Saturday, August 09, 2014

How to destroy brand loyalty and alienate customers

Brand X is one of the leaders in the white goods space and also trying hard to create a hold in the growing mobile handsets space. Over a period of time over 70% of my "stuff" belonging to the relevant categories have become Brand X. Primarily since I never faced much QC related issues. Then I had couple of bad experiences with after sales service/customer service that made me re-think.

I'm sure these are not unique cases, and other people would have had similar if not worse experiences with the services of different companies. While the experiences are with a specific company, the general principles can be applied to any company that sells anything. So here's an objective assessment of why Brand X is off my shopping list for the foreseeable future.

As I mentioned, 70% of my "stuff" is Brand X, so when it was time to update the refrigerator, it was naturally going to be Brand X. It came, worked well enough for a while, then one day it did not seem to be cooling as fast as it did earlier. "OK, no problem, stuff get worn down, some faster than others.  Brand X gives home service in the city, so should be straightforward to get it fixed". So I call up and schedule the appointment. Note that since the warranty period is over, so it's a paid check up.
Next day the technician comes, takes a cursory glance and declares
Tech - "everything is working fine sir."
Me - "but it's not cooling as fast as it was"
Tech - "everything is fine sir, I have to go to other appointment. You can directly call me if it breaks down"
I insist that he does a proper check. After much cribbing he does, and turns out that the compressor is leaking. So he fixes it, after the fix it has been working all right till now (touchwood). So what's my problem here? -

When a customer says things are not working as expected, particularly when they are paying you to find the issue, you don't just try to brush it off and declare that everything is well and good. You need to find the problem, or at the very least you need to convince them that you have made an effort to find the problem. When I use the word "Convince", I mean it in the sense of showing effort, not just using words.

Coming to the second incident ... about a year later
One morning I decided to switch the bulky TV for a sleek new one. Brand loyalty was still not dead. The previous incident had gone to the back of my mind since the refrigerator has not had any problem after the repair.So, in-spite of a slightly higher price than other brands in the same bracket I again went for Brand X. TV got delivered, but I had to schedule installation directly with Brand X. They had published a 48 hour deadline for installation service, so I happily accepted when the CSR offered an appointment of next day 12-1 pm. Next day, the clock went 12, then 1,2 ..6. Then I called up the Cust Service number.
Me - I had an installation appointment for 12, the guy is still not here...
CSR - Sorry etc. ...
Me - So is he coming?
CSR - Sorry sir can't make a commitment, I can give you the number of the service center, you can directly call up
Me - I don't want any number, I want to know if he's coming
CSR - Sorry ... no commitment ... blah blah

 It's not the customers job to coordinate with the technician. It's the CSRs job. It's what you are paid to do. You're asking the customer to do your job for you.

Few hours later I get some automated SMS saying "In progress. Reason: Customer Reappointment". How could it be "Customer Reappointment" when I did not do any reappointment? I was pretty pissed at this point, but decided to wait and watch if they kept the 48 hour deadline.
(Next day the technician called to check if someone is available, arrived an hour later and finished the installation in 15 mins.)

You should not commit to something you can't deliver. I would have been OK if the appointment was scheduled for a day later, since it would still be within the promised 48 hour window. 
If you did commit and looks like you are unable to keep it, you should keep the customer in the loop beforehand. Here, when you failed to keep the commitment you are saying that the customer adjusted the milestone. 

In this day and age time is valuable, when your commitment requires other people to reserve time for you, you need to be extra careful.

Marketing gurus may have different ideas, but the way I see it: spending millions on marketing and hiring mega stars to do ads will get you first time customers; it will not get you repeat customers. For repeat customers you need to cultivate loyalty. Today the age of a new customer is 25 or under, assuming they buy one consumer durable every 2 yrs (the items last longer than 2 yrs, but there are several types of durables a person needs/buys, so taking 2 as a combined round number) ... that's a lot of sales left to the mercy of equally poor service by competitors.

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