(a rant of near epic proportions)
– by Albert Berkshire
I’ve been fuming for about a month now.
I intended to write this article back a couple of months ago when Toyota set my tolerance for stupidity on fire. Then a local BMW dealership left me dumbfounded in my silence. The next day I called a company looking for someone (actually, to my embarrassment, I’m a major shareholder in the aforementioned company) and was stonewalled at reception. And a couple of weeks later Westjet tipped me over the edge.
That’s when I wanted to call this article “Stop Lying To Your Customers”.
I’m not naming names, but I’m sure a google search or two will answer your questions, and if you’re in these industries, THIS should be your wake up call from your arrogant complacency slumber.
In my day job, I write and produce advertising creative for radio companies, advertising agencies and some select clients with whom I have chosen to work (we must be a fit, or I’m not interested) – mostly in North America. I write a lot of promises about service, knowledge, respect, and commitment. I do this on behalf of paying clients. I’m very strict about claims and very focused on helping my clients do better – not just in sales, but in expectation, service, and reputation. I think about these things a lot, and being what we call an educated consumer, I look at it from the other side of the purchase experience. I think like the customer – not the seller – because the customer only looks at it from their perspective. It’s completely understandable.
A few years ago I purchased a Toyota pick up. I haul around mountain bikes, touring kayaks, camping and backpacking gear, and in the winter, lots of ski gear. That’s my after hours life. It doesn’t see a lot of driving, but I’m big on maintaining it to factory recommendations. I like my stuff to last.
When I called to book a service for 66,000km, the local Toyota dealer representative took the appointment and confirmed I was requesting an oil change. In my experience an oil change takes and hour or less. I planned to work in the waiting lounge.
On the day of the appointment, I called to tell the service representative I was running ten minutes late because of traffic. (I work from home, and rarely commute in morning traffic) When I arrived, I told her I would wait and she informed me she needed it for 3.5 hours to do a long list of work on my vehicle. This was new information for which I was not prepared – nor was I previously informed.
Strike one. Poor communication on the part of the dealership.
Then she told me she booked me for the shuttle service. I thought this was okay until she looked at me and said; “Oh, but we don’t go across the bridge.” (I live on “across the lake” as it is known here).
“Excuse me?” was my response.
“Too much traffic.” she replied.
Of course they’ll sell a car to me, but they won’t provide a courtesy ride. It was 10 – 12 minutes away. They would gladly drive me to another neighbourhood on “this side of the lake” that was 30 minutes and 23 (I counted) traffic lights away. But not “across the lake”.
I asked for my keys. Then I was told they had a courtesy car available.
Strike two. Where was this offer earlier?
I took the keys and got in the very basic, 5 year old car.
No gas. <sigh>
I got out, went back into Toyota and explained the vehicle was out of gas. Then the lady said, “Oh. We just ask customers to replace the gas they use before they return it.”
“But I haven’t used any gas – because there is none.”
“Yes. Just put in what you think you’ll use.”
“So you want me to go to a gas station and put gas in your customer service vehicle?”
“I’ll take my keys, please.”
She handed them to me and I took my truck to Great Canadian Oil Change where they showed me the Toyota recommended service items for my mileage (kilometer-age). Less than a third of the items Toyota wanted to do were on the list.
So now they’ve delayed me and lied to me.
Strike three. I’ll never go back to that Toyota dealership.
Back up a few minutes. As I was leaving Toyota (before my GCOC oil change) I decided I would go back and see a manager. The short version is the only person available was the assistant sales manager. I explained my experience, my professional background, told him where they were at fault and how they could improve their customer service. I gave him my business card so that the General Manager could call me to discuss.
I never heard from them. That’s how much my business means to them.
On to BMW. My wife wanted to buy a new SUV. It turns out it is my job to execute these wishes. (Sexist? It works like reverse psychology, actually.)
Ignored. I stood on the dealership lot for 10 minutes, then sat in my vehicle for another 10 minutes making notes, and not one sales person came out to ask if I needed help. I was the only vehicle in the customer parking area. I was right in front of the main windows and could see sales people at their desks texting or tweeting or ordering donuts.
Strike one, two and three all in one visit. Actually, it happened twice at the same BMW dealership.
Here’s the thing. I don’t dress up to go shopping, but just because I am wearing jeans (usually Etiqueta Negra of SoHo) doesn’t mean I a) can’t afford the things for which I shop, and more importantly b) should receive anything less than exceptional service.
I bought the BMW in another city and have it serviced at Motor Werke. They get service right 100% of the time. Yes. They are that good that I’ll mention their name.
I mentioned trying to get through to a person on the phone. This one makes me shake my head. The short version is I called during the person’s lunch break. The person who took my call sounded like I was inconveniencing him by calling his place of work. He’s a sales guy. An incoming phone call always – ALWAYS – means there could be new business on the other end.
“He’s gone to lunch.”
That was it. I stayed silent for a moment. I learned in journalism school that pausing to let the other person fill the awkward silence was a good way to let them provide a solution, or more information. Nothing. I swear even the standard crickets sound effects left the room.
I wasn’t offered voicemail, the option to leave a message, or even asked if he could help me. Insane. I’m afraid to know my share value.
And then there is WestJet. It was, at one time, a discount airline. These days, they are the same price as Air Canada (the other national servicing carrier in this country) on almost every route. I now see them as nothing more than providing discounted service.
Against my better judgement, I agreed to take a flight change on the promise of a flight credit, full hotel and meal reimbursement. They, in returned promised someone would meet me at the gate to confirm everything and direct me to my towncar to take me to my hotel. That was the deal.
No one was there. And when, after speaking with two other WestJet agents in the airport, I finally found someone to help me, no one knew anything about the agreement. Fortunately I had a printed copy of the confirmation.
By the way – The Delta Chelsea hotel in Toronto is about to no longer be a Delta hotel. Why? Because at best it is 2.5 stars. What a shit hole WestJet booked me into. Their complaint letter is coming soon. And apart from burning off the flight credit with them (which I’ve tried to slough off onto my wife) I will never fly their airline again. I really don’t like being lied to by anyone in the service industry. Or any industry, for that matter.
So ho has gotten it right lately? In my experience? Kelowna Infiniti. Open Road Lexus. Auto West BMW. Motor Werke. Air Canada (don’t be shocked). Westin Hotels. The Bike Barn. Hanks’s in Toronto (always).
Here’s the rub. There’s a great line in Netflix’s Americanization of House of Cards. The character Chloe Barns, after being called the C-word by her employer, starts to tweet the experience to her Twitter followers. She looks at him and says, “Don’t forget, when you’re speaking to me, you’re speaking to a thousand people.”
Word gets around, and when I conveyed my experiences to a few friends, they all had similar stories – and some where a lot worse than mine. And if you are a business owner, take heed. Our money, no matter how much we have to spend, is our money. We may want to purchase something nice for ourselves, or for those we love, but we don’t want to make that purchase with a promise of service.
We want actual service. Great service.
Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He’s been away finishing his first novel of fiction, and trying to live life with minimal service interruptions. So far, the customer service landscape has tipped him over the edge. Clearly defining his expections – and those of consumers – has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire