What Ever Happened to Customer Service
THE CUSTOMER IS NO LONGER RIGHT, NOT EVEN IMPORTANT
Whatever happened to the idea that a customer was important. I use the past tense because it certainly seems that today’s business operators think they can succeed without customers.
The old idea that the customer is always right appears to have been tossed out with the trash. I appreciate that customers are not always right, but the fact that they were customers used to provide a certain cachet that offered the benefit of the doubt.
Entrepreneurs seemed to appreciate customers. After all, you wouldn’t have much of a business without them.
But somewhere between the last generation of business owners and today’s crop of merchants and so-called service providers, customers seem not so important.
Take my recent experience for example. After losing a fight with a deer, my insurance company decided my car was a write-off. To quote them, “Your car isn’t worth fixing,” and they offered a payout.
When I asked, “What are my options?” They replied, “Take it or leave it.”
That left me scrambling for a set of wheels. I was not expecting such an expenditure, but I could not operate in my line of work without transportation.
It wasn’t bad enough that I lost the most comfortable car I ever drove, but now I had to shop with a tiny down payment and a sense of urgency.
I found a reasonably priced vehicle that would get me from A to B, but it was a big step down from my Kia Amanti to a Kia Soul, and yes, I know how funny that sounds for a cleric to buy a Soul.
It is roomy and accommodates my bad back, and it shoehorned, roughly, into my budget.
Just One Little Concern
Eight years old, still somewhat shiny, it seemed to have all its moving parts. The only deficiency I could find was in the newfangled Bluetooth connection that would let me use my iPhone while driving. It is a small thing, but if it offers me a convenience, it may as well work. With that, I was introduced to Atlantic Kia in Amherst.
A sales lady offered to help me on a weekend. She tried all the same things I had tried to get the car to pair with my phone. I even went further and actually followed the steps described in the owner’s manual. Alas, we failed, and she told me to come in on a weekday when “the boys could reset the system and get you going.”
So, on a Thursday, I presented my dilemma to the boys. Well, in fact, the service department was fronted not by the boys but by a girl. Like the saleslady before her, my new friend jumped from behind her counter and said let’s get you fixed up.
Within moments it was clear that this was a repeat performance. The service lady hit the same buttons and received the same results, or, more appropriately, the same error message, “The system is not ready, please wait.”
After a fashionably appropriate wait, we went through the steps again, and again, but to no avail. This was clearly a challenge for the boys in the backroom.
They took my key and offered me a coffee and a comfortable chair. I thought, “Finally we are getting actual service.”
One long, slow coffee, two checks of my email, and three new car brochures, I realized a half hour had passed. I went to the service desk and asked what was happening. I even said that I was concerned that if there was a charge, it may be more than the Bluetooth was worth.
With that, the service lady went into the verboten inner sanctum for an update. She returned to tell me that the technician was following my owner’s manual to set things right. I reminded her that I had already done that and that she had also followed me in that same procedure.
She responded that the technician was preparing an email to ask KIA for help, and they would ask what their people had done as if my attempts at following their very clear and simple instructions would somehow be invalid.
Another thirty minutes passed as their specially qualified technician composed his email. That only served to remind me of my high school days, when you had to choose between shop and typing. Perhaps if the “shop boys” had learned to type, they would have been better prepared for today’s tech economy.
Then came the pronouncement. My service lady announced the email has been sent. A response usually follows within 48 hours and once they heard, we could schedule a follow-up appointment.
My mind trailed off at the thought of a third trip to Amherst for a Bluetooth pairing of my car and my phone. While I was thankful that the car was capable of shuttling me back and forth, the cost was mounting.
We Charge for No Service
During my daze, my service lady was preparing my bill. She said the technician spent an hour and we charge $95 per hour for service. I interrupted to say that he was not able to provide service. “Yes,” says the cheerful front-counter lady, “But we have to pay him for his time.”
I had to bite my tongue. He spent his time reading my owner’s manual and following the same steps that failed me. The only thing he did differently was composing an email to Kia, something I am specifically trained to do.
I reminded the caretaker of the front desk that no service was provided. She agreed but restated, “We have to pay him for his time,” and with certain empathy dripping, she added that under the circumstances she was authorized to reduce the bill to $24.95 plus $2.50 for supplies, not to mention HST.
I wanted to ask what comprised the $2.50 in supplies, after all, the tech used my manual to conduct his research. But, I had already invested over an hour without results, and they had my car keys and my vehicle was entombed in that aforementioned inner sanctum.
An inner voice directed me to give them the $31.57 and get out of Dodge. For all I know, the desk lady may also be running her meter and while she also did nothing for me, I may have to pay for her time too.
Sadly, Atlantic Kia is not alone. They are just one of any number of enterprises that follow internal policies designed to maximize income, if not profit. They no longer understand that customers are the only source of income, and customers come to them for solutions, not excuses.
The very real irony in this story is that what I describe happened next to a five-foot poster extolling the virtues of seeking genuine Kia service instead of third-party suppliers. The sign asked who would you pick to provide your service?
If a service was actually provided, I would easily pick the one specifically trained to deal with the issue. But, and this is a big but, if we have to pay for his time even when he fails in his duty, then I will happily go somewhere else.