Saturday, June 05, 2004

Mo' Customer Service

I'm still in a state of shock about the CBS Evening News Coverage about my hybrid car experience. And yes, there's real ambivalence, since I'm such a passionate believer in hybrid-technology. How on earth do these things happen? For starters, dissatisfaction is "viral" in this age of web "transparency," and how companies manage customer relationships in times of trial can have a huge impact. Even little things can set the wrong impression and get things off to a bad start. Note how Honda doesn't even allow e-mail feedback on its own website, a major point of frustration for me when trying to initially articulate my mileage concern. Didn't help matters that I could only call customer service during the work-hours, which, like the absense of e-mail, seemed out of touch with today's consumer behavior -- this from a company that spends millions promoting a progressive, "in-touch" image to consumers with cars like the Element . As for the local dealers, they have been cooperative yet powerless, and I just sense there isn't a coordinated CRM strategy other than an ad-hoc "let me send this up the chain" approach. Ultimately, with input from my dealer, I shot a note to both Honda's VP of Sales and CEO of the Advertising Agency. For whatever reason, it took nearly a month to hear from anyone, but the gentleman who ultimately called (from the "Executive Office") was cordial, friendly, and empathetic...albeit not terribly conclusive. After several conversations, we decided it made sense for me to get a second opinion on my car -- this to see if my car is "abnormal." And so I'm dropping off my car on June 13 to Century Honda for yet another diagnostic. Fingers crossed.

But here's the rub. In all the time that it took to conclude a "second opinion" made sense (a four month process), my crazy hybrid experience -- which started, please remember, as a "love letter" to hybrid-technology -- weaved its way through a handful of newspaper stories, over 2000 internet posts, and the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. The most important takeaway for Honda is this: in the internet age, marketing and "customer service" share a critical symbiotic relationship, and poor experiences often cascade into highly-viral (albeit trusted) negative advertising. Ad agencies -- the #1 brand protector -- need to step out of their silos and start thinking more holistically about brand equity. Little obvious things like e-mail feedback -- or basic call center messaging -- should never be neglected on their watch. And they should make it clear to their management that folks like Pete Blackshaw who actually use and experience their products -- there are millions of us -- are far better (and more trusted) advertisers of their products than TV, radio, print, sponsorship, or whatever. There you have it!


At 2:46 PM, Blogger gregger said...

Hi there,
I got a little more information recently about our "Hybrid gas cap mileage increase" discovery. I was talking to a pump jockey up in Oregon (you are not allowed to pump your own gas there) and he was asking about our mileage in the Hybrid. I told him we usually get around 38-42MPG (my wife tends to get around 38 and I get 42, which is odd because I drive faster than she does... must be a technique thing).

Anyhow, I mentioned that one time we got a big improvement in mileage by having the gas cap unseated. Of course we had to look at the Check Engine light while this happened. The mileage spiked at around 52MPG consistently (the odometer and fuel gauge verified that indeed we were getting better mileage, it wasn't and instrumentation malfunction).

He verified this. He said that Subarus, Hondas, and Toyotas tend to get better mileage with the gas cap cracked open just a little. He theorized that the fuel-pump isn't able to move as much fuel into the engine with the decrease in pressure in the gas tank. He even had a technique to unseat it "properly" for me.

Have you tried asking about whether your fuel pump is overactive? Maybe it is getting too much voltage and pumping too much gas into your cylinders. You could be having an electrical issue with your alternator's internal regulator. It doesn't take much variation to make a significant difference in fuel flow. For example, on my other car, running a thicker wire to the fuel pump results in a better, more consistent flow at higher voltages.

Good luck...

At 9:17 PM, Blogger Matthew Wilson said...

I just got my Civic hybrid yesterday -- where's the internet community?

This blog and other blogs and rant-filled discussions on slashdot are a good start, but we need to take it to the next level. We need to start separating the wheat from the chaff. We need something like a wiki, or at least a mailing list or web forum, where users can post experiences and others can peer review. We need a way to invite hybrid owners to post their data and we can start doing our own analysis.

BTW, slashdot neophytes don't realize just how much of the commentary there is outright fabrication. There's an entire subculture of people that live to propagate lies about everything.

Finally, in a more conspiratorial note, PR firms have tried to hijack blogs and comment sites ever since the beginning. It's not crazy to imagine that just a few of the anti-hybrid commenters might really be marketers trying to alter public perception.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Liz Foreman said...

I'm glad I found your site, Pete. I, too, live in Cincinnati and although my husband and I are definitely buying a Civic, we were considering an '03 hybrid that is on the dealer's lot. Now I'll think twice, or at the very least, get a much better deal!

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of your hybrid experience. I have an Insight with over 40,000 miles. I have averaged 53.8 mpg since new in May of 2000. Last year the car was required to go in for a brain transplant because "the EPA decided there was a flaw in the emissions logic" The early Insights had a burned in memory, rather than a writable memory and the entire controller was changed out. Since then I have noticed that my mileage is 3-5 mpg less than before the change. I travel 10 miles to and from work daily and it appears that the change resulted in a longer warm up time. When it is over 65 degrees and the car is traveling on a trip of up to 60 miles, then I can get 70 mpg at highway speeds on the interstate. Southestern Pennsylvania is rolling hills and I have a 300 foot climb from the highway up to my neighborhood.

I also have found that the tire inflation is an issue. On the mileage frustration issue, it would be interesting to find out the mileage if the engine was maintained at a warm temperature (in a garage with an engine block heater).

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was reading your blog, and saw the second underlined phrase. I'm trying to figure out WHY you are such a passionate believer in hybrid technology. It isn't green! Not only isn't it green, but it uses valuable natural resources which our world needs to stop using. I have a car that runs on a mix of 30% hydrogen and 70% ultra clean methane. I will soon have a car that runs on 100% hydrogen with mileage around 60 mpg as it will be converted to direct injection. Then it will be a MINUS emissions engine which by far exceeds the hybrids and cng autos. In fact, it will be way ahead of the 2010 fuel cell cars also. This is the way to go, not hybrids that use gasoline. When it is converted to 100% hydrogen, it will cost me about 1.25 equivalent gallon. Right now, the 30% mix is 1.52. Normally, hydrogen could cost 10-16 bucks a gallon but where I get it they make it much cheaper and don't gouge me like some places may. Anyway, I hope this educated you a little. It is your choice which way you choose to go. However, there are consequences, good and bad, that go with our choices. I know I have made a "good" choice. Thanks for allowing me to comment. :)

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