Unfortunately we needed to buy three new sets of tires in 2010. Two of the sets being replaced were original tires and averaged about 30,000 for the two sets. One was a replacement set which had promised 80,000 miles. I got less than 20,000 miles. The original tires on that car went over 50,000.
We were in another state when I called the tire dealer and told him that I was going to have to replace the tires early. He told me that in order for the company to honor my warranty I would have to bring the old tires back in the car with me, and that the company would only give me a pro-rated credit towards new tires.
I thought about it a moment and told him that the last thing I wanted on my car was more of his crappy tires. I bought the new tires to replace those through Oak Grove Shell Station in Roanoke, Va.
In fact I ended up buying all three sets through them. It probably cost me a little extra, but I think it was worth it. Since we have been using them for over twenty years, they actually know our names, and even more importantly, they value our business. I haven't been back to the other tire dealer though I am sure he had little control over the warranty.
I had a problem with one of the remote sensing valve stems on one of the tires installed by the folks at Oak Grove Shell. Once again we were in another state. The repairing dealer told me that you cannot take one of those stems off and put it back which is what he thought happened.
The repair wasn't very expensive, but it was annoying since I had to wait a day for the part. The next time I visited Oak Grove Shell, I casually mentioned the problem, not to complain, but just to let them know a little something had gone wrong. When I came back to pay my bill for rotating and balancing tires, the bill was zero.
Here was a small local retailer doing exactly the right thing to keep my business. Many big businesses have forgotten how to take care of their customers.
I have written about some terrible experiences with Volvo and with Maytag. We had a prefectly good Volvo destroyed by inept service people at the local dealer. Of course Volvo also promised to pay us for the repairs on the fuel injection system, but agressively fought a class action suit on the same issue. They lost, but we had already gotten rid of the car.
We have had multiple problems with Maytag products including a brand new dryer which sounded like it was going to explode the first time it was turned on by the installation team. Their response was that someone would have to come and fix it. They did not seem to get the fact that we had paid perfectly good money for a product that wasn't working. I was happy when the company disappeared.
A number of times we have had great difficulty with products that break before their time, and the companies refuse to honor their warranties. It gets to the point that it is not worth fighting them. I am sure they count on that.
One of the few digital products that I ever bought with a warranty was a Sony camera that I purchased from Circuit City. When I bought the warranty I was assured it covered everything including the camera being dropped in water. Nine months later I dropped it in water, and we sent it in for repair. The warranty company for Circuit City refused to repair it because it had been in water. Maybe that is just one reason why Circuit City is no longer with us.
I recently went through a nightmare experience with Adobe. It made me wonder what is so hard about taking care of the customer?
Are companies afraid to empower their employees to fix the mistakes? These issues make customers hate the companies and stop using their products.
Where have all the American problem solvers gone? Often they are off working for themselves.
When I was in real estate much of my work revolved around solving problems and keeping our clients happy. Getting a contract on a house is often just the beginning of the real work.
Real estate agents end up having to negotiate all sorts of repairs. You never know what issue you might have to resolve, and sometimes they drag on after closing. You have to keep both the buyer and seller happy, and make sure the buyer ends up with the house they expected to buy. If it doesn't happen you can end up in court or can be reported to the NC Real Estate Commission and lose your license.
In the summer of 2009, we had an inspection done before closing which identified that the microwave in the house came up with an error and would not run.
The home was owned by a relocation company. They replied to the inspection that the reason the microwave would not work was that we were trying to use it with no food. I took a piece of bread on a plate and tried it in the microwave. We got the same error, and I took pictures of it and sent it to the other agent.
Instead of getting it repaired they told the other agent that they would pay $350 at closing. However, the mortgage company did not want the $350 on the closing documents so they were supposed to send a check. The other agent worked for three months to get them to do the check, they refused. She ended up paying for a new microwave out of her own pocket.
Most small business don't have the option of ignoring the problem like a mortgage company and hoping it will go away which seems to be the favorite solution from most big companies.
The other favorite tactic of large companies seems to be making resolution of the problem so stupid or painful that people give up.
I would have to put Toro's trying to make me work through their idiot local dealer in that class. Their customer service and new cheaper products have turned a life-long customer into someone who will never buy a Toro again.
Most small businesses live by their reputation. Large companies live by their market share. If they are a big company, and they lose a customer or two, what does it matter? Unless it creates a big stink on the web, their revenue won't show the difference.
In fact many businesses treat customers like they are disposable. So when did "customer for life" become unpopular?
I will have to admit to being impressed with the way Toyota treated us during recent recalls on our Avalon. Certainly they were in a tough spot and could not afford to further endanger their customer base.
There are some great companies out there. I have never had LL Bean argue with me on anything.
We have Simonton Windows on our house at the coast. They came from a supplier named Eastern Aluminum. Our builder, Bluewater Builders, apparently negotiated a twenty year warranty for these windows. We have had the seals break on a couple. All we had to do is call Eastern Aluminum and give them the serial number, and the next week a repair person shows up with a new window.
At least once the repair person noticed a window that needed fixing that our untrained eyes could not see. He was back the next week. That's customer service. It much better than finding out that the company who supplied your windows is out of business. We had that happen on a window in our other house.
Then there are companies like Apple which have such momentum that they can practically do what they want. The difference with Apple is that if it is a big enough problem, they are smart enough to cave in and do something that at least appears to resolve the situation. The iPhone case was an example of that.
When I was a second level manager at Apple, I always had my list of problems that I was trying to resolve. The biggest challenge for good field people in corporate America today is probably keeping customers happy without angering the bean counters. I think the only thing many managers think about today is where will they find their next sale.
That unfortunately is a silly way to run a business, but the short-sighted managers and bean counters only looking at the current quarter's numbers would not have it any other way. They should be thinking about how to make customers so happy that they become salespeople for the company without even knowing it.
When you can do that, you hardly need salespeople. Maybe one of these days I will run into a customer experience that is as good as the bad ones that I have reported. One can only hope that might happen.