A difficult shopping experience
I recently helped out a friend in the decision of purchasing a 0 km car. He was looking for a modern vehicle, with good safety equipment, adequate features, and a size suitable for the traffic and parking spaces in the City of Buenos Aires. My friend had great affection for the vehicle he was going to replace, so his expectations were high.
Stage 1: The choice
While in other countries choosing a car can be difficult due to the number of available models, in Argentina the lack of options creates a very particular scenario. High prices, overpricing, new vehicles being launched practically without stock, and contacts on web pages that do not respond, are extremely common.
Fortunately, a recommendation put my friend in the hands of a dedicated salesperson, and the 0 km to buy appeared after weeks of visiting car dealers and websites. The search had been exhausting, but my friend was full of expectations now that everything seemed to be on track.
Stage 2: Paperwork and more paperwork
Paperwork to be signed with practically no time to read it, records, certifications, and verifications with unanticipated costs, made this a tiring and stressful stage. Fortunately, a young employee helped him during this process. So far, the experience with the car dealer had been very positive.
Stage 3: Delivery
The car dealer company showed standardized processes for correct delivery. A first instruction took us to a desk to confirm the accessories purchased were in place, and a second one, to the payment window.
Afterward, we had to wait seated, in semi-darkness, next to a coffee machine in the corner and a television showing a video with heavy music. Fifty minutes later -the assigned shift time-, a friendly young lady led us to the pick-up location. The car was there and it was clear that all my friend wanted to do was to get in and drive it.
But, a scripted presentation, a box with a key chain, a pen, and a bottle of sparkling wine – gifts not expected on the other hand – and the signing of documents preceded the desired moment.
Our interlocutor then made the presentation of the vehicle; the location of the gas tank cap, the brand new logo design, and the size of the trunk were highlighted with great emphasis. Unfortunately, during the presentation of these features, we discovered the carpets in the trunk and the safety elements in the back seat.
At last, when we were finally able to get in the car, my friend could start the engine. But what followed was an excellent demonstration of superficiality and ignorance of our interlocutor about SUV systems. “This is new” he kept repeating, justifying his ignorance.
There was no time to even understand how to connect the cruise control. With an “I have many deliveries today”, followed by the request to complete a 3-question survey and a wish of luck, he left.
And he wished us well. As soon as we left the building, an audible signal made us look at the red light on the fuel reserve tank and hope that there was a service station nearby.
Stage 4: The customer journey continues
During the next two weeks, my friend received two more surveys, one over the phone and the other one, over the web. One of them was from the car dealer, and the other one from the factory, both with the same questions. His responses left no room for doubt about his dissatisfaction with the attention in the delivery and subsequent “noises” in the vehicle. But he did not have enough time to explain, nor did he have an interlocutor who tried to understand what he was talking about. He did not receive any other call to better understand his point of view, his misfortunes, criticisms, and suggestions.
When “good practices” don’t improve the customer experience
There are times when the experience is decidedly bad because nothing is properly thought out to make it better. Other times – and these are the cases that worry me the most – everything seems to work well and, however, the client does not perceive it that way. Does the client not value everything we do for him/her? Or, maybe, the established “good practices” do not add value to the customer? More importantly, are we clear about what the customer considers value?
In the case analyzed, there are good practices that is fair to highlight:
- Standardized process: An intentional design of the process, with clear and respected steps (shift assignment, confirmation, reception, payment, waiting time, receiving, entertaining, presenting the product, sending customer survey).
- Expected resources: Employees with clear roles and available resources (documents prepared, gifts ready).
So why was the customer experience not what my friend expected?
I share some ideas that could improve customer’s experience:
- Understand the experience from end to end: Analyze all the stages of the process (before, during, and after) and understand how the customer lives the experience. While for the car dealer the delivery process was over, for the customer it was just one more intermediate stage.
- Understand customer expectations: Why are they buying the product? What are the client’s aspirations? What does he/she expect? What is most important to him/her and what is only important to you? Does a bottle of sparkling wine make up for an empty fuel tank? Surely, for the car dealer the economic equation was worth it, but definitely for my friend it showed a lack of respect.
- Analyze the product vs. the promise: What have you promised the customer? Let’s take this case; for the customer, did the delivery of the product take precedence over administrative aspects or that 3-question survey? Go through all the details (for example, if you are selling a car that promises security, the security features in the wrong place represent much more than disorder).
- Train employees: It is not enough to train employees to follow the process or to be nice to customers. If you want differentiation, they need to have a deep understanding of why they do what they do and how to identify the customer archetype standing in front of them. They should also know each product -or service- in detail and be able to prioritize the experience over the “script” or the “process”.
- Take feedback seriously: Satisfaction surveys are a very powerful weapon to understand whether established practices add value to the customer or not, and what areas to improve. But the responses to a survey do not say everything the customer has felt, thinks, and will say to others. And much less, why he/she feels, thinks and says so. If you receive feedback that does not favor you, investigate further and understand better. Otherwise, you might be missing out on an excellent opportunity to show that your questions were sincere, to get them to value your response to their dissatisfaction even more than if everything had worked out correctly, and to learn how to improve the experience of future customers.
Establishing good practices to improve the customer experience is important, but it does not mean that you will necessarily achieve a better experience and greater customer satisfaction.
First of all, it is essential to understand who the customer is and constantly assess what is of value to him.
Second, make an effort to understand if established practices are adding or, conversely, subtracting value. As an organization, analyze if the product you are delivering is consistent with the promise and if your employees are sufficiently trained to provide a good experience.
Last but not least, establish mechanisms to incorporate and learn from your customers’ feedback. The evaluation and design of the customer experience do not happen once and for all, but must be continuous.
In short, establish practices to improve the customer experience but make no mistake: it is not what you do, it is what he/she perceives.
Author: Raúl Molteni