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How To Ruin A Great Customer Experience

by David Brock on October 31st, 2014

I took my car in to be serviced the other day.  The dealership has done a fantastic job in designing a great customer experience.

I made my appointment online, it was easy to choose a time that was convenient for me.  The day before they sent me a reminder and introduced me to “Dale,” my service advisor.

I showed up at the appointed time.  Since my car is web-enabled, apparently it had been “talking” to the service department even before I arrived.

Dale met me, greeted me pleasantly, then said, “This is what we need to do to the car today, are there any other problems or things we should look at?”  There were a couple small things I asked them to do, Dale cheerfully handled it, put me in a loaner and I was able to go on with my day.  The whole thing took about 10 minutes.

That afternoon, Dale called me to tell me the car was almost ready, it was being washed and detailed (I hadn’t asked for that).  He said both the normal service and the couple of things I had mentioned were completed.  I picked up the car, actually earlier than they had promised, it took me about 5 minutes at the dealership.

All in all, an absolutely effortless experience.  I was very happy.

Then things started going downhill.  By the time I had gotten back to the office (about 20 minutes), I had an email from the dealership asking about my experience and telling me to contact them if I was dissatisfied in any way.  They also gently reminded me the manufacturer might be contacting me and they would appreciate my giving them the highest rating.

These used to annoy me, I always thought, “I’ll rate it the way I want to, I don’t need to be told.”  Funny, I was intending on giving them a very high rating, but was a little annoyed about being told what my experience was.

Yesterday, I got a call from someone at the dealership.  Fortunately, I let it go into voicemail.  It was someone else from the dealership checking on my experience and informing me I would be getting a survey from the manufacturer, they would appreciate an outstanding evaluation if I was so inclined.

Yesterday, I also got two follow up emails, one from the service manager, one from the owner of the dealership.  You can guess what they said.

Finally, this morning, as I was wondering what I would write about today, I got another email.  Yes, you guessed it.  I’ve got it, I don’t need any more reminders or encouragement.  I don’t need another person to check to make sure I was absolutely delighted.  No, there isn’t anything else the can do–except to stop asking about my customer experience.

I still haven’t heard from the manufacturer.  I know those emails should start any day now.  I hope they have a comment section.

Too many organizations are like that.  I guess marketing automation technology has made it awfully easy to let loose a stream of emails checking on my customer experience.

It seems really ironic that organizations can take a great customer experience and convert it to an awful experience just by asking you about your customer experience.  I wonder who talks to the customer experience experts to tell them about the experiences they create?

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  1. Great post, Dave

    Your experience highlights an area I address with clients when it comes to developing sales compensation plans. The reason for all of this follow-up is that many car companies changed their compensation model to reward employees based on client satisfaction surveys. The intent was right, but they did not think it all the way through. Compensation plans drive behavior, which in this case, leads to badgering clients for positive surveys.

    When companies don’t fully think through compensation, the law of unintended consequences takes over.

    • Thanks Lee, I know the dealers are compensated based on the responses, but, as you suggest, it’s really driving behaviors that are counterproductive or manipulative. I don’t really blame the dealers, it’s really driven by poor thinking from the manufacturers.

  2. Good post, Dave.

    Reminded me of when my daughter bought her car. The sales person said pretty much the same thing…”You’re going to get a survey and I’d appreciate it if you would answer positively” Seriously?!?

    I lose a lot of respect for companies their people when they try to influence our feedback.


    • Thanks Kelley, it’s really a demonstration they care less about customer experience and more about manipulating responses.

  3. Dave,

    Great post. Why oh why do companies so transparently force their employees to pimp themselves out? They’re suborning loathing on the part of their customers.

    What’s REALLY interesting to me is that, up to this point, I had seen this kind of behavior manifested by Verizon, JPMorganChase, and various tech support lines. In other words, the kind of mass retail thinking that I would fully expect to deliver fake customized service, not the real kind.

    But from what you’re saying, it has now infected higher end car companies (BMW, Lexus, I’m not sure which you’re talking about). Which says the rot has reached the high end.

    Who’s next, Neiman Marcus? Apple?

    Will no one rid us of this selfish, narrowly-conceived, rats-chasing-cheese approach to business organizational life?

    Come on leaders, get a grip: all you have to do is pretend you’re an employee or a customer, and ask how you’d like to be treated. If you can remember.

  4. Seth Dustin permalink


    As an employee at an auto dealership maybe I can explain from a different perspective why this is. The manufacturer sends out a CSI email to customers after service visits and after there purchases and rates on a scale of 1-10. 1-9 on any question means you have failed at your job completely and we actually have money deducted from our checks as a result of “bad” CSI. I get it is annoying to you and the follow up does sound like too much but I was raised that you can always do better and typically would never mark anyone as a 10 unless what they did was truly amazing. I would not mark someone who did well a 9 if I was aware that it could possibly cost them $1000, possibly 1/4 to 1/3 of there monthly income. We are not allowed from our end to explain any monetary consequences to the consumer and if you don’t ask people typically grade between 7-10 when we have done a good job. After all a 7 does represent a C and forgoing anything exceptional that would mean you did pass right?

    • Seth, thanks for the great comment. I’m really sympathetic to the dealerships. The manufacturers have set a system that forces the dealerships to do things that create the bad behaviors I’ve outlined. I actually tend to be cynical about the manufacturer’s motivation on this, thinking it is more manipulative than anything else. In the case of this manufacturer (I’ve had their cars for over 20 years), they’ve always had a manipulative view (before email, they would have pre-filled our surveys available at the dealership).

      If they were genuine about learning about customer experience and improving it, then they wouldn’t reward or penalize dealers and customer for honest feedback. If a dealership is getting consistently bad feedback, then that’s important to know, but a single negative response should not drive the penalties it does. It’s only natural for dealers to act as they do, when the manufacturer treats it this way.

