Saturday, March 17, 2007

Does your organization really serve its clients? A tale of four service centers

On Thursday, March 15, after two hours into the trip to Nashville, the service engine light of our new Pontiac Torrent came on. We had more than three hours left of trip, and we knew that we needed to get this checked before heading home three days later.

My daughter read the manual while I drove. We checked the items listed in the manual and the service engine light continued to tell us something could possibly be wrong.

My daughter called the roadside service number, but she did not know how to navigate the menu system since we were not stranded. We called our Pontiac service center at home and they gave us a toll free number. That number stayed busy.

Then my daughter called a couple of my co-workers who looked up the dealerships north of Birmingham. Bill Smith Pontiac in Cullman made the most logic choice for us to stop. Thanks Greg and Rusty! I know why I love working with you guys!

Service Center #1; Bill Smith Pontiac, Cullman
The man at the service desk said they did not have anyone who could work on the Pontiac until tomorrow (Friday) afternoon. I explained we were on the way to Nashville and needed it done today. He said he couldn’t; if the water temperature was running okay, then we would be fine to run the car a few more days.

My interpretation: “We don’t plan and manage our shop to service Pontiacs daily. No need, because our customers can wait. And, I really don’t want to do it, anyway.”
Service Center #2: Beaman Pontiac, Nashville
Friday morning, I called Beaman Pontiac which is located about one mile from our downtown hotel. I explained the situation to a man who told me he could not fix the car until Monday. I explained again the situation and that it would be unwise to drive for another five hours home. He would not budge.

My response was that because I have a Pontiac that has only 5,000 miles on it and I can’t get it service “I wonder what kind of company Pontiac really is”. His reply was consistent: “We cannot service it today. Monday is the soonest we can get to it.”

He did suggest that I try Franklin Pontiac which is located 10 miles away. I asked for that phone number. His replied condescendingly, “I don’t know the number, but you can call 411 and ask for Franklin Pontiac.”

My interpretation: “We are on our own schedule. We will not budge from our control system. You can wait until we are ready to serve you. Better yet, you can use your time, your own expense, and your own resources to find service somewhere else. I really don’t want to deviate from my specific job. And, I really don’t care what you think of Pontiac. I really don’t care that you just bought a new car from Pontiac.”

Service Center #3: Franklin Pontiac at Dickson
By accident, I called Franklin Pontiac at Dickson instead of Franklin Pontiac at Franklin. I explained to Casey my situation and that this was my third call for service. The others have refused to service my vehicle in a timely way although it is clearly under warranty and that I am away from home. I was getting frustrated. He said his shop was 40 miles from my location. He said Franklin Pontiac and Earl Dunn Pontiac would be closer. I asked him if he could give me the number to Franklin Pontiac. He said he did not know it, but would look it up for me. He gave me the number to both Franklin and Earl Dunn Pontiac service centers. He said that he would be glad "work me in" if I could not get service closer.
My interpretation: “You are an important customer. I will help you. I don’t mind helping you and giving you information that would be useful. Although we are booked, I will provide you service if that is what would help you.”

My faith in Pontiac is beginning to get turned around. So, Pontiac may actually care.

Service Center #4: Franklin Pontiac
I explained to a man with Franklin Pontiac, my situation and that I am frustrated with the lack of service. The man listened and said that they would be glad to service the car—a refreshing change from the first two service centers! He patiently gave me directions twice to his service center. He was friendly, gave no indication of impatience that I was bothering him. He politely answered all of questions. Whew! Finally a good attitude and a viable solution!

I arrived at Franklin Pontiac with ease (well, after I got out of downtown traffic). The directions were perfectly described. I first spoke with Reed, the parts manager. With a friendly smile, he listened and gave me directions to the service area in the garage—“they’ll be able to fix your car.” In the garage, I described the problem to another kind gentleman. After I described that we had driven more than 3 hours with the service light on, with an empathic response, he said, “I bet you were on pins and needles.” My thought was “Wow! Someone who actually listens and understands”

He also indicated that since lunch, they had an influx of cars coming in for repair so that it may take awhile, but they would definitely fix the car. He asked me if I needed a ride. I said “No, I will stay here—I have nowhere else to go.” He smiled understandingly, knowing that I was somewhat misplaced. He said he would get the car ready as soon as possible.

