We recently wrote about the rather noteworthy Customer Experience of Thomas O. Jones (the Harvard Business School professor and renowned author, not the singer).
To refresh your memory – Tom was driving his BMW home from its regular service when he lit a cigarette. Upon attempting to flick the ash into the car’s ashtray, he was horrified to discover that the garage had removed the ashtray’s inner part to clean it but had forgotten to replace it.
After calling BMW from his home and failing to find a resolution, he set about getting in touch with competitor brands. Within an hour, a young employee from Lexus appeared at his door with the missing part, having scavenged his own car to source a replacement. Professor Jones became a loyal Lexus customer from that moment onward.
My experience with Lexus was rather different. I knew that Lexus had a sterling reputation for the level of attention they dedicate to their customers, so one gloomy Sunday afternoon my wife and I made our way to a nearby Lexus dealership with sky high expectations. Eager to experience the warm embrace of the customer-focused sales team, I stepped through the door in anticipation, but it became immediately apparent that something was not quite right.
Besides several salesmen sitting at their desks or chatting amongst themselves (and a greeter standing at a podium), the place was devoid of life.
The salesmen quickly resumed what little they had been doing some time prior to my arrival while the greeter avoided my gaze. Sensing that my ethnicity had not met their approval, I walked over to the greeter and asked if I could speak with a salesman.
“Is there a particular car that interests you?” She replied.
“Why, yes,” I said, pointing to a slick model sitting in the showroom. She summoned one of the salesmen over who, while making no effort to actually sell me the car, politely answered my questions. Feeling slightly more at ease with my surroundings, I asked to take it for a test drive. At that moment, the salesman began to dither and told me to wait a minute. He made his way over to the greeter and they whispered in hushed tones before, finally, she walked over to us and asked if we had an appointment.
“Of course not,” I said in surprise, having never heard of such a practice. At risk of stating the obvious, I pointed out that there were no other customers in the building, and the salesmen were not otherwise busy.
“Well,” she asserted, “you’ll still have to make an appointment.”
“Okay, how about I book one for five minutes from now?”
“No, you’ll have to go home and call back, but not until tomorrow,” she insisted. Needless to say, the gap between our expectations and our perception of the experience was enormous.
Whether this approach was driven by personalities or process, one can only surmise, but either way I took the hint. My wife and I left in a quiet rage, deciding to try the Infiniti dealer in the next town. As we arrived, the sun broke through the clouds; an auspicious omen. A courtly older salesman greeted us at the door and asked how he could help. Motioning towards the car that caught my eye, I took the plunge and asked that fateful question again: “can I take it for a spin?”
“Of course you can,” he intimated, seemingly surprised that I was asking permission. “In fact, why don’t you ask your wife to drive your car home and you take this one. Live with it for a day or two, then bring it back when you’re ready or call us and we’ll come and pick it up from your house.”
Which brand do you think I opted to pledge my loyalty towards from then onwards?
In trying to establish a pervading culture of customer focus, manufacturers and providers face special challenges with their brokers. Lexus had been successful in that regard many times before, but in this instance, they came up short.
Next time you think you have set up a ‘customer friendly’ front-of-house process, it is worth testing that the process, and its execution, demonstrates your company values and allows a level of flexibility to meet customer needs in the moment. Know your customers’ expectations and communicate them to staff continuously.