Customer Service Perceptions Form In The Smallest of Moments: A Routine Maintenance Story
This morning I spent way too much time trying to get a $10 credit for car service I had performed last week.
You might think, “ten dollars, let it go.” While $10 is a good lunch, it was more about the initial response than the $10. The $10 became the token for poor customer service, which was driven home right down to the final e-mail.
Dont want to read the story, jump to Lessons Learned.
Here’s the situation. I took my car in for a routine oil change. I looked through my coupons and realized no coupons applied to the oil change. I doubled-checked at check-in that there were no coupons applicable (I checked because my local North West Chevy Dealer says you much present the coupon when you arrive—more on that later). The service writer informed me that $39.95 was a good deal and I would be hard pressed to find it cheaper. Since my daughter had just spent over $100 on a hybrid oil change, I tended to agree. I trotted off to the waiting area.
A few minutes later, my service writer came in and told me that my interior air filter needed to be changed. At around 13,000 miles I looked skeptical. He said he would bring it to me. He did. I looked. The filter was dirty. I then commented that my in-home air filters, which are much larger, cost significantly less than $80. He agreed that car parts tend to be a bit inflated, but it was what it was and I needed one. I authorized the filter change.
What should have happened
What didn’t happen in that exchange was the following:
“You asked about coupons when you checked-in. While there is no coupon out for an oil change, we do have a tiered coupon that would give you $10 off the total. I’ll add that in.”
Comparative coupon-based customer service examples
Offering the coupon at the time of an increased estimate would have aligned well with excellent customer service practice, and good discounting method. My expected $40 transaction was now going to be over $100. The service writer knew there were coupons in play. Had he done this, it would have made me feel a little better about the increase in cost. Proactive customer service.
There are several retail examples where discounts get around the physical coupon.
At check out, Bed, Bath and Beyond clerks work through piles of coupons brought by the customer, even expired coupons, to help the customer maximize savings. The retailer also posts reminders for instant discounts available via text message throughout the store. Send a text, get a coupon.
Big box retailer Costco has done away with the false economy of coupons altogether. They simply encode their monthly deals in the point-of-sale system to provide the discount at checkout.
At Safeway, an app allows for near real-time claiming of discounts.
At Michael’s the checkout team holds the weekly ad at the register so they can provide advertised discounts to those who don’t bring the paper.
While I can’t ask for a technology change right away, the offer of the discount should have happened.
Since it didn’t I decided to ask about it. Over the weekend, I scanned my transaction documents and the coupon. I politely detailed the situation and asked for a $10 credit be issued against my credit card. I e-mail the bundle to the dealer.
The e-mail exchange
I was told Monday morning by service manager Michelle that “I am sorry, coupons must be present at the time of check-in. I do not have a way to go back and add coupons on past services.”
The inability to process a credit is clearly false. My transaction became a case of policy trumping customer service. Processing a $10 credit against a credit card is routine. Apple had just issued me a credit for a mistaken click on a season of CSI: New York on iTunes. The dealer could issue $10 in a matter of seconds.
I responded with: “This is a minor issue that can reflect good customer service or not. As I said, I talked coupons at the onset, and then was hit with the additional item. I think you can do this.” I even provided the name of one of the dealer’s executives who worked my car deal to suggest that Michelle work with him to process the credit.
This was followed by the curt: “I understand your point but our policy is that coupons must be presented at check-in, it states that on the coupon.”
This dialog was now no longer about the $10, it was about being respected as a valued customer. I responded with: “Yes, and I discussed and was told nothing applied at the time of drop off (I even offered to go home and get them. Original est was $39.95) It’s $10. You are going to have an unhappy customer over $10 in a $30K customer? We have both spent more than $10 writing emails back and forth. I teach customer service classes. Please fix this. No is not an acceptable answer. Please talk to XXXXX so he can show you how to process a $10 credit for a good customer. Thank you.”
And then a bit of movement: “I cannot apply a credit on past service, what I can do it put a $10.00 credit note on your file to use towards a future service.”
I responded with: “That is acceptable if it is the only way. It is also a poor policy. I will discuss with XXXX. Normally I would not make a fuss, but when I was told no coupons applied for this service, and then found one that did, that was not my issue, it was yours. And you can apply a credit, you choose not to. Organizations apply credits all of the time, so this is a policy issue of choice, not a transactional issue.
The credit should be in addition to any other coupons. “
Michelle agreed to my caveat. I acquiesced and accepted the credit, though I’m still out my $10 today. At least the next oil change should only be $29.95.
The lessons that should be learned
Customer service should be simple. Like Occam’s Razor when it comes to philosophical debate, the simplest approach to customer service is likely the best one.
I wasn’t asking for a full refund, nor was I asking for a huge amount of money. I was asking for $10 which the dealer sent me in the form of a coupon. The offer was current, and I provided documentation, which shouldn’t have even been necessary.
Michelle chose to stand behind a policy, behind small print, for a valued customer—and to do so down to the last moment.
For $10 I’m now writing a blog about customer service. Worse for the dealer, I’m thinking about taking my service elsewhere, and that may well mean taking my future car business elsewhere. For $10 that is not a good financial decision. The saddest part of this transaction: When I e-mailed my first note I expected my dealer would just take care of it.
The dealer should teach its managers about empowerment—and empower them. Each manager should be given some discretionary budget to just make things right for a customer.
My e-mail exchange should not have happened. It should have been proactively dealt with at the time my estimate increased. If not then, the transaction should be been taken care of once it was acknowledged that I took the time to provide not a complaint, but a request, one supported by full documentation.
As GM announces factory closures this morning (GM is reinventing itself. It’s cutting 15% of its salaried workers and shutting 5 plants in North America at CNN) I can’t but imagine that some of GM’s issues derive not from strategic misalignment, but from tactical errors at the most intimate levels of customer service.
The rationale for this post
Up to this point, I was pretty happy with my dealer, even though I had to visit three times early in the car’s life to get my USB port working (it needed to be replaced after a couple of failed repair attempts).
Some may say this coupon chasing is ridiculous. They would say I should always have my coupons with me. I should just have handed them over even if they didn’t apply just in case they might later in the multi-point inspection. I made a mistake, I should just suck it up.
Once the exchange started, however, I could not let it go. I made the offer to go home and get the coupons and was told nothing was currently valid. The onus for creating good customer service moments falls to the dealer. I’m not a multi-million dollar dealer or multi-billion dollar corporation. A $10 gesture means something to me and this minor transaction made me change my attitude toward my dealer. It could all have been resolved simply without exchanges beyond “done” and “thank you.”
I hope this blog makes those who still put the responsibility for bringing paper coupons to the transaction question that practice. Be proactive. Be real-time. More so, I hope it makes retailers think about how the seemingly smallest of moments shape customer perceptions, good and bad.
For more on customer service from Serious Insights, read these posts: