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!