Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Forgive them... cos they know what they do

Customer loyalty as a term has often been bandied around, strung together with numbers, tightly wrapped up in excel sheets. Analyst debate, segment, typify and label. Planners come up with deep insights after much thinking and trying to look out of windowless offices. And some profound statements in a pitch later, one realises that this indeed is true.
One such statement about a customer's loyalty to a brand is the fact that a loyal customer forgives.
This is so true. Provided the brand asks for it and deserves it.
One has a connect with a brand that spans time, emotions and finally and practically, usage of the brand.
In stark contrast with NB's #Nissan experience was my brand experience with #Maruti Suzuki. (My previous post: The Wheels of the Fortunate).
Anyone who has ever owned a (generically speaking) Maruti knows what it stands for - the vehicle represents convenience, value-for-money, low maintenance and finally serviceability virtually anywhere you go.
We've all seen the mileage commercial - 'Kitna deti hai'. It brings a smile on  your face but that is what it once again stands for.
We all know that in terms of numbers and reach, this is surely the largest selling car brand in India.
With that kind of numbers, reach and almost irreplaceable brand equity one would expect arrogance, even complacence. However what puts #Maruti Suzuki as really the No.1 in my mind is their dedication to customer service. And I am impressed.
And here's an example.
Trading in my earlier (also a) #Maruti Suzuki vehicle, I decided to replace it with another one from the same fold.
Not quite sure of the newer models I called the nearest showroom,gave them my co ordinates and asked them for a test drive of three of their hatchback models: the Swift, the Ritz and the A Star.
It's not that I was fiercely loyal to #Maruti Suzuki alone.

I had half-heartedly tried the Honda showroom number. Didnt get through. Gave up as it was not high on my list.

I had called the nearest  #Hyundai dealer. They were to call me back and tell me when they'd send an Eon for a test drive. When they didnt I called back. I was told I had not left my number and address. Strange. I did that. They didn't call back. Obviously Hyundai has enough customers and didn't need my business. Fair enough.

So back to the #Maruti Suzuki test drives.

For some reason the sales person who was to come was not on time. 20 minutes late. I pushed my annoyance aside and went down exitedly to test drive a Swift/Ritz/A-Star, whatever the guy had got.

Imagine my dismay when I see a Zen! I was livid. Told him I didnt want to test drive a Zen and how could he get 3 cars wrong! He apologised, said he'd get a Swift and come back but I just told him I didnt want to test drive any car and went back upstairs fuming.

Clearly it was a fruitless day for test drives. I'd not got through to Honda, Hyundai was not interested and now these guys had messed up.

A little later however, the sales guys messaged me. Profuse apologies. He said I should give him one more chance. He told me there was a mix up. A little later he messaged me again, saying he'd not repeat this error. The next morning he called. Apologised again and promised to come for a test drive, anytime - emphasis being on any time.

I softened. And decided to give him that second chance. Forgave my brand. And sure enough... He kept his word. Arrived 10 minutes before the appointment time.

A few days later I was signing the papers. Throughout the buying process the service was impeccable. Even when he had to go out of town unexpectedly he had put someone in charge to complete the formalities.

Did the company need my business more vs Hyundai? No way. Did they make me feel that way. Yes. Would I have forgiven a new brand that I had had no truck with earlier? Unlikely. I forgave my usual brand but I did get back more in terms of service.

And here's what I think, I think we forgive our brands because it's so much easier to be with the familiar. The tried. The tested. The true.

And I think that brand managers who are wrapped up in their excel sheets should understand that Customer Loyalty doesn't come from a customer: it comes from the brand's loyalty to the customer.

Thankfully for me, #Maruti Suzuki has got it right.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Wheels of the Fortunate

Buying a car is an exciting proposition. A bit daunting... but exciting nevertheless.

