Automotive is still suffering from a huge expectation gap

After struggling to find a car that came without a fault and / or a healthy dose of sexism, Rochelle Burbury realised quite how large the automotive industry's expectation gap really was.

Recently I enjoyed a cathartic social media rant for a brand experience so ridiculously bad that it became a running joke. It was a source of ongoing amusement and bemusement as I recounted one bad experience after another. And another, and another.

My experience was with the automotive industry. The brand was referred to as a ‘luxury car’. It was my first, so the expectation bar was set just that little bit higher.

I am not a habitual ‘signed Outraged, of Mosman’ person. But after this experience, and two others that followed it, I was compelled to speak.

The ‘expectation gap’ between what marketers believe they’re delivering in customer experience and what consumers believe is more like a gaping abyss.

Companies say that they are all over the ‘customer experience’ movement, with 90% investing in best practice. However, the disconnect between brand advertising campaigns and the frontline customer experience is still vast.

And what if there’s the hat-trick of a negative user experience, a god-awful customer experience and a gender problem?

It began with a leaking fuel pump just weeks after my purchase that made it ‘too dangerous to drive’, and went downhill from there.

The customer service response was “these things happen”. By problem no 5,764 I had the customer service staff laughing along with me. Just driving into the ‘service centre’ became a source of dread for me.

I could literally feel the ‘customer service’ staff reaching into my pockets as I arrived – and not in a good way. On one occasion, when yet another thing needed to be replaced, the customer service guy whispered to me: “Don’t buy them here!”

But the most offensive thing was this – I tagged the brand in my post, but it was not until someone linked to one of their agencies alerted them to it did they bother to call me – more than two weeks later.

The lethargy from ‘customer service’ person who asked me to tell ‘my story’ was palpable. I was offered a half-hearted apology and she hoped I would buy this brand again one day. Did ‘Never. Ever. Again’ not mean anything?

The irony is that they now keep sending me ‘customer satisfaction’ surveys with those meaningless star ratings about how satisfied I was with their ‘friendliness’ and ‘response time’ and how likely I would be to recommend this car to my family and friends… See above.

This all comes as Ford Australia pays the price for its own customer experience disaster – to the tune of $10 million.

So on to buy another car. Dealership number two felt like I was surrounded by hungry coyotes in cheap suits eyeing their prey. It was creepy. The guy who showed us the car was so distracted by another sale he was trying to close, we weren’t offered a test drive, just handed a bunch of brochures – and not even a follow up call.

Dealership number three offered a far better customer service experience. I could not fault it – except for one thing: gender. The salesperson (male) kept deferring to my husband, despite him saying it was me buying the car. Hello? When the time came to sign the finance paperwork I was even asked ‘Are you bringing your husband?’ Er, no, because he’s not buying the car. I am.

I’m not a marketing expert, but what I do find extraordinary is that these experiences are actually still happening in the age of ‘customer experience’ and ‘gender equality’. How can they get it so wrong?

I know this is only a sample of three in a large category. But the expectation gap has no hope of closing if the brand experience at the pointy end is so appalling.

The car industry has a lot to learn, and it could start by investing some of the $755 million (SMI data) spent on advertising into listening to its customers and acting on that feedback.

But not with me – too late and no thanks.

Rochelle Burbury is principal at Third Avenue Consulting.


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