Of software and people

A lesson in how not to satisfy customers

As I am writing this article I am crisscrossing the USA trying to get to Los Angeles from South Carolina. I am actually on vacation but duty calls and a quick jaunt across the continent is in order this evening. Back tomorrow night late, then back to the vacation for another few days.

My experience is one worth noting and I certainly hope that no parallels can be drawn to our dealerships from the customer service I am receiving this evening

There are no direct flights from where I started to where I need to go. The best you can get is one connection and the actual flying time varies from seven hours to 12 hours depending on the choice of airline, connection cities and the number of connections. Prices range from $1,200 to $3,200 for cattle class. I chose the $1,200 option to make the trip more cost-effective for my client. That means two stops: one in Atlanta and the next in Kansas City. The trip back is even more adventuresome. Los Angeles up and over to Washington then back down to South Carolina; then a two-hour drive to get back to where I started about 3:30 AM.

The guy next to me is returning to LA from a business meeting in Palm Springs. Last time I looked, those cities were both in California and nowhere near Georgia. He tells me the direct flight from Palm Springs to LA is less that an hour and the best rate he could get was $1,800 for economy class. His employer requires him to take the lowest possible fare, which was $290, but the flight is routed through Atlanta. The flight from Palm Springs was 4-hours-15-minutes and our Atlanta to Kansas City to LA flight is 5-hours- 5-minutes and flies right over Palm Springs.

I raise this issue not just to dump on the absurdity of airline travel but to highlight the issue of computers and software and their sometimes misguided uses.

Computer reality and customer reality

As dealers we rely on software and people every day of our business lives. We talk about focusing on our customers and striving to keep them eternally satisfied.

Well, so does the airline I am travelling on. They even brag about it but it’s a bunch of nonsense and everyone knows it, even the staff.

Let’s look at the customer service I have received thus far on this trip.

My first leg was called an on-time departure. By definition it was, in that we pulled away from the gate on time. Trouble is, we sat about 50 metres from the gate for 1 hour and 10 minutes before we were allowed to take off. Score one for the airline; on-time departure – top box score.

Next the in-flight entertainment system was not working. Score two for their airline, however, for having an in-flight entertainment system on all flights.

Most passengers missed their connections. The airline went into full swing telling all who would listen that they had the best automated re-routing system in the industry and that everyone would automatically be re-booked on another flight. On top of that there were airline agents at the gate to make sure everyone was looked after. Sounds impressive I thought.

I still had time until my Atlanta connection so I eavesdropped for a few minutes to see how this worked. I could not believe what I witnessed. The agent just helped people work through a kiosk that did the automated re-routing! That’s three for the airline for having an automated re-routing system.

There were a few bugs however. One couple with a small child, were given three tickets all on different flights, arriving at different times and one of them on a different date. The agent was flustered, since something told her that this was not quite right, but she seemed unable to rectify the situation without calling in her supervisor. In the end, mother and daughter got two seats on a flight to Chicago, leaving in 20 minutes, then on to Portland, while dad got to go to Kansas City and LA, then on to Portland the next day. They were informed that their baggage would not accompany them and would be sent directly to their home within the next 24 hours. After a meltdown by mom and daughter, the agent thanked them for flying the airline and looked forward to servicing them again. That’s another point for the airline for actually re-routing all affected passengers within the FAA time limits.

Up-selling gone wrong

I still had over five hours to fly and was looking forward to a new airplane and a movie. After takeoff, I started to press the screen in search of a good flick. I landed on an interesting one and selected it. Unfortunately it wanted a credit card since the cost to watch the movie was $6.00. More than that, it wanted the airline-branded American Express Card, which I, of course, don’t carry. The screen kept on telling me how much closer I would be to a free flight by renting this movie and receiving a bonus 50 miles. Score more points for creative use of frequent flyer miles.

I did my usual roaming around the system to find out what was free and stumbled on some TV channels. After a few minutes of Anderson Cooper dissecting the new Obama health care bill and pointing out many of its flaws and hidden costs, I decided to turn off the complimentary in-flight entertainment system and write this article.

Thus far the airline is getting top box scores for its CSI commitments, even though it has done anything but make customers satisfied. It has, however, played the CSI scoring system to a T and will likely win the “best US airline award” again next year, just like it has for the past five years!

You see, the rating system, which is based on software-generated measurements, is misguided because it is not focused on the customer.

The dealership parallel

Now let’s look at our dealerships. As crazy as the above real-life experiences are, could one or more of your customers tell a similar tale about their experience at your dealership?

Let’s remember a few key basics when we’re looking to software to fix our problems.

1. Software is an enabler, not a business process and very rarely is it a solution unto itself.

2. Humans run your business and humans are your customers.

3. Processes must satisfy the customer not the software provider.

4. Your staff must be fully trained in your processes and related software.

5. Customer should come first. Doing the right thing for your customer cannot get derailed by computer software requirements.

6. Your employees must be empowered to do the right thing when software logic gets in the way.

I have seen too many instances in dealerships where little thought has been put into actual customer service. Software systems are often very user-unfriendly and require illogical process changes on the showroom floor.

A common software shortfall is its inability to integrate with other software you may be using, particularly your DMS. While that situation is improving, it’s one to be aware of. Otherwise your staff may be left to duplicate and triplicate effort, while the customer is left to wonder who is in control and you are paying the bills for this extra work.

And don’t forget that while computers are quite capable of generating useful management statistics, it’s up to you and your staff to interpret the computer-generated data in a meaningful way.

People can think

Software, properly applied, can be helpful in many ways. But software, in and of itself, is never the solution. Remember that. If it can’t be adapted to the way you do business or should do business, stay away from it. Remember also that your employees have brains and should be allowed to use them. You’d be amazed at what they come up with. If they can’t use their brains due to software system limitations, you will also be amazed but in the wrong way.

Well dinner has arrived. Peanuts and cookies and a ginger ale. My neighbour from Palm Springs ordered a scotch and water and wanted a sandwich. They complied with the scotch, but only had candy bars and chips for $5.00. He opted for chips and handed the stewardess cash to pay the $12.00 and a $3.00 tip. No such luck; credit card only policy. He reluctantly passed back the scotch and chips since he doesn’t not carry American Express either. He opted for ginger ale and cookies. An excellent choice, I told him, as the stewardess very apologetically said that I had been given the last ginger ale. Score another one for the airlines.

Lets hope that service like this never happens in your dealership.


About Chuck Seguin

Charles (Chuck) Seguin is a chartered accountant and president of Seguin Advisory Services (www.seguinadvisory.ca). He can be contacted at cs@seguinadvisory.ca.

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