customer satisfaction

A few experiences in just the last few months got me thinking about how much the quality of interaction with the brand influences our purchase decisions.

Customer Experience is the collective impression of multiple interactions that a customer has with the brand over the entire lifecycle of owning their product/ using their service. Delivering quality customer experience has become a (basic) expectation for its customers and if unmet can have dire consequences for the brand.

Here are a few examples that pan across industries and across different touch points in an ownership cycle where I, personally, have chosen brands and products only because they offered a superior customer experience.

My first example is at the inquiry phase, one of the initial touch points one experiences in a purchase process and this is when the brand leaves its first impression on a customer.

I was looking for a replacement for my current Skoda – a sedan that I have been using for the last 7 years. There have been several launches in the last couple of years which have changed the landscape on the roads – mid-sized SUVs and crossover versions have become quite popular – and I was quite excited at the thought of changing to those from my sedan. But the experience with several of these brands left me longing for more and I have now been in the market for over 10 months.

Take the case of Hyundai Creta – I first requested a test-drive through their website and after no communication from them for over a month, I decided to go to the showroom myself and take a look. At the showroom, the first question I was asked by the saleswoman was about when I would take the final decision to buy the car. You ask me when? I ask you, first show me the car!!! She points at the car and says “This Creta. Sit.”, then goes on to read out the features in acronyms “…body made with UHSS, also has ABS with EBD, ESC, offers VHM and HAS…”. When I asked what ESC was – I was given a blank stare and the acronym list continued. When I interrupted again to ask about the parking assist – rear and front parking sensors, cameras, etc. – because that’s important to me, I was, albeit politely, asked to “wait till I finish reading the features”. In the same breath I was told that I would have to wait for 3 weeks to test drive the car! That was it! You can’t ask me to wait anymore – I waited a month to hear back from you, I waited for you to finish reading out your script, now you expect me to wait for 3 weeks just to test drive it and then wait another 6 months to get the car! No way!

Take the case of Nissan Terrano, a vastly improved initial response time, but then …. Again, I requested a test drive through the website, but this time heard back from multiple dealers. One dealer told me that he had a test drive car but could not come to my home or office to show it to me due to registration issues. After 3 months, they called back to set up an appointment for a test drive. The sales person who came to show me the car did not know anything about the car!!! He drove a long way to show me the car and did not even know how to turn off the car when there was no ‘P’ (for Parking) in the automatic gearbox configuration. Another dealer, who got in touch with me, scheduled a test drive – came an hour late but got the wrong car! The wrong car, really?!?!

I am still waiting to hear back from Renault – it has now been 9 months since I last requested a test drive through the website and the company contact number.

I have now reached a point where I am willing to just replace my old Skoda with a new Skoda – I don’t want a new drive and brand experience if I have to deal with all this! And if purchase experience is so bad, I cannot begin to imagine the horrors when it comes to servicing and repairing the car.

And so, I went back to my trusted Skoda – put in a request for a test drive through their website, heard back from them immediately and within 5 minutes from the closest dealer and in another 10 minutes from the dealer’s sales representative who scheduled the test drive for the same evening. He came on time, with the right car and configuration, with all the information, knew exactly what features to talk to me about and answered all my questions. Now is that too much to expect? I think not. Even before I test-drove the car, half the battle was won for them, and within 5 minutes of sitting in the car the decision was made.

Established brands in high involvement categories (as in this case) often get this wrong. Automobile industry experts say that high attrition of sales personnel is a big problem for passenger car dealers, and only a few brands invest heavily on training the sales and service personnel. Furthermore, few brands insist that dealers invest in a certain number and variety of test drive cars, or track dealer functions and customer experiences regularly and have checks and balances in place to course correct.

While this was a high involvement and high value purchase, the same expectations hold for other lower involvement/ value purchases too.

We’ve all heard and read about how Eureka Forbes was able to build a new household water purifier category and a major driver in achieving so is its investment in building a highly trained sales team. And today, over 30 years since launch, it has a strong sales team of 8000+ “euro-champs” who continue to deliver the brand’s promise. As I’ve seen from my experience, their investment in customer support and service continues to pay off for the brand.

I had been a loyal Aquaguard user for years and when it came time to change homes, basis the recommendation of a health-conscious friend, I opted for a Kent water purifier because it had better features and superior technology. But soon realized that it was a mistake – up until the purchase of the machine things were fine but when it came to installation, the struggle started and then repairing and part replacements were needed within the first 3 months itself – these were parts which weren’t covered in the warranty, and service advisors were going to visit only after 3 days. What was I expected to do for 3 days!! In a household of 8, which had no drinking water for 3 days, I had to invest in a water dispenser. So when it came time to choose a water purifier for the my husband’s new office – we went back to the trusted Aquaguard – where they now come to service and repair, regularly, promptly and on time.

So it’s not just the sales staff that needs to have its A-game, it needs to be supported well with the service end of the purchase as well. When the entire journey of the interaction is a satisfying experience for the customer, is when a brand is truly successful in delivering an exemplary customer experience.

My neighbor, a 60-year old homemaker, a loyal Big Basketeer, has only praises for the brand especially due to her experience with the customer service team – they let her return sub-par produce, they send her a better replacement for free, they give her discounts even without her opting for it during check-out and they expedite her order delivery on just a simple request over a phone call. She has definitely converted several of her neighbors into Big Basketeers, including myself.

Just based on my experiences, Skoda and Aquaguard were able to retain their customer despite having a standard [but quality] offering and Big Basket was able to convert its customer into a champion for its brand and get the best kind of advertising it could ask for – Word of Mouth.

And these are just a few of the reasons why customer experience is so critical for brands. Brands spend top dollar on customer retention and advocacy and these brands have been able to achieve so through investing in their customer experience.

  • Roshni Jhaveri