Five minutes to change your view of customer service

Time TwisterIt only takes five minutes for someone to change their perception of a business’ customer service. Either way. In just a few minutes all your hard work can literally be blown away. What’s more you may not even realise it until it’s too late and your customer has moved on to your competition.

Having just bought a car and having shared my very positive experience, I now find myself the recipient of some less than brilliant customer service.

When I wrote about my car buying experience I did question whether the automotive sector deserved the bashing it often receives in terms of its customer care given that my view was that the whole process was straightforward and pleasant.

I did acknowledge my familiarity with the industry and the fact I was dealing with former colleagues meant my experience could well have been different to your average buyer’s, particularly women who continue to report a male bias throughout the purchase process. However, I was confident that overall, the sector’s levels of customer care was high whether you’re male or female.

Now this could still well be the case and I don’t think my recent experience has anything to do with my gender. But the central element of customer care is that its perception is purely subjective. And as one dealer pointed out during an interview for just such a feature I was writing for Automotive Management magazine, it’s exactly the subjectivity which makes it practically impossible to deliver the very best customer service to everyone all the time. In fact, the dealer argued, it is not possible to maintain a consistent level of customer service simply because everyone’s perception is different.

Of course, that’s true, but there are ways to behave and levels of expectation which would be consistent.

So let me share my experience of not so great customer care.

I couldn’t work out how to activate the back windscreen wash on my new car. It was annoying because having previously driven a model from the same manufacturer, I knew the control had to be in the same vicinity, if not exactly the same. The problem, though, I would only think about the back windscreen wash when I needed it and promptly forgot as soon as the function wasn’t required.

Two months into ownership of my car and I was heading off to Belgium with my daughters to an ice skate synchro competition (three days after the terror attacks, but that’s another story). It occurred to me that perhaps knowing how to use the back windscreen wash could be useful.

Admittedly, I called the dealer at 4pm the day before we set off for Belgium, so there was not going to be much they could do before we hit the road.

The guy who sold me my car wasn’t available so I spoke to one of his colleagues. Ok, so when I come to change my car, I’m likely to call my contact, but I am still a customer of your business. So treat me like I’m valued.

He didn’t, in my view.

I had two queries. One was what I termed the dumb question about the back windscreen wash. To be fair, he said it sounded as though there was a fault with the car as opposed to my ability to locate and activate the feature. I would have to bring it in, he said. Slight issue, we were leaving for Belgium at 9am the following day.

But there was no offer to make a booking to check and possibly fix the problem on my return.

Secondly, I was paranoid about speeding and receiving on-the-spot fines from the French police after warnings from friends who drive regularly in France. They hate the English, apparently, and frog march you to the cashpoint for any minor digression. The problem for me was the digital odometer which provides your speed in an easy-to-read display. I was convinced I would forget the odometer was in miles and merrily ‘keep to the speed limit’ thereby attracting the attentions of the police who love us English so much.

Can I change the digital odometer to kilometres? I asked.

The sales executive had never been asked that question before and he didn’t know. He advised changing my digital display to avoid confusion. There was no offer to find out and call me back.

In fact, had he asked if I had satnav, he could have pointed out that it helpfully indicates in mph the speed you should be driving so there’s no need to screw up your eyes trying to read your speed in kilometres by using the analogue display.

Massive fail and I am far from impressed. My positive buying experience which took place over the course of a few weeks and included two two-hour visits to the dealership has been marred by a five-minute phone call.

Think about that for a minute. My perception of customer care at my dealership has been turned on its head because of a phone call which I think was handled badly. Scary, isn’t it? It doesn’t take long for a perception to be changed dramatically and for even years of hard work and relationship building to be suddenly swept away on the wisp of a small ill-wind.


Dandelion portrait
And I still haven’t sorted the problem with the back windscreen wash.

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