Most car buying habits have been well documented especially in the Indian scenario. You normally move from a two wheeler to a hatchback, hatchback to a mid-class sedan, then to a luxury sedan and so on. SUVs, XUVs and now even LUVs fall somewhere along that line based on needs, occupation, and finally the brag value!

But that's so much theory.

In practical terms that's really not how you buy a car in India.

You check the car for its features and ask around for the best dealer and the most dependable service. And if you have to choose, the dealer and the service wins way over that fancy set of wheels that you so wanted.

This is a known fact.

But then some times there are new entrants in the market and you trust the brand name, the lineage that it brings with the name and what you've heard about from the media.

And you succumb.

NB, a colleague was on the quest for a new car. Decided to go in for a Nissan Sunny. The excitement seemed to end once the decision was made.

Even the pre-sales service was poor. Many follow ups later the car was handed over at a time inconvenient to him. Minus the desired seat covers.

In his words:
Hi Friends, I had this horrible experience of buying Nissan Sunny from Torrent Nissan in Andheri Mumbai. It felt like they are doing a favor to me by selling the car! Even after giving a negative feedback about the dealer there has been no call or effort from Nissan India to speak to me regarding this matter. Here is what went wrong in brief
- Once I had made the advance payment to Torrent - I had...
to follow up with them every week, not once have they made an effort to update me on the status of my car. They have been at their unco-operative best
- The fittings of the accessories (seat cover & steering wheel cover) was not up to the mark and I was told this is the Nissan Standard!
Urge you to forward this to as many people as possible so the others dont suffer the pain I have been through even after spending lakhs of Rs on Nissan Sunny!
BTW Nissan India when the whole world is moving towards USB, you have chosen to install an old version of music player in your car - dont consider the Indians that forward do you?
After this post appeared on Facebook (Long live social media), I posted it on my timeline too. The PR person from the dealer called and desperately asked NB to get me to take the post off my page!

Here are some interesting facts:
  • Nissan deigned to contact NB after the stipulated period of 72 hours. We suspect they meant 72 working hours
  • Even post putting the seat covers, there was a problem - a seat belt had been damaged and had to be changed for which the car had to be taken to the workshop - one more day lost
  • The dealer has offered no real apology or make good - and has claimed this to be the Nissan standards
Does Nissan think they can continue to take customers for a ride in their caaaaar? Isnt this going too faaaar?

What's your view on it? Have you been more fortunate with your set of wheels?

Monday, May 14, 2012


Phrases like 'Consumerisation', 'Rising Economy", "Buyers' Market', "Customer Service' and 'Competitive Space' get thrown around in dark teakwood boardrooms and hushed corporate corridors.

MBAs from august institutions bring these back with strong traces of international accents bandying them around hoping to impress those who have even stronger traces of international accents.

Consulting firms write tomes on them, charging exponential amounts for newer and better coined phrases meaning the same thing and telling you what you already knew.

But the fact remains: here in India... we have not moved much towards a consumer economy. Here we still remain a 'Take it or Leave it' market, a place where the buyer is actually a harasses soul, and the seller in his utimate kindness usually deigns to sell a few products and services to the hungry soul.

While the world is moving on to Customer EXPERIENCE Management, we've not even moved to an  acceptable level of customer service.

Each of us have examples of where one feels highly cheated after making a purchase, or after choosing to opt for a service.

Are we even important to the seller?

We've all experience bad after-sales service, havent we also experience poor pre sales?

Do the ad agencies that make the mega campaigns shot in remote locations know how the generated demand is followed through by the client?

Do those marketing and sales heads who spend billions on prime time commericals and huge budgets on travel itineraries even know what happens on the dealer's floor?

Does the sales guy who goes knocking on doors in the afternoon heat get backed up by similar sweat-pouring follow up on closing of the sale?

This space is for us hungry cheated souls - a place to shed light on what goes on in a Sellers' Market and why consumerism has still not touched the shores of India. A place where the Customer is no longer in the Dark...

Although moderated, your experiences are welcome.

Watch this space for more...