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:
 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.)
 The second dealer sent an email and asked me to call the parts department but did not provide the phone number.
 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.”
 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 http://www.tedgoff.com.
Posted by Debbie Laskey, MBA