Learning from Bad Customer Experiences


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After two kids, two dogs, 11 years and 127,000 miles, our Honda Odyssey mini-van was tired. Her fenders were scraped, her back seat was nearly shredded and her engine was starting to make funny noises. We still have the two kids (plus carpool) and two dogs so it was time to get a new minivan.

After doing some research and test driving a few models, we settled on a Toyota Sienna. (Sorry, Honda, the idea of my son’s seat going through the back of mine and then both of us going through the windshield was too much to overcome. {Honda recall}. This is where the adventure begins …

First, the Toyota sales person didn’t know her own product. We flipped through the brochure and asked, “This says the DVD player only comes in the premium model. Is that right?” Don’t know. “Do I have to get the premium model to have the front bumper sensors?” Don’t know. “Can I use my phone to play Pandora on the car stereo?” Don’t know. At one point during the test drive, she was playing YouTube videos about the minivan on her phone to answer our questions. I kid you not.

Based on what we were hearing, we thought we might want the premium model. There was one on the lot so our sales person went to look for it. During the 20 minutes she wondered around the parking lot (maybe 50 cars on the whole lot), I asked questions of the other sales people who weren’t stalking the new customer arrivals. They didn’t know the answers either. To include, “How much does the premium model cost?”

Lost in Parking Lot

After eventually learning that the model we wanted to see was parked on the sidewalk next to the dealership entrance, we learned we could put together our own car using Toyota’s website. We notified our sales person we could do this from home, but she wanted us to meet her sales manager first. For some reason, you aren’t allowed to leave a car dealership without meeting the sales manager … ever.

My wife and I each built minivans using the Toyota website on our phones during the 25 minutes we waited for the sales manager. He never came out so we left. The sales person, who had gone in search of her own business card, ran after us in the parking lot. She said the sales manager was just about to come meet us. I suggested she tell him that he had lost the sale.

That night, the sales manager left us a voice mail. It went, “I understand the process took a little longer than you thought it should have. Sorry about that – we’re really busy this time of year. If you have questions you can call me back.” Seriously? Maybe a tiny apology would have been nice?

While miserable, the experience did remind me of some customer experience principles that I can apply to interactions with my own clients.

1. Know your audience and how they interact with your product
My wife and I have to be a “persona” that Toyota has already identified. Married couple with 2 kids who have short attention spans and need something to keep them occupied in the car. Parents want to be able to listen to music while kids watch movies/play games. Not only are we a persona, there are probably millions of us.

From a customer experience and sales training perspective, Toyota (and every business) needs to know what features are important to a common persona (or even what features are important for certain buyer characteristics). While “couple with two kids” may be obvious, the best way to create personas is through survey data. Ask needs/wants questions and see where your customer base falls out. More times than not, they drop into semi-neat categories so we can devise products and selling strategies to fit with each persona.

2. Provide customers with something they can’t do on their own.
If my wife and I can create customized minivans on our phones, our sales person should be able to do more than that. According to the Corporate Executive Board, 57% of a buyer’s journey takes place before a sales professional is involved. Buyers know more than ever before so we should enhance what they can do online, not make them repeat it. Apple does a nice job of this by enabling you to research online, providing sales reps in stores that show you how to use the device and then letting you pay without heading to a cash register line.

Couple on Phones

3. Follow up on customer complaints … nicely
Ombudsman Services related some stunning numbers on British citizens and I doubt North Americans are much different: 75% of people will be encouraged to make a repeat purchase if a complaint is dealt with carefully. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 92% of British consumers are unwilling to return to a brand altogether should it deal with a complaint poorly. Wow! To paraphrase Taylor Swift, I am “never, ever, ever getting back together” with that Toyota dealership.

Tick placed in a new hand written "the worst" checkbox on customer service satisfaction survey form

Instead, my wife and I went across town to the other Toyota dealership and bought a Sienna minivan the next day. The van was driven up from Charlotte and we drove it home 2 days later. It wouldn’t have been that hard to rescue us and have us return to the original dealership (after all, it was closer and they had access to the exact same vehicle) if the sales manager hadn’t been such a knucklehead.

Sometimes it takes bad examples to remind us of how to improve our own customer experience. As CX professionals, it’s easy to spot when things are going wrong, but sometimes harder to reflect on how our businesses may be doing the exact same thing. The “Toyota Experience” has made me look inward and change a few things within my own operation. I also found some good advice from Micah Soloman on how to win back loyalty from an angry customer.

Even those of us with the best intentions miss an opportunity to provide an awesome customer experience every once in a while. By seeing others fail and then evaluating whether or not we sometimes make the same mistakes, we can improve our customer’s experience before they feel the failure for themselves.

Image credits:
Sienna: https://www.toyotadirect.com/showroom/2017/Toyota/Sienna/Van.htm
Looking for car: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/please-feed-the-meters/
Couple on phones: http://www.today.com/series/wired/does-he-love-his-cellphone-more-you-survey-t47046
Survey: http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hub/576554/file-2971159483-jpg/blog-files/istock_000027420252large-150×150.jpg?t=1483552668964

Brian Doyle
Doyle Team Consulting
Brian has been designing and improving customer experiences for over a decade, Prior to discovering CX, Brian was VP of Marketing at Genworth and a 6 Sigma Master Black Belt at GE Capital. His career began in the US Air Force as a C-17 pilot. Brian has a bachelor's degree in Astrophysics from the US Air Force Academy and a master's degree in Systems Engineering from St. Mary's University.


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