Service – the Quick Way to Kill a Brand

I took my car for a service this morning – an experience that once again underscored just how easy it is to chase customers away and kill your brand.

Some background – I currently live in Dubai in the UAE, where the climate and conditions are not particularly vehicle-friendly, so that 4 wheel-drive vehicles such as mine need to be serviced every 5000 kilometres (3000 miles). Because the car is still under warranty this necessitates taking it to the dealership from where I bought it.

This particular vehicle, a Mitsubishi Pajero (also known as a Shogun in some markets) is extremely popular in the UAE – providing a well laid-out, spacious interior, good quality and reliability which is what one needs, especially when the temperature outside is somewhere over 45C. We greatly enjoy the vehicle. What I don’t enjoy is the regular service experience – and come the end of the lease period, I’d switch brands for this reason alone.

And this in a market where new car sales were some 82.5% down last year against 2008 according to ArabianBusiness.com. So you think the dealerships would be delivering exceptional service to maximise what few sales there are. Yet the Mitsubishi agents here seem to be oblivious to this simple approach, as today showed.

Yet, a pre-booked service that should take 30 minutes and be done while you wait, means being without a car for 11 hours – I take that car in at 7:30am and can only pick it up again around 6:30pm in spite of asking for it earlier (bigger services take 2-3 days with these people)!

What amazes me is that they seem to live in perpetual chaos. You book vehicles in advance, turn up at the specified time/day and they still seem to be unable to do the job quickly and painlessly because they’ve always got an unexpectedly full workshop. This sort of approach is, incidentally, quite commonplace here – service lets so many brands down (I have another still-unresolved issue with Bose).

What companies really have to recognise is that the after-sales service experience is one of the quickest ways to kill a brand. Customers are not – or should not – be a one-transaction experience. Lifetime value is what  companies need to focus on, as that’s where the real profits lie – repeat customers that become brand advocates. When are they going to understand this simple concept?

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15 responses to “Service – the Quick Way to Kill a Brand

  1. Valuable info. Lucky me I found your site by accident, I bookmarked it.

  2. I can’ agree with you more on your points regarding the concept of customer lifetime value – and what companies must do to achieve loyalty, advocacy and ideally – devotion and fanaticism! ‘Locking in’ customers just makes business sense. You take choice out of the purchasing equation if you deliver great service. Mitsubishi (and thousands of other companies here in the UAE) deserve Brand Onions for blatant disregard and disrespect of their customers.

    My experience yesterday was a polar opposite to yours. The Chrysler Jeep Dodge service centre that I use in Dubai delivers every time – and is a pleasure to deal with. They understand the customer experience from start to finish: the reminder SMS that your service is due, ease of booking in, the courtesy drop-off shuttle, call to advise any irregular work that is required, explanation of work done, payment, car wash and delivering value-for-money. Definitely a Brand Orchid!

    Looks like you should consider buying a Jeep?

    • Delighted to hear you have such a positive experience with Jeep, Lawrence!

      My son, Adam, has had a mixed response to their service – which branch do you go to?

    • I agree – I had a positive experience when I owned a Jeep.

  3. Not sure how it is now (because I stopped using their products) but when I lived in Brussels, I had this experience with SONY. I would buy a state-of-the art SONY camera or videocamera…after 4 months, something would break. I’d take it in to the EMEA service in Brussels. It would take 6 months to come back only after threatening phone calls and inveigling the PRESS DEPT. to call service. At that point, the product was no longer the latest model, no longer state-of-the-art and INVARIABLY after 1 month, something else would go wrong…

    Read about DELL here…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/technology/29dell.html?pagewanted=1&ref=general&src=me

    • Ouch – a pretty damning article, although I did love the excuse that the computers were failing because the university was over-taxing them with maths calculations 🙂

  4. If you are able to time your service with a visit to one of the smaller emirates, you’ll find the official service agents there have far fewer cars to service, therefore much faster! Happily, I’m in Fujairah…

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Torti. To be honest I only go to Fujairah sometimes on weekends for diving or other activities and it’s much too far to drive for a service. Frankly, it shouldn’t be about raw numbers of vehicles that have to be serviced in Dubai: more about having processes and procedures in place to cope with demand (after all, they sold the vehicles so know what’s on the road). Good customer service can’t exist without decent processes and procedures in place.

  5. You really should’ve listened to me and used @autoconvenience – these guys deliver the service they promise

    • Thanks, Mita – but it’s still under warranty so I have to use the official distributors…

  6. Mark Thompson

    I feel you pain Guy, unfortunately I experience this every 8 weeks, I also remember vividly the experience I had when purchasing the vehicle, I had better service when I bought a chocolate from a leading supermarket store at 9pm on a Friday. However what I can say is what a great vehicle, having 3 kids and the occasional visitor it really has been a great all rounder and good value for money.

    BTW I found a “better” service from their DIP branch, yes that could be debatable but even the slightest improvement or smile makes a difference.

  7. Agree with you Guy. However, unfortunately companies all over the world fail to give customers really good service. Surprising in this online world where customers just have to google them to read about other customers bad experience. They should learn from the Virgin Group that was built around fantastic service.

    • Thanks, Catarina. I can understand (although not excuse) smaller local brands not getting this concept, but you would think the global brands would zealously guard their image…

      However, it seems not.

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