The service industry, especially as relates to retail, is replete with offers supposedly designed to engender a degree of identification and loyalty in its customers. We see ads in various media promoting ‘loyalty programs’ rewards or discounts based on committing to multiple services. Sometimes this extends to inferring one is part of the glow of the ‘family’, benefitting as if actually working for the promoting company.
However, it is anecdotally clear that the loyalty wave is one directional.
Take the traditional retail example of the fiasco known as (American chain) Target’s entry in Canada a few years ago. Brought in with great fanfare – becoming anchor store for many malls – the balloon burst within two years, as the combination of poor store inventories with prices not what consumers expected meant an unsuccessful market penetration. Not only did the chain not reward the loyalty of consumers anxious to renew their experiences south of the border, but also Target made no effort to establish a reward program to encourage repeat shopping at its Canadian venues. Therefore, Target’s minimalist, self-serving attitude brought it crashing to earth in this country.
On a more directly anecdotal basis, my two most recent experiences in the auto vehicle department serve to reinforce the ‘all for one’ but not ‘one for all’ side of the equation.
During the summer of 2010, the second of my two consecutive leases of General Motors cars was coming to an end. Due to the ongoing environment of 0% financing, I was seriously considering my next vehicle being a purchase, and I would have been prepared to look at staying with G.M. However, in the months leading to the end of my lease, not one single effort was made by the dealership or the company to encourage me to continue with them. Keep in mind that I had been a good customer over the years, getting all of my service work done at the dealership. Perhaps the government bailouts during the 2008-9 financial crisis kept the company’s sights above its ground level customers.
In August 2010 I purchased a Mazda. Until earlier this year there were no untoward issues beyond typical maintenance and parts costs. Then, a few months ago, a bizarre problem began occurring: with no evident cause, the emergency horn would go off a cluster of times, usually late in the evening, to the discomfort of myself and my spouse, and no doubt a few neighbours. When I had the problem laboriously tracked down by the service department – which, once again, I had built up a relationship with – it turned out I was dealing with what I was told was a ‘one in a thousand’ circumstance involving a computer circuit. Imagine my dismay when a couple of months later the same problem recurred. The service department tracked down a similar cause involving a circuit connected to a second door of the car. Once again a short period elapsed before the repair, as in both cases the part had to be specially ordered, and this time it seems to have done the job.
Due to the uniqueness of this unhappy series of events, plus the total expense of approximately $800, I felt it very justifiable that Mazda Canada should share in covering the cost. This was a rare problem to occur once, let alone twice – one for which it’s unlikely anyone would expect to be potentially concerned enough to try to engage extended coverage, if it exists. I would add that, having been owner or lessee of numerous brands of vehicles since the late 1970s, I’ve never encountered this kind of problem before (nor do I know of anyone else who has).
Unfortunately, my efforts with the company finally ended in futility two days ago, after a period of correspondence, phone calls, and time-wasting ‘protocol’, which ultimately proved that the company may stand behind its products, but shadowed by a minefield of excuses, policies, and ‘protocol’ which do not recognize there are some situations which need to have individual evaluation and solution. An opportunity for low-cost goodwill has been forfeited in the interest of iron-clad obstinacy.
In discussing this episode with a friend, he pointed out a somewhat similar, negative experience with another car manufacturer. We concluded, regretfully, that such big companies seem to put heavily promoted volume sales ahead of the obvious benefit of engendering repeat business.
Clearly, for many companies, when it comes to their customers, the idea of ‘do unto others (etc.)’ seems not to be in their strategic vocabulary.