How many service reps does it take to change a light bulb or lose a customer?


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I had a recent experience that got me thinking about what drives customer service and what causes failures of customer service. I took our Subaru in for its 45,000 mile service to the dealer where we bought the car and a pre-paid service plan.  When I checked in at the service desk, I mentioned there was a brake light out.  The service rep replied that changing the brake light wasn’t included in the pre-paid service. I asked the obvious question, “How much will it be?” At this point, the service rep turns to his colleague sitting in the next check-in desk and asked him the same question.  This service rep recounted all the steps involved in changing the light bulb and ended with “so it will be $60.”

I didn’t believe it could cost $60 to change a light bulb, even at the dealer’s service department. When I went to the waiting area I got on my smart phone. Within 5’ I had two quotes, including a $10 quote from another Subaru dealer in the area. This was not about the $60, it was about trust: We had been a good customer (bought the car here, bought their service pack), so why did I have to be on my guard over the cost to change a light bulb?

I went to the service manager’s office and asked him what it would cost to change a brake light in my Subaru make and model. He replied, “About $40-$45.”  I asked him why his service reps wanted to charge me $60, and I told him about my other quotes.  In the end they changed the bulb for free – but they lost our business.

Here are a couple customer service take-aways :

  1. If the service department had a process, if the service rep had simply looked in a book and read me out a price, I would have paid it.  In fact, when I called the other local Subaru dealer to get a quote that’s exactly what they did, “just hold a second, and I’ll look that up. It is $10.” It was the capriciousness of the price quote and the sense that they were trying to take advantage of me that eroded my trust.
  2. Whatever your business model, your brand is what customers remember. Clearly Subaru dealers operate differently and somewhat independently. But when I walk away with a bad experience it is Subaru’s brand that gets damaged. Take Zappos with its great return policy and its relationship with UPS. When I walk into my local UPS Store to return my shoes, they are clearly not happy about all the Zappos boxes they are processing. I come away thinking less of the Zappos return process because of the begrudging customer service at the UPS Store. Or take the smooth Apple store purchase of an iPhone 3GS and then the unpleasant experience of dealing with AT&T Wireless for international travel plans. AT&T came with the iPhone, so what they do is a reflection on the Apple brand. Bottom line: your business web impacts your brand, so take care that your employees and your partners reflect your brand values in their interactions with your customers.
  3. Subaru’s website list core values for their cars: “The core values of our all-wheel-drive product are safety, reliability, confidence, control, value and versatility.” If Subaru had a set of core values for its BRAND, beyond its cars, I expect my experience would have been very different.

Eric Jacques wrote a great post on “Building Trust and Delivering Customer Service” where he says, “People don’t trust companies; they trust other people. A great way of building that trust is through your customer service.”  Subaru lost my trust through a failure of customer service. Trust is hard to build and quick to lose.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Meri Gruber
Meri Gruber is the VP of Business Development at Decision Management Solutions. Decision Management Solutions provides consulting services in all aspects of Decision Management, predictive analytics and business rules. Meri blogs on the intersection of business execution and innovation at Competing on Execution.


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