Car Trouble

Gary - 25 th May 2016

“The days of brands competing with other brands within category is over. Customers will compare the experience they have within the automotive category to that of supermarkets, hotels and sports brands. The customer experience will differentiate.” Laura Schwab, ex Land Rover, now Aston Martin (president)

So, is Laura Schwab right? I think she is and here’s my story.

I am pretty bad at cars.

A few years ago, after an unfortunate experience with an Alfa Romeo I decided to buy the most reliable car I could find. As is probably typical, I started the process by asking a few mates and read Which? The consensus was that the time had come for me to get a Lexus so I went to the fabled second hand dealer in these parts, Fords of Winsford, and spent half an hour with a salesman looking over a fairly new car and decided to go ahead. Deal! On the walk back to the office to sign everything I mentioned that I had been looking for a Lexus for a while and was pleased that I had found one. He stopped dead in his tracks and exclaimed; ‘That Lexus sir, it is a Mazda’.

I am pretty bad at cars.

Then three years ago I decided to up the ante on car brands and toured the various dealers and ended up with an ultra-environmental friendly (no road tax) BMW. A big black one in case you are wondering. Deep joy I thought, my travails are over. Now, even with my very rudimentary understanding of cars, I do know that BMWs have a reputation for quality engineering, excellence and style and are at the premium end of the market so I expected their values to permeate their customer experience. Fast forward to last Saturday.

After three years of carefree motoring it was MOT time and joyfully they asked me to turn up at 8am in the morning. Let me repeat; 8am on a Saturday morning! So, I regulated my beer intake on Friday night so I’d be ok to drive (for those who know me realise that anything more than three pints of your finest English Ale is a bit of a challenge for yours truly) and blearily raced off for my taste of service excellence with style.

The BMW service centre in Chester was as clean as a dentists. Magnificent. Clean, whitewashed walls, astonishingly lUXuriant for a service centre. There were comfy chairs, a massive TV screen, free newspapers, free coffee and tea, some lovely looking biscuits and 5 workstations. You could even see your car on a special screen so you could check up on it….or blow it kisses if you felt it necessary.

I settled down for an hours work feeling that everything was right in the world but immediately things began to go wrong. For starters the Wi-Fi didn’t work and the coffee machine was on the blink.  But the biggest issue was that I was sat in the middle of a three way assault on my ears; Heart Radio from the right, Radio One from the left and the TV from behind. An aural whirlwind of noise and I was in the middle. I asked the receptionist if one or two of the assailants could be turned off and as I was the only one in the reception area it must be ok. She was great, off went the TV and Heart Radio. I could cope with Justin Beiber…or whoever it was. But then along came a chap who turned it all back on again. After a circular argument that went like this;’ we always have it on sir’…’ I am the only one here and I want to work, and it’s giving me a headache ’….’but we always have it on sir’….and so on, I gave up.

But that was just the start. Apparently I should have been asked for a recall for a new clamp on the exhaust but somehow ‘I had been missed off the list, and something had melted’ (their Customer experience?). Of course they couldn’t let me go without fixing things which added nearly two hours to my visit. Two more hours of ear pounding joy. But still it wasn’t finished, they could only do a temporary repair and they told me I had to return next week but not to worry ‘it will only take 30 minutes’.

So I returned.

I handed over my keys and asked for confirmation that it would only take 30 minutes. It didn’t come. I was working at one of the work stations so I ploughed on regardless and after one and a half hours I was approached by a worried looking service assistant to be told that they had ordered the wrong part. Not only had they done this but they had taken 90 minutes to tell me. They asked me to return again and I refused. The saga continues.

So, what’s the point of this little tale? Well, firstly, Laura Schwab is right, the customer experience will differentiate. In fact, she is right on two points as she also says that our experience benchmarks nowadays are across different sectors so whilst BMW probably is no different to any other car service centre I wasn’t comparing it to that. I was comparing it to my favourite hotel and Apple.

My BMW customer experience was appalling. But one of its problems is that the experience is not under its control. It relies on its dealer network to deliver the service and whilst it positions its cars in a certain way the experience was completely misaligned.  No style, no class, no excellence. It is now time for a Lexus and that is the real point… (or is it a MAZDA?)


Gary is the chairman and one of the original founders of Brand Vista. With over 20 years of brand experience both on the client and agency side he loves finding out what customers and consumers are really thinking and turning this knowledge into compelling brand propositions that succeed in the real world.
Find out more about Gary