Monday, September 20, 2010

Service Not Surveys

Lately it seems like you can't shop anywhere without being asked to fill out some survey.  The ones that drive me crazy are "Customer Satisfaction" surveys.  Maybe I'm cynical, but I swear there is an inverse correlation between the length of the survey versus the quality of service delivered.

A case in point: I own a Subaru SUV and overall I'm pretty happy with both the car and the the dealer.  In fact, this is my second Subaru from this dealer.  They had a nice no nonsense sales process.  No "I have to get approval from the sales manager" baloney.  But happy as I am with the sales side, I'm less than impressed by their service department.

A few weeks ago, I was driving down Highway 101 when my "check engine" light flashed on.  Normally, I ignore these as it usually turn out to be something minor, like a malfunctioning knock sensor.  But in this case, Subaru tied it to several other idiot lights. The end result was my dashboard flashing like a Macy's Christmas display.

Fortunately (or so I thought), I was only two exits from the dealer.  What luck!  They should be able to figure out quickly whether or not this is a real issue or the usual trivia. For those of you familiar with the "check engine" light problem, you know that it takes a mechanic about a minute to plug a handheld device into the car and diagnose what the potential causes are.

I pulled into the dealer service department.  Now this is the same group that advertises its concierge type service, white glove treatment, free car wash after every service etc. to justify their premium prices.  This is also the dealership that routinely sends out an annual "customer satisfaction" survey.

The service representative was busy so it took several minutes to get his attention.  No big deal;  after all I'm a drop in.  But once I finally got his attention and described the problem, instead of just plugging a handheld device into the car and figuring out whether I was going to need real service or not, I got some sob story about how busy they were and did I want to be scheduled for an appointment next week? "Maybe, " I replied but first I wanted to know if it was potentially something for which is was worth scheduling an appointment.  The dealer is ten miles from my house; an appointment involves dropping the car off for the day and arranging for a ride to and from work.  I also have to find a day when I don't have any off-site meetings.  This is not something I want to do if it turns out to be a faulty knock sensor or some other triviality.

No luck.  The guy wouldn't budge.  So I didn't schedule an appointment and drove off.

Later that day, I decided to visit the Jiffy Lube four blocks from my house, where I get most of my routine (and substantially cheaper) service done, on the off chance they might be able to diagnose the "check engine" light.  Again, all the mechanics were busy, but the manager took the time to stop what he was doing and talk to me.  Thirty seconds later, he has a handheld plugged into my car.  A minute later he asks me to pop the gas cap cover.  He twists the gas cap into the fully locked position and resets the light.  Problem solved.  He then explains how a missing or loose gas cap is a common cause of a false "check engine" lights without once even implying that I'm idiot for leaving the gas cap loose.

Talk about two totally different ten minute interactions.

Being in the service business myself, it once again reminded me that customers are PEOPLE, not an abstract marketing profile, how important it is to treat people as you with to be treated and how important these little interactions are to keeping customers (i.e. PEOPLE) happy. In Subaru's case, while I love the cars, you can bet I'll continue to look for alternatives to their very expensive service department.  In the case of Jiffy Lube, that manager once again cemented a 15+ year customer relationship.  I should mention, that this is not the first time this group has done some little extra for me that keeps me coming back (on top of their quality work and fair prices).

And its not just in service businesses where this is important.  It is the rare product that requires zero support.  If you analyze your product from a whole product standpoint, you'll see lots of places where a support person at your company needs to interact with a real live human being that is a customer.  SaaS ("software as a service") has been touted as one area where everything is customer self service, but I've found that nothing is further from the truth.  The good SaaS companies understand this.  For example, one of the reasons I like Intuit Payroll (formerly Paycycle) is that their chat help line is great (and I hate chat and instant messaging).  It's convenient, timely, and so far, they've always been able to solve my issues. Think about that if you're a SaaS company striving to reach that magic +90-95% renewal rate that seems to be a threshold for survival.  And in addition to being critical to retaining customers, good service can be a formidable barrier to entry for smaller companies, difficult to replicate by a larger, more bureaucratic competitor.

Now in this case, both Jiffy Lube and Subaru have customer satisfaction surveys.  Jiffy Lube's was a quick online thing which I was happy to fill out.  Subaru's is an annual booklet and bubble chart questionnaire that I expect will arrive in the next few months.

I've scheduled it for an appointment  with my round file.

1 comment:

  1. As a writer, this is wonderful information to have. Great article and review of online surveys. Thanks for the survey.

    Customer Satisfaction Survey Questions