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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Audi's Human Element

So, tell me. How do you feel about those regular x,xxx mile checkups for your car? Do you enjoy the experience?

I have really mixed feelings.... On the one hand, I get a free carwash [very convenient even if they do a poor job wiping the car down so the drips dry nastily on the windshield].

On the other hand, it's a major inconvenience. I've had no luck scheduling appointments online, so must speak with a person during the day, and shlep to and from the dealership very early and late. It takes 30 minute to drive each way. Then, there's the rental car and making sure to refill the tank before returning it.

I can deal with all that. My Audi dealership has a nice facility with clean & functional bathrooms [see Let the Bathroom Blogfest Begin] and internet-ready workstations. Plus -if I'm in the mood- it can be interesting to people watch.

What I can't deal with, though, is the inconsistency of their Human Element [see Retail Experience and the Human Element] which significantly affects my service experience.

As my Mom learned during her carpet buying experience [see Final Issue: Endless Frustrations], I may very well be dealing with the best car dealership around. How depressing! Here is the commitment that Paul Miller Audi makes on its website: "We pride ourselves in delivering a truly outstanding customer experience to our customers at all levels. We work hard at ensuring that our customers are dealt with honestly, in a straightforward manner, professionally, and courteously." They certainly sound serious about the customer experience. Are they, though, doing the best they can?

At my last checkup, Audi replaced the entire instrument cluser. I got the car back, and happily drove home [my car is FUN to drive!]. As I got closer -with the sun shining at a low angle- I discovered .... numerous fingerprint marks on the plexiglass obscuring the dashboard instruments. I'm irritated, but since the problem is neither mechanical nor electrical, just sloppy, not about to return to the dealership. Perhaps I can deal with it myself. I tried some Windex with no success; the marks seem to be behind the plexiglass. I decided to followup at the next x,xxx mile checkup, and dutifully mentioned the problem when I made my most recent appointment, repeating the concern again as I dropped off the car. Fine.

Several hours later, I got a call saying that the fingermarks cannot be behind the plexiglass [1 piece unit]; they are etched onto the plexiglass and I must have done the damage. My option: to pay for a replacement dashboard unit or live with the marks.

I'm stunned and angry. Does it make sense for me to damage to my own car?

I bring a flashlight when I go pick up the car several hours later. When I arrive, I check out at the payment counter. Two young women are busy finishing what looks like dinner [stir fried veggies?] and a conversation. I'm most certainly interrupting. [Everytime I reach this stage of the transaction, I encounter similar unprofessional behavior]. Yes, I feel really appreciated as a customer.

This post by Tom Vander Well at QAQNA titled 5 Commonly Missed Courtesies discusses how important courtesy and friendliness are in driving customer satisfaction. Although particularly relevant from a phone perspective , reinterpret these tips for in-person interaction.... I don't think food consumption and personal conversation would appear on the list.

As I wait for my car, I chat with Hemant Patel, one of the service representatives. He's taken care of me before and helped me when the car indicated it was low on oil [immediately after a service visit] while driving South on the NJ Turnpike... He's also a good listener. I asked if he would take a look at my dashboard. The car came. Flashlight in hand, I successfully demonstrated to him the dashboard fingerprints. Hemant immediately called a technician, asking him to bring out cleaning products. Guess what? 10 minutes or so of ELBOW GREASE and the right professional cleaning products made the marks disappear!!!

Meanwhile the service manager comments -as he leaves for the day- that I really should have been more careful... Rather than help find me a solution, he was busy pointing the finger, and simply insisted I had done the damage. So much for the customer being right!

However, the problem was quite easily solved and not one other service person actually checked to see what the problem REALLY was and how it could be fixed. They were too busy determining whether they had an in-warranty or out-of-warranty problem so they could be ready to disclaim ownership! If it hadn't been for Hemant, no one would have made the effort to fix my problem. A problem caused by sloppiness and easily fixable given the right tools! Only one person -and not my assigned service rep- acted as my advocate. How many of your sales representatives consider themselves consumer advocates?

Now, do I really want to buy another car from Paul Miller Audi? Hmmmm.

A fascinating build to this negative experience [somewhat similar to a Proustian moment]: a whole slew of memories relating to my entire Paul Miller Audi experience came up for air. None of them terrible, but individual elements highlighting that this dealership doesn't really get consumers, and especially women consumers. When I purchased the car, I was asked to fill out a consumer survey. The purpose: to build a longterm relationship. The questions were mostly about sports preferences. I was offered a baseball cap [and a travel coffee mug that doesn't fit in the car cup holder].

John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing has a new book out [also called Duct Tape Marketing. Page 16 refers to "The Client Profile Tracker" which is all about tracking information about your customers so as to provide VALUE to them. You obtain the information by listening to their stories [see What's Your Story?], just like what Jack Mitchell's organizations do day in/out [see A Good Hug is Worth and Ruthless Focus on the Consumer]. You'd think that a sophisticated organization like Paul Miller Audi could do the same.... Right?

I return to the dealership regularly for checkups. To date, there has been no effort to use the information I provided, no effort to make me feel warm & fuzzy about the dealership. Service appointments are by rote at best. What a missed opportunity! Don't they want me to continue buying Audis from them?

I imagine [and hope] that I would have had a different experience at the dealership that Customers Are Always refers to in I'm an Audi Enthusiast.

This posting on Lip-Sticking by AskPatty.com's Jody DeVere, titled Boys will be Boys at the Car Lot, explains that women represent a critical car buying audience, but many dealerships don't understand the need to improve their communication skills to better connect with women consumers, who purchase over half of all new cars. Ask.Patty.com came up recently in What Do Women Want? Thoughtful Solutions as an example of a company addressing a serious consumer need.

Similarly, in the carpet/flooring business, women matter big time. So, as you consider your retail experience from your consumer's perspective, ask yourselves whether your Human Element is all that it can be, or whether you can improve on it.

Pay attention to who your consumer is. Don't pretend to be interested; rather, be seriously interested. Ask her real questions. Listen. Be courteous. Then, do something with the information. And, if nothing else, train your people to be passionate about serving your customers.

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