Feeling Deflated


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One of my friends recently took delivery of a new car.  When I asked him about it, he went into a long rant about its lack of a spare wheel (as with many cars these days, it has a can of tyre sealant in the boot instead of a wheel).

It’s understandable that many vehicle manufacturers no longer routinely include spare wheels in new vehicles – they weigh a reasonable amount, which hurts fuel consumption, and take up space.  In addition, punctures are generally much rarer than they used to be and roadside recovery services often carry universal-fit spare wheels with them, which can be used to get you to your destination, or have other means to get you mobile again.

However, my friend didn’t like the idea of not having a spare, because he drives a lot and didn’t want to risk being stranded, late at night, miles from anywhere, which is understandable.

As he told his story, I was tempted to point out that his car also wasn’t equipped with a starting handle and he’d be stranded if his battery went flat, but thought better of it.

I find all of this a bit odd – and sad.  On the one hand, this customer must have liked the original dealer and new car enough to actually buy it.  On the other, the dealer clearly didn’t do a very good job when diagnosing the customer’s needs in the first place, or in trying to fix the problem and keep the customer happy immediately after the sale.  It should also be said that, however tedious it may be, it’s always worth checking exactly what you’re getting and reading the small print.

Most strikingly for me, though, was the amount of emotion which this event generated in this customer – enough for them to walk away from a significant new purchase. Part of me wonders whether that’s actually reasonable.  I realize that brands make big promises in their marketing and there’s an expectation that those promises should be honored.

Life, though, isn’t perfect and things go wrong from time to time.  Yes of course organizations should do their best not to make mistakes and to put things right when they do.  However, it worries me that some adult consumers have become spoilt and ‘infantilized’ – always expecting life to mirror the adverts, and sulking when they (almost inevitably) don’t get what they want – a situation aggravated by ever-greater brand promises and media which encourages people to be hugely self-centered.

On a related note, there is some evidence that recent changes to UK consumer laws, which set limits on the number of times and length of time over which repairs may take place, have resulted in an increase in customers making unreasonable requests.  I get the impression that for some people, complaining is just a form of entertainment; I even wonder, in some cases, if it fills a void in otherwise lonely or unfulfilled lives.  After all, complaining to an organization will, at least for a short time, ensure sympathetic exchanges between one person and another.

Anyway, coming back to problems which are easier to fix from a marketing point of view, the lessons I take from this particular example are:


  • Vendors should make sure that they consistently cover the basics and don’t try to skip over details – it’ll end in trouble. Consumers are (or consider themselves) more knowledgeable than they once were, but may make odd assumptions
  • Communications – is what is being promised realistic? By ‘realistic’ I mean is it well-defined and can it be consistently delivered to a good standard?


  • Consumers should try to be ‘good customers’ – to be reasonable and be prepared to co-operate with the organization they’re dealing with. Setting up an organization for a test and seeing how they deal with it, just for ‘fun’, should be a warning sign
  • Those who find themselves bogged down by petty problems and using the phrase ‘I know it’s a first world problem, but…’ need to get out more – literally. For example, working with charitable organizations can be a real eye-opener and put one’s own problems into perspective; it’s also a great way to be and feel valued.

Perhaps they could even check their tires before they set out.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Charles Kirk
Charles Kirk is an Account Director at MaritzCX, and has been a CX professional for a quarter of a century. He started his career in small generalist agencies that gave him a great grounding in research methods and customer behaviour. His first love is the automotive sector, which he has worked in for the past 15 years. Charles is interested in customers' motivations and behaviour and the challenges which manufacturers, importers and dealers face in attracting and keeping their customers. He is a member of the Market Research Society and the Customer Experience Professionals Association.


  1. Hi Charles

    A interesting challenge for your colleague and the automobile manufacturer. However, I am firmly on the side of your colleague on this one.

    Unfortunately a tyre sealant and inflator do not offer the same solution to a flat as a spare tyre. In Europe, practically all cars come with a full-size rim and tyre as standard. If you use a tyre sealant and inflator it is only intended to get you as far as the next dealer, not to allow you to carry on your journey as a full-size rim and tyre would. Worse, the tyre sealant is only intended for minor repairs on the tread of the tyre, the dealer will charge you extra for cleaning inside the tyre, valve and rim, and the tyre manufacturer may even void warranty on the tyre. Not exactly a good solution in your hour of need. We should see automobile manufacturers putting tyre sealant and inflators in new cars – instead of a full-size rim and tyre – for exactly what it is; a sneaky way to reduce costs. The manufacturer gets all the savings. The customer gets a load of new hassle interrupting their journey, none of the cost savings and a whole load of new tyre cleaning and replacement costs added on top.

    Personally, not having a spare tyre in a new car would be grounds for not buying the car.

    Graham Hill


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