I’m not saying I’m a big shot or anything, but mine is a luxury car.
Okay, to prove I’m not a big shot, I’ll concede that it’s the entry-level first-time-buying-a-luxury-car model from a certain German automaker. And, I bought it a while ago. I’ve had it for a while. So yes, boujie I’m not...yet (keep that Growth Mindset going!)
But here’s the thing: Recently I had an experience with this brand that was decidedly not luxury in any way whatsoever.
Here’s some background:
With the advent of 5G technology, you may have noticed that a lot of mobile phone carriers are removing 3G from their portfolios altogether to make room for the latest-and-greatest. Surely whenever 6- or 7G (or whatever’s next) comes along, 4G will fall off the back end as well. Shall we go through GSM, flip-phones, and can I tell you how much I miss having that tactile keyboard on my old Nokia? Anyway, we all move on...
The trick is that, my onboard communications system was tied to that old 3G technology (my car is several years old, but not that old...) The leadership at Der Deutsche Autokonzern made the decision that, with what is called the “3G turndown”, folks with certain models beyond a certain age would not be updated with new technology. So in essence, then, the entire communication feature within my vehicle is now the equivalent of the metaphorical doorstop or paperweight. Now, surely if I were boujie and had the top-of-the-line model (or of mine were built more recently), I’d either be on the newer technology already, or my business would have been important enough to them that I’d have fallen into a category that would have had a complimentary (maybe not!) upgrade option for the system. Alas, that’s not me. My system went dark, never to return...not to be fixed or replaced with anything. It’s like I’m on one of those off-the-grid camping trips.
Now, I don’t necessarily begrudge the company for making the business decision they did (considering the brand, though, I would be within my rights to begrudge the decision)...you have to draw the line somewhere, and surely there’s overhead and sunk costs in rolling out a solution that might also include an estimate of how many people may even avail themselves of the option. Bottom line, someone somewhere (perhaps in Germany, perhaps in the US) decided to draw the line where they did. Okay, so I’m out of luck. The investment in technology to make everybody whole isn’t worth it, based on whatever criteria they used. So, some people are going to be kinda left out. Sorry, Charlie, there’s no solution for you. Next time maybe you’ll buy a higher-end model that’ll keep you in the In Crowd.
But here’s where the experience, or more precisely the Brand Promise intersects with that decision:
When I tried to find satisfaction—or even information—with all this, I had far less than a luxury experience. There was no way, based on the corporate decisions they’d chosen, to actually satisfy me; that train left the station when they chose as they did. But the more I engaged with the brand, the more I realized that they hadn’t even considered what to do for people like me.
When I called their help line to inquire (I was still only then coming around to understand the contours of what was going on), I got run-around, placed on hold for days, even ghosted by people who promised to get back in touch with me with information. When I escalated, I got supervisors and managers who would read the exact some script to me that the front-line agents had already recited. They ghosted me too. (Funny, at the risk of divulging the brand in question, their IVR recording as you waited on hold touted that their promise is “raising the bar” for their Customers. Eh...swing in a miss, mein Freund.)
Once I was convinced that, existentially speaking, there wasn’t going to be an actual resolution (one that would result in my having any connectivity in my car), I moved on to asking, as some sort of consolation, Ok, so what can your company do for me? Sure, I can’t reverse a corporate decision like this, simply because I’m a Customer complaining. But I’m surely not the only one you’re leaving to twist in the wind. Do you have any plan (and desire, even) even to keep me as a Customer? If so, what does that look like? I mean, you’re not just going to drop me like this and expect that that’ll be that? If you can’t make this happen for me, you’ve got something else for me, right? Right?
A true luxury brand might have made the same business decision about where to cut their Customers off. But they would have looked at that remnant and considered, Alright. What can we do for them? Why not have a heartfelt (read: genuine) outreach to those you acknowledge will be left with less and say: “Here’s what we’re going to do for you instead”? After all, my car is literally worth less now than it would be if it had an operational communication system in it. When I go to trade it in (and where do you suppose I’ll not be going to do that?) or if I were to sell it myself, it won’t garner what it otherwise should. For that matter, there are plenty of non-luxury models these days made by the likes of Ford and Toyota (hmm...now that I think of it...) that do have this technology that’s kind of becoming table-stakes for the auto industry. It’s as though I’ve stepped backwards, having initially made a more expensive purchase.
How about offering some sort of incentive: “We realize that this negatively impacts you and the value of your car. [Place in here some sort of equivocation about how you really, really wanted to upgrade me but “it’s just impossible!”] In recognition of our gratitude for your having chosen our brand and to offer compensation, if you purchase from us again and bring your car in for a trade-in, we’ll incentivize you in your next purchase to the sum of an additional $X. We value you as a Customer and want to ensure you recognize how much you mean to us.” Surely the sort of mathematics that went into deciding how far back to go in upgrading cars and model years could have included the number of people who, incensed by having been simply left behind, may have incentivized the brand to identify the cost of trying to keep those Customers with some sort of make-good?
They didn’t even invest in arming their Customer Care team with offering cogent and compassionate understanding to the (luxury, mind you) Customers they left out in the cold. Some people do luxury well...others, not so much.
In reality, things have gotten much better for me in the years since I purchased this car. We’re the sort of household that hangs on to a car for several years, even several years past paying it off. My next car will be a luxury one. It will not be the entry-level. I can pretty much guarantee you which brand will not be receiving that business.
(Originally Published 20230509)
– LtCol Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB, CSM#2023#ExperienceDesignImprovementInnovation#CXStrategy
– Fractional Chief Customer Officer/Principal, Zeisler Consulting