One of my favorite books is called “UNmarketing” by writer-blogger Scott Stratten. The book outlines several real life examples of how NOT to market to your customer base (my favorite case study is chapter six titled “Aiming Your Company at the Bottom of the Barrel”). I’ve been able to interact with Scott on a few occasions, his perspective on business is quite remarkable.
This past month my wife Sharon and I had a customer experience that should land in Scott’s next book, we will call it customer “UNservice.” We have been looking for a specific car to replace an aging vehicle in our household. My wife is a great bargain hunter, and after much research on the internet, she found the right car at the right price. The car was in New Jersey, so Sharon contacted the dealer to discuss shipping terms for the car to come to Arizona where we live, timelines, fees, etc. The salesman sent her a purchase agreement, which she signed and submitted along with a $500 deposit. We had been pre-approved by our insurance company to buy the car through them, so this was virtually a cash transaction for the dealership. All the salesman had to do was put the car on the truck to Arizona and cash the check for the purchase.
Weeks went by and the salesman had not communicated with us. Sharon reached out repeatedly, via phone and e-mail. No response (UNservice sign #1). It got to the point where we had to go higher up the chain of command, so we called the main office of the group that owned the dealership. The staff there was very helpful, but also explained that dealership was acquired by their company in a larger transaction and that the dealership in question had a history of bad customer service (UNservice #2). She then said she would call the dealership while Sharon was on the line. On the call, the lady helping us rectify the issue was very forthright with the salesman and asked why he had not shipped the car. He said “we aren’t going to sell the car to her” (meaning my wife, keep in mind Sharon was listening to this conversation – UNservice #3).
The corporate office staffer then quizzed him on why he would take our deposit, and sign a purchase agreement if he had no intention of sending us the car (what he did is not only bad customer service, but also illegal – UNservice issue #4). He said that he had tried contacting us numerous times to cancel the transaction (also untrue, to the point Sharon offered to send the company her cell phone and e-mail records after the call ended – UNservice #5).
In the end, we pulled our offer and bought another vehicle. Probably what the salesman wanted in the first place, but why? While the home office administrator was great at taking our complaint and trying to rectify the issue, the salesman, and the culture that allows him to operate in this manner is troubling.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say none of us allow our companies to be run this way. If you had a complaint of this nature come to your desk, how would you have handled it? This occurrence, as well as those in Scott Stratten’s books, offer us all great role playing opportunities on how to handle tricky situations. Here is what I would have done:
- I would ship the car to Arizona immediately, and offer some incentive to Sharon for her trouble (like paying for the added shipping costs of the car). I’d also put a personal gift in the car of some kind so when it showed up, Sharon would have a present and a card that said “sorry for your troubles, we are glad you finally got the car, thank you for your business.”
- The salesman would have been suspended if not terminated immediately. What he did is illegal, so the punishment should fit the crime. However, he should have the ability to tell his side of the story, in person, at the corporate office (not to the manager of the dealership that likely promotes this type of UNservice, but to someone in power within the larger holding company).
- The dealership’s general manager should also be reprimanded for allowing this type of activity to take place on his or her watch. A very public suspension without pay would send a strong message to those working at that dealership.
- I would call Sharon a week after the car arrived to ask her if she liked it and to close the loop on the transaction.
Often times I find that the root of the issue isn’t about the decision one person makes (in this case the salesperson deciding shipping the car was too difficult). There is often a deeper cause that clouds people’s judgement which then causes poor decision making. That is why I would give the salesman his day in court. There may be other things going on in his life that make his UNservice style okay in his mind. His job is to sell cars, and he sold one, took the money, then didn’t ship the product. There has to be some other force at play here.
As we run our companies we have to not only look for the solutions to our problems, but also go deeper to find the root cause. There is often more there than what is on the surface. We are humans after all.
Read of the Week:
Here is a link to Scott Stratten’s book, UNmarketing. It’s a great read. If you want to borrow my copy, let me know and I can send it to you. I bet you will want your own copy after you read just a few of the case studies.