      Thanks so much for the explanation.

  5. As someone who has worked for dealerships, consulted on Internet Sales Process and sold services to dealerships over the past 15 years, I totally understand your frustration and agree 100% that the dealership made too many attempts to “convince” you to complete the manufacturer survey as 100%, but let me explain why:

    A lot of the dealership’s bonuses from the factory and Award-level certification are tied to the overall performance score of those aggregate surveys. It’s clearly worth significant dollars to have perfect scores, based on the dollars the dealers invest in prepping the customer for how they hope they’ll answer the survey.

    Here’s the problem. The manufacturers consider any score other than perfect an overall failure for the dealership on that survey, which can be difficult if not impossible for the dealer to recover from by the end of the scoring period. If the dealership only gets 6 surveys with 3 at 5 stars and 3 at 4 stars, that dealer only has a 50% success rate, which the manufacturer considers horrible, and costs the dealer huge money in factory incentives and could cost them Presidents Club. The dealership is running scared from the factory, because any score other than perfect costs them big.

    If the dealer has a several months in a row like that, it could potentially cost them their franchise, as part of the agreement is tied to maintaining customer satisfaction at a minimum overall level.

    It sucks that they went so far overboard, but that’s why.

    • Adam, thanks for the great explanation. As I said in my response to Seth, the manufacturers are really driving the wrong behaviors in their reward systems. It is a shame because both they and the dealers really don’t learn and improve based on legitimate feedback from customers.

    • Unfortunately, “overboard” is built into the system. Inviting customers to “understand” the dealers’ unfortunate predicament doesn’t help anyone, and just invites more guilt-driven behavior by customers.

      The only solution available to customers, which I now choose all the time is to completely refuse to participate in this suborning of perjury, “give-or-we’ll-shoot-this -dog” perverted system. I am delighted to take time explaining to any dealer or manufacturer why I refuse, but I’m damned if I’m going to contribute to this charade.

      I urge any dealer to protest the inhumane role the manufacturers are forcing on them. It’s like putting rats in a maze, then blaming the customer for not pulling back the levers to dispense cheese. Opt out!

      • Charlie, I pretty much feel the same way you do. I take a different tact (just got my survey for this particular experience yesterday). I use the survey comments to express my displeasure over this manipulation. I also shamelessly refer to this blog and the 1000’s of readers in those comments. Perhaps if enough of us started doing this, we would actually have an impact.

      • Unfortunately, Charlie, that protest will, in the long run, lead to them losing their franchise to someone who is perfectly content to comply with the manufacturers’ wishes. The protest needs to be against the car companies themselves that force the dealers to undertake such ridiculous practices.

        • CarBiz, I do sympathize with the dealer in that case, which is why I’d go out of my way to volunteer to send my position on to the manufacturer, who really is more to blame than the dealer.

  6. John Battin permalink

    Great Post! I had a similar experience when I purchased a new Mazda in 2013. The sales person told me that if they don’t get a perfect satisfaction rating, he would not get his monthly bonus. He was serious. Then the pile on, the service manager said the same thing when I picked up the new car, the sales manager called to ask for a perfect satisfaction rating, on and on.

    • Thanks John, it’s amazing, so many manufacturers do exactly the same thing. Rather than creating a great customer experience, they motivate the dealers through fear, incentives. They destroy what they are trying to achieve.

      • To me, the horror at the heart of is the whole system is built around guilt-tripping the customer! How wrong is that!?

  7. Ray leger permalink

    My question about the survey is this. Aren’t all those scores relative? I know one business owner that when he walked in our store for his cell phone repair years ago, if there was a lineup, he would walk past the line up and demand to be served before everyone else due to his attitude of self entitlement.
    If we politely told him “I’ll be with you in just a moment, I have to finish this work order from the previous client”, he would either be in your face, or leave and call the owner claiming he waited for 30 minutes when there was no one else in the store.
    All businesses would fail if that was the most consistent type of client.
    Then if you have a client like my wife and I, went through some financial struggles the first 9 yrs of our marriage, and walking in a dealer for a new car with the attitude “we’ll buy what we’re approved for” with a great sense of “any attention we get is awesome” knowing we won’t walk out with a $60 000 BMW. Probably more like the $15 000 left behind demo.
    The first situation, for waiting 10 seconds longer than “they thought” they should have waited, you fail.
    With us, we would have waited 30 minutes if we knew we were going to get approved and would have scored a 10 just for the fact that we’re driving out in a new car.

    These scores are terribly misleading first of all. Second, they are not 1 size fits all. There is absolutely no context on what situation may have risen when a low score was given, or when a high one was given.

  8. I wouldn’t say in this example that marketing automation has gone too far, the automation failed if anything to prevent the over contact in the first place – that’s one of the ways well planned automation works in your favour, they should have set up rules based on type and frequency of contact to prevent annoyance.

    What is sad, is that the key element missing from this companies customer experience strategy was sincerity, they gave you a good service so they could be recognised by those they were seeking approval from, not it appears for the pure satisfaction of providing you with great service. They were clearly looking in the wrong direction, what makes manufacturers happy is higher orders, you get increased sales if you make CUSTOMERS happy! On a positive note, at least you had a great initial experience which is a step in the right direction.

    • Amanda: Thanks for your comment. The core issue in this article, as you point out, is really a strategic issues about the kind of customer experience they want to create—over the entire customer experience. So they took a great customer experience and cheapened it to the point that I was very unhappy.

      I don’t think this was a marketing automation issue, their marketing automation worked brilliantly. It just didn’t produce the outcome they wanted–that’s because of the bad strategy.

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