the salesman at Edenvale on the 12 April. I was informed that my car had arrived and that I could come and sign papers on Thursday 14 April and take ownership on 15 April.  We made arrangements for this to happen.

On Saturday 16 April I finally got the car I had waited 9 months and approximately 11 days for. Again I am not sure what I was expecting, but the whole thing was an enormous anti-climax. No-one was there except the sales guy whose people skills are limited at best. I wasn’t even offered so much as a glass of water. There was no box of chocolates or bottle of wine or bunch of flowers to celebrate the fact that I had just given them R300 000.00 in cash for a car. The petrol tank was empty and when I brought up the fact that Hyundai might owe me 15% interest for sitting on my money for a month without providing me with the product they promised me, the salesman just stared blankly at me and said I should take that up with the regional sales manager.

In short, in my opinion, whilst Hyundai might have a fantastic product they have the worst service of any company in South Africa. Not only did I feel unimportant, I actually felt like I was a total nuisance; and that they could not wait to get rid of me. There was not even a verbal apology for the fact that they sat on my money for a month before getting me the car.

In the new world of work everybody knows that marketing and selling is not just about product, it’s about service; and moreover about connecting with your clients so that you create a loyal customer base. That’s why we talk about customer experience these days.

So here’s what Hyundai needs to learn:

1.    There are lots of great products on the market, that’s no longer what people focus exclusively on when they buy
2.    We live in a choice-flush, competitive economy, so you have to keep asking yourself, what differentiates us from our competitors? (Here’s a tip: who you are is becoming increasingly more important than what you offer)
3.    This might be slightly industry dependent, but maybe even be aware that your biggest threats may not even be who you perceive to be your biggest competitors
4.    Markets are no longer loyal, so you have to treat people like people, connect with them, build relationships with them. This requires solution selling, i.e. fulfilling people’s individual needs which means the sales person needs to understand what their customer requires and adapt themselves to fulfil that requirement. In my case in this situation, I required reassurance that my deal has not been forgotten. I required connection with Hyundai through appropriate and timeous communication
5.    When things do go wrong (which they inevitably do sometimes) getting creative and going the extra mile to make your customer feel special, recognised, important, whatever, so that they feel like you really mean what you say, is imperative. Otherwise their suspicions about all your stories and guarantees just being marketing lines; and empty promises will be reinforced
6.    Customers have many ways to communicate their dissatisfaction with service providers today. Primarily social media. I intend to do what all good Gen X’s and Y’s would do; and put out to the world via various technological means my disappointment with Hyundai so that maximum people are cautioned against doing business with them

We live in a time where customers are very empowered. I find it bizarre that any company would be so arrogant as to think that they are not potentially susceptible to

a) a recession and
b) getting a reputation for providing really really bad customer service (never mind experience).

This especially when they have had to be financially ‘saved’, which Hyundai has, twice.

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