Saturday, March 19, 2011

Customer Satisfaction

These two words, thrown off so casually in advertisements, really make a difference in the success or failure of a business. I experienced two entirely opposite examples today of why.

I have a male friend, whom I often refer to as my second son, who helps out with all those male-type chores around the house and car that I'm not thoroughly comfortable with doing myself. I had one of those to do today (more on that later) and he was considerate enough to call me twice today to see if he needed to drop by and give me a hand. He had to pass my house on his way to check out some places to take his son dirt bike riding, so it wasn't inconvenient for him.

 In his younger days, he used to ride competitively and I think he secretly hopes that his son will follow in his footsteps. Besides, it's a fun way to spend the day outdoors. He knew the general area that he was interested in, but not specific places, so he headed that way and kept a lookout for likely locations. He stopped at one business and talked to the guy about what he was looking for and was pointed in the direction of a place that had memberships to ride their trails.



When he got there, the gate was open, so he drove his truck in to look around.  He pulled into a parking lot in front of what looked like a business building. Security shutters were rolled down over the front. A woman came into the parking lot, so he started to ask about riding there, whereupon she started a rant about him being on the property, that it wasn't open to the public today, and what was he doing there? All he was doing was looking for a place to ride, investigating a membership, and she lit into him like he was a criminal trespassing on her land.

Needless to say, he won't be going back there. The incident made him so angry, he had to vent to me for five or ten minutes on the phone.

I, on the other hand, had a better day. Yesterday one of my coworkers told me I had a brake light out so one of my chores for today was to buy a bulb and try to replace the dead one myself. That's why I put my friend on alert. If I ran into trouble replacing the bulb, I needed to know he'd be available to put things back together.

Now, there are some places that are the domain of women and some that are the domain of men. Home improvement stores and auto parts stores fall into the category of the latter. But I'm a big girl and, despite what my father used to say, thoroughly capable of walking into an auto parts store and buying something. There was one on my way to my hairdresser appointment, so I made a point of leaving a few minutes early so I could stop.

But I found myself in that strange kingdom of men, the smell of new rubber from the tires permeating the air. I had expected to find a display of different replacement bulbs with a chart I could find the equivalent generic part that corresponded to the one I found in the manual for my Camry. I found a display all right, but there was no chart and all of the bulbs seemed to be headlights, not taillights. I looked around for a salesperson, someone who could demystify this seemingly simple task of buying a bulb, but there was no one in sight. Glancing at my watch, it was getting close to my appointment time, so I decided to leave and stop by at the Toyota dealer on my way back. It might cost more, but at least I would have someone to talk to who would probably want to sell me a replacement bulb.

Hair freshly colored and cut, I made my stop at the Toyota dealer and boldly walked up to the parts counter. The woman there tried looking in her computer, but the part numbers didn't match and she said she was out of the bulb she thought it should be. However, to check, she called one of the service guys over and asked him to take the bulb out of its socket so she could compare it to what she had in stock.

It turned out that it was the one she didn't have on hand, but she asked if I could wait fifteen minutes while someone retrieved the part. I assume they have a storeroom or warehouse or something in the back of their new, huge facility. I said I did and sat down to read my book while I waited. I didn't have a whole lot of pages to go, so I finished before the fifteen minutes were up and I wandered aimlessly around the parts area, examining Toyota-branded keychains and floormats and such.

The service guy showed up and asked, "Has it been fifteen minutes yet?"

I glanced down at my watch and thought it had been closer to a half hour and said, "It must be."

He went to the counter and asked what was going on. The woman said that "he" had just called for the part. She apologized for it taking so long and thanked me for being so patient.

For some reason, I wasn't my usual impatient self. Time is very precious to me lately. I'm trying to do too much in too little time and always feel rushed. Maybe it was because I'd just come from the hairdresser and was feeling better about my appearance. Maybe it was because I'd spent an hour in my yard cleaning up a dead bush that froze during the eighteen degree days we had this winter. Or maybe God is teaching me patience. I shrugged my shoulders and said, "And what would happen if I were impatient and left? I'd still have a brake light out."

Shortly thereafter, another man came hurrying out of the back, bulb in hand, and asked, "Are you the lady waiting for the bulb?"

When I told him I was, he asked where the car was and led the way to it. He replaced the bulb, made me press on the brake pedal and turn on the headlights to make sure everything worked, and said, "You're all set."


Thinking he didn't know, I got out of the car and said, "I haven't paid for the bulb yet."

"You're all set," he repeated. "There's no charge because you had to wait so long."

This wasn't the first time that I've had something like that happen at Desert Toyota. But for them to go out of their way to install a light bulb and then not even charge me for the part blew me away. It's one of the reasons I keep going back for service. And, should my eight-year-old Camry need replacing, you can be sure I'll go back there to purchase a new one.

Two incidents, two totally different reactions by businesspersons, and two totally different customer experiences. It's obvious which one knows the meaning of customer satisfaction.
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