Last year I decided to get more serious about exercise. As any wise middle-aged man does, I chose to focus on an aerobic activity where I’d move very fast in traffic with limited ability to stop: In-line skating.
I got onto Amazon and bought a new pair of relatively expensive Rollerblade brand skates. They were a little stiff at first, but I figured I needed to break them in. After a few weeks they still hurt so I emailed the company , I got an immediate response that one of their product managers would contact me personally. I received a call from a young man at Rollerblade who told me my issues were unacceptable, asked me a bit about my skating habits and then sent me a more expensive pair of skates he thought would better meet my needs (which they did) and didn’t ask for the old ones back.
Was that smart on his part? They clearly lost money on my purchase… but they now have a loyalist for life. I’ve told the story to many people, bought their skates for my kids and posted the story on Facebook. I’m about as big an advocate as they come.
Compare that to an experience I had with a car I purchased 18 months ago. It wasn’t a luxury brand, but it was a nice four-door sedan in the $30-40k range. With 8,000 miles on the car the transmission failed. I took it to the dealer where it was fixed under warranty. I wrote the manufacturer a note to tell them how surprised I was that this car would have such a problem in such a short period of time. The response I received back was essentially “The dealer fixed it; what else do you want us to do?” It almost felt like they were saying this is a common experience with their products and should be expected.
The manufacturer’s reaction left me concerned about the purchase I had made and convinced me that I wouldn’t buy this brand again. All it would have taken was someone to call to tell me how disappointed and surprised they were that this could happen to one of their cars and maybe send me a branded T-shirt or something trivial as a thank you for putting up with such an unlikely occurrence with their car… anything to convince me that the problem was an anomaly and they cared about me as a customer.
No company is perfect and that includes manufacturers in the industrial products space. Problems will always occur. When they do, companies have a choice to make: Turn it into an opportunity to build customer loyalty or do the bare minimum to leave a bad impression.
Bart Schwartz is President of Industrial Channel Research, a company focused on helping industrial manufacturers understand customer needs and perceptions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.