Take the $$$ and Run

I recently purchased a new luxury car. I won’t reveal the Brand nor the dealership because my intent is not to harm, but rather to share marketing lessons from a customer experience debacle. 

After 15 years of loyalty to Lexus, I decided to try a new Brand. In the auto industry, trial stakes are high so I researched extensively, concluding that it was a safe bet – so I took the plunge. The subsequent couple of months were filled with aggravation for me-as-customer and with rich learnings for me-as-marketer.  

Focus on “Consumer Journey”, not “Path-to-Purchase”.

I recently discussed these terms with a client. I was using “Path-to-Purchase”. The client requested “Consumer Journey” instead to be clear that there is no finish line. Boy, was he right. My Path-to-Purchase was impeccable: red carpet treatment. However, after my purchase, the journey stunk. Consumer journeys have no finish line.   

Maintain Brand “control” over distribution channel to fullest extent possible.

My car was manufactured overseas and distributed by a US distributor (not owned or operated by the Company). When I received seriously subpar service, I called the Customer Service line. The Company rep took my story and told me that “outside of a mechanical problem, there is nothing we can do. We don’t have control over our dealerships – they are independent entities. We only deal with warranty issues”.  These days, successful Brands must shepherd customer satisfaction at any cost – they listen, they fix, they reconcile. And they ensure that their reps do the same.

Don’t patronize me… Help me

Within the first week of purchase, I realized there was a glitch in the voice command system, which I rely on pretty heavily. Rather than helping me get to the bottom of the issue, the dealership told me it worked perfectly for them and it might be something with my speech. I felt insulted and dismissed, and still fairly confident I didn’t have a speech impediment. Siri understands me just fine. A week later, I took a road trip with my astute colleague who noticed a pattern: letters later in the alphabet didn’t register. I deleted 2/3’s of my 6,000 contacts and BINGO – problem fixed. I felt vindicated knowing that the issue wasn’t imagined, but annoyed that neither the dealership nor the company helped me resolve the glitch.

Everyone who represents a Brand impacts a Brand’s equity.

After one of several service appointments in first month, my car was to be returned to me at my location by a “knowledgeable Service manager who would go over everything with me”. Sounded nice. But he showed up in sweat pants and a sweat shirt — dress that made me uncomfortable even getting into the car with him. I spend a lot of my life in sweat pants, but not when I’m meeting a client! He then told me that he’d “never used” the particular electronic system in my car, and didn’t really know how to work it, but could “play with it” and figure things out. With some brands, the product isn’t the problem—the people are. Either way, a brand can be helped or harmed even by “small stuff”.

Be on time. Be present.

As someone who is chronically running late, my nose is growing on this one. And it seems so obvious. But I had a situation a week after purchase wherein my Salesman was not available to explain things to me at our agreed appointment time because he was helping another customer (aka — focused on making another sale vs. taking care of an existing customer… whose money he already had). When he finally got to me, he was interrupted to deal with other prospective customers, leaving me to feel unappreciated and unimportant. It seems my Consumer Journey ended when I gave him my credit card number.

Strive for “no manual needed” standard-of-excellence.

I’ve now been driving this car for about 5-6 weeks and I know 80/20+ how to work all the functions. But it was not intuitive – not even close to Apple. I had to memorize a bunch of stuff to operate smoothly. Even for complex purchases, most people don’t have the time, interest, or patience to read manuals. Apple reset our expectations for what’s possible and others now need to hit that mark.

Never, ever, ever compromise on ethical matters.

Even though I really liked the car, the customer service left me with shopper’s regret and a newfound appreciation for Lexus. After expressing my dissatisfaction, I asked if there was a way to ‘undo’ the transaction (about 2 weeks after I had the car). The Sales Manager texted me a shocking, under-the-table offer, stating that they would take the car back on four conditions…   

Naturally, I wasn’t comfortable with this type of shady behavior. So, rather than accept the offer, I shared it with the Company rep on the 800 line, told the dealership I was doing so, and the dealiership (in writing) retracted their offer. What’s the kicker? The Company rep again said there was nothing they could do.

Now that my feelings about this Brand have dropped to subzero temperatures, I’m certain there’s nothing they could possibly do to convince me to buy another car a few years down the road. Today, Brands need to ensure a balance between Consumers and Customers to thrive. This isn’t 1970 … Consumers won’t let Brands get away with just taking the money and running.