For The Sake Of A Clean Car


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Since I don’t currently belong to the 1% of über wealthy, money right now is tight and so expenses like car servicing are unwelcome.

I have a newish car and still hold to my original plan conceived in more affluent times: I’ll swap it out every three years rather than drive it into the ground as I did my beloved Jeep.

My Irrational Attachment To A Brand Experience

Getting the service book stamped by the dealership which sold me my eco friendly 4×4 with a sound system that made it all worthwhile, even although the £600 hydraulic bike carrying system languishes unused in the garden shed – (a stupid up-sell I perpetrated on myself) is all part of the plan.

That said, I know I’m paying for the whole dealership’s lifestyle whenever I look at the org chart in the visitor’s lounge. This starts with the Franchise boss and cascades over four levels of authority before we meet someone called Assistant Paint Maintenance Service Person. Hmmmm.

At this point I wonder why I’m here and how much of a sucker I’m being. The coffee isn’t that good anyway and it’s irritating me I can’t find a spoon easily. The alternative is Chalky White’s. A typical garage at the back of an industrial estate, run by people who know their stuff, are polite and somehow belong to the community in a way the franchises never seem to.

I ponder, “Does the caché value of that dealership stamp really translate into better resale value?” I realise that I haven’t a clue!

So here I am post service, about to experience the explanation as to what I’ve spent my money on and why I should feel good about it. The service manager comes front of counter to talk to me side by side. He lays out the paperwork in front of us. Smooths it down. Looks at me and then smiles. Already I know I’m about to be BSed.

Customer service training has meshed with his more instinctive sales skills to produce the kind of practiced sympathy that lawyers have learnt to affect while informing you the house was left to your younger brother though the beach hut is happily now yours!

The Tedium Of Monologuing – Blah, Blah, Blah

He does not disappoint in this respect. The service checklist looks impressive with lots of boxes filled in. We go through every item. “The brake pads and tyres are still good for another stretch, so no extra costs there,” he concludes with a grin as he watches himself land the first customer benefit of the debrief.

On he goes with his well rehearsed story of reasons to be happy. The person who serviced my car, presumably one of the Senior Non Specialist Mechanics that appear two classes down from the Franchise Director, had apparently worked extra hard; that is beyond the presumably taxing task of visual inspection and hooking up the car to the automated diagnostics program. He’d concluded that the smell of burning rubber was not a lack of brake pads but a slipped clutch which he had now reset.

This was communicated to mean the problem I’d originally mentioned on the phone before booking in the service was now over with. No ‘try it and see if the problem is fixed, if not come back’ routine. More a declaration of closure on the issue from his point of view. In other words my money was spent.

I started tuning out from the benefits monologue and instead focussed on understanding what all the ticks and squiggles on the piece of paper meant. I worked out that I was paying for an oil change, some low cost swap outs and a visual inspection, whatever value that actually held. This conclusion did not feel too good in relation to the price clearly typed in the bottom right hand corner.

But before my mood was allowed to deflate completely, I heard him crescendo with the declaration that both outside and inside had been completely cleaned free of charge. The org chart had not even identified such a junior, non revenuable job. But at least that was one thing that actually mattered to me. One less job at the weekend in the freezing weather.

After we shook hands , I left feeling the need to consciously justify to myself that at least I’d got the service done. I’d certainly not left with a skip in my step from any surge of natural happiness at buying something great. Even that didn’t last. In fact it vapourised the moment I saw the car. Dirty on the outside, still strewn on the inside with dropped fragments my sixteen month old daughter had left behind.

Now You’ve Gone & Done It

Till that moment, I was ready to overvalue something as simple as a good car wash. The guys at the dealership had always managed to make it shine without any smudges or watermarks. Something my amateur weekend attempts always failed at. That alone could have justified the service price. For me at least, in a grudging kind of a way.

But no, this blew my goodwill out of the water. Throwing grenades I re-ran the debrief. Had he in fact known the real situation as he was saying it? Did he care? Certainly not enough to check first. I drove off upset, ready to make long term servicing plans with Chalky White.

A day later the phone rang. Why of course it was the post service customer satisfaction call. How very customer focussed! I agreed to talk.

In retrospect I can’t imagine why. There were three questions with only one outcome the person was happy to accept. You guessed, that was the top score of ‘excellent’. Through clever re qualification, blatant vocal bias and feigned disappointment at my uncleaned car, she notched up the highest score she could muster from me.

I’m sure that’s the way she’s been trained. No doubt everyone on the org chart takes a clip when the scores are submitted to the manufacturer who will happily pay out on such strong C-sat scores.

Customer Sat Tells You Zippidy Do Dah

And those at HQ 6,000 miles away, such as the global director of customer experience and engagement, will be none the wiser that on the other side of the world they’ve just lost a service customer and possibly a brand customer when I finally part with the Honda.

Martin Hill-Wilson, Hill-Wilson
Customer Service, CX & AI Engagement Strategist - Chair, Keynotes & Masterclasses. Brainfood is an advisory and education service. Advice in terms of co-designing practical engagement strategies that balance customer and business needs. These are orchestrated from a blend of live assistance, self service and proactive contact using whatever optimised mix of voice, text and video works best across realigned customer journeys.


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