This man and Reed helped me develop confidence in Franklin Pontiac by listening, assessing the dilemma, communicating the situation, and developing a plan.

Everyone I encountered in Franklin Pontiac smiled and made me feel at home. I requested directions to ATM. And later, I requested a notepad and pen. Reed accommodated each request with a smile, never once indicating that I was bothering him or that he did not have time to fill requests.

As I was taking a picture of a framed poster: “Customer’ Creed”, I was asked by three different women in the payment office if they could help me. I explained I was impressed by their service and the Customer Creed is the exact way they ran their office. It was the first time since yesterday I really felt like a service center cared and was well-managed. They were surprised other Pontiac service centers were not responsive.

The Customer Creed was:
  • The customer is our reason for being here.
  • It takes months to find a customer and seconds to lose one.
  • Always be courteous and polite during each customer contact.
  • Always do more than is expected when you handle a customer's problem.
  • Never promise more than we can deliver.
  • Continually look for ways to improve quality and add value to products our customers purchase.

Another noticeable item was a bulletin board that was filled with thank you notes from customers. The man from garage came in to talk with the customers a few times. He explained the problems and solutions with competence and thoroughness, His tone and eye contact conveyed respect and care. To one customer who had to wait several hours for his extensive repair, he said, “Can I get you anything?” Wow! This gesture meant “I understand how frustrating it might be to wait so I will help ease the frustration.”

Every employee (including the payment clerks and mechanics) who walked through the lobby smiled and spoke short greetings to the customers.

Within an hour of my arrival, an energetic young lady from the garage extended her hand with a friendly and firm handsake and a vibrant “Miss Anne, your car is ready.” She explained the service engine light had indicated that there was a problem with the oxygen level in the emissions systems. There is a bulletin on it so we knew what to do to fix it. You are ready to go.”
This confident young lady communicated her competence by letting me know the nature of the problem and that Pontiac communicated to the service centers what to do with these kinds of problems.

My interpretation of Franklin Pontiac was: “We care about our customers. Our customers are important to us. We work for our customers. We are happy to serve our customers! That’s our job and we love doing it!”

I bet that the employees at Franklin Pontiac are happy to go to work everyday, too.

What a difference an attitude makes when dealing with customers. Both the Franklin Pontiac (at Dickson and at Franklin) service centers had a "can-do" and "customers are important" attitude. They seemed to understand ways to solve their customers' problems?

Both the Bill Smith and Beaman Pontiac service centers had a "no-can do" attitude. The customers can wait until the service center is ready to serve them

The Franklin Pontiac was immersed in friendliness, service, and competence. The other two service centers were not concerned with serving the customers.

Which service center reflects your organization? Franklin Pontiac exemplifies an organization that is more about serving the customer than staying with its specific controls of rules. Is it possible to run an organization efficiently and still keep the customer first? The attitude dictates our ability to do so.


Anonymous said...

What a coincidence. I spent some time this morning reading similar "creed" messages on the wall at the Information Systems department in Southeast Alabama Medical Center. I'd have taken pictures too, but I didn't have a decent camera with me. The service here has also been excellent. I don't know if the signs are cause or effect, but it makes me think we need some similar encouragement in my organization!

Unknown said...

I don't think that the signs themselves make an organization friendly, helpful, useful, and profitable. When an organization believes that values, like respect and competence, are important, you see these values demonstrated over and over and in everything they do.

FWIW, anonymous@SEMC: I just told the story to some our helpdesk folks....I was particularly glad to see that they too found the response from Beaman Pontiac was totally inappropriate for someone in a service position.