Monday, April 9, 2012

A Tale of Marketing and Customer Service

Is there a connection between marketing and customer service? Should there be a connection? As a marketing and branding professional, my answer is an emphatic “yes.” But sometimes, I wonder how many businesses understand this connection.

Recently, I had an experience that, sadly, probably wasn’t too unique. All of the interactions lacked attention to customer service. If I had never heard that “the customer is always right” or “service with a smile” or knew that some companies pride themselves on their emphasis on providing excellent customer service (Zappos, Starbucks, Disney, etc.), I wouldn’t be so upset. But in today’s challenging economy, service is the one characteristic that sets a business apart from the competition.

Here’s what happened. I have a 10-year-old SUV that although it looks almost new, it lives outside instead of in the garage. As a result, its enemies include the weather, gardeners, and dirt. So, I use a cover, and it was time to get a new one.

Thanks to Google, I found four dealers within 25 miles of my home. I visited all four dealers websites and sent emails to each dealer’s parts department. I provided my vehicle’s model and year, and asked if each had the appropriate cover, and if not, where I might be able to order one. Since the vehicle is 10 years old, it is important to note that newer models are a different size (both length and width).

Here were the responses I received:

[1] One dealer sent an email indicating that it could not order the car cover since my vehicle was too old – but recommended that I check retail stores, such as, Pep Boys or Auto Zone. (Note, I checked several retail stores first before reaching out to the dealers and all suggested that I contact the manufacturer because they did not carry customized car covers - they only sold one-size-fits all covers, and they do not fit all vehicles.)

[2] The second dealer sent an email and asked me to call the parts department but did not provide the phone number.

[3] A third dealer sent an email thanking me for my inquiry and offered to assist me with buying a new vehicle – but totally ignored my request about the car cover. Here is a portion of the email that I received: “I would surely enjoy the opportunity to assist you in your vehicle selection and purchasing needs because we have the most extensive inventory of new and pre-owned vehicles of any dealer in Southern California.”

[4] The fourth dealer sent an email saying that my request would be forwarded to the right person and that I would receive a response shortly – but after a week, I had not received another email.

While it seems as if I were searching for the equivalent of a needle in a haystack, let’s consider the marketing opportunity. Had I been the employee who received the email request, I would have followed up with the manufacturer to determine the best option for obtaining the cover. If the manufacturer did not have the cover, I would have done some online research to find the cover that would fit the exact specifications of the customer’s vehicle. If I did not have the authority to authorize a purchase, I would have found the proper employee who had the authority. I would then have determined the price – either with a small percentage for the dealership or not – and let the customer know. If the customer agreed to the purchase, I would have taken care of purchasing it and then determined whether to deliver it to the dealership or the customer’s home.

Unfortunately, none of these dealerships offered any form of customer service, and as a result, they lost a customer. Think how happy I would have been to receive an email or phone call alerting me that a cover had been found. Since I definitely wanted to make a purchase and stated that fact up front, the dealer that located a cover would have won a customer for life. In addition, I would have been effusive with my word-of-mouth promotion for the successful dealer. Alas, no one stepped up – instead, my request was thrown aside as either unimportant or a waste of time.

Apparently, no one at any of these large and well-known dealers ever heard the saying from Ray Hiltz, “Customers are not an interruption to our work, they are the purpose of our work.”

What would you have done if you had received my email request?
Image Credit: Thanks to Ted Goff for use of his comic with this post. Check out his work at


  1. Service is that one thing that separates good and bad companies. You can have the biggest inventory, latest technology and slickest advertising, but unless you give excellent service, you'll never have community of customers.
    Appreciate the mention, Debbie, however can't take credit for that quote. It really was one that was pinned above our restaurant bulletin board. It's been around for a long time (as have I :-)

  2. Ouch you would have thought that you would have had a positive response from one out of the four.

    It never ceases to amaze me the lack of customer service initiative in most organisations. The outright sales pitch is the worst of all!

  3. I have to be honest, I am NOT surprised at all. I could see this happening at the dealer that I work for.

    I pride myself on great customer service that I give, but I can not speak for my co-workers. I am not making an excuse for them, but I can tell you EXACTLY what happened.

    Someone read your email, said "That car is 10 years old, we dont have that" That is about the end of it. I have never seen a parts department go out of it's way for anyone, even the mechanics that work there. That should really say "especially the mechanics that work there" :)

    The issue is, there are parts that can ONLY be purchased at the dealer. That can create an "elitist" type environment. They deal with customer that can not go anywhere else, body shops, shop mechanics, ect. They see it as "why should I do all this work for a possible $50 sale"

    I personally think it is crazy that dealers don't step up what they are doing. Again, let me be clear, I think they are in the wrong. It is not how I would have handled it. I live in this environment and I promise that is what happened.

    So, did you find your car cover? If you send me your car info, I can try and help find you one.

  4. Hello Debbie,

    Interesting post- My name is Jessica and I am with a company called Covers Direct. We sell car covers online and over the phone at

    If you had contacted our company, we would have requested your year, make, model, and any other pertinent information. We then would have offered you a custom cover available in 13 materials. We would have asked you what type of storage you planned on using the cover for, so we could determine what would be best for your purposes.

    We would have of course answered any questions you had, and done anything possible to ensure you received the best customer service possible. I am very sorry to hear that you had such a negative experience attempting to obtain a car cover. If you ever need anything in the future, please do not hesitate to contact us.

    1-866-626-8377 Monday-Friday, 9-5 EST

  5. It's sad to see that some companies STILL don't understand what proper when customer service is.

    One thing that comes to mind automatically after reading this post, is that if these dealerships are already failing at customer service through emails, God help them if/when they start using social media for their business.

  6. I appreciate all of the comments to this post - quality customer service is the characteristic that sets a business apart from its competitors and yields repeat customers. Here's an update to my quest for a car cover. Big thanks to Jessica from for her detailed comment to my post (due to a Google Alert for "car covers," which led to her note). I ordered a cover from her that fits my vehicle perfectly. Should I follow up with the four dealers and let them know? Sadly, they probably wouldn't care.


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