This is not the first time I have written about the concept of customer effort. I doubt it will be the last. A few months ago I shared a story that described my interaction with an organisation as a little like having a tooth extracted – you can read that particular story here. The important point of the story is that the organisation that was the subject of it, Hertz, are no longer a company that I consider myself to be a customer of. The experience ‘pushed me over the edge’. Unnecessary customer effort can be fatal when it comes to your relationship with customers.

Since I wrote that story, I have used a number of alternative car hire companies in my home town of Chester. Relatively recently I switched to Enterprise – the experience they have given me has been markedly different (better) than any other hire car company I have used. I wrote a CX review on my perspective of Enterprise – you can read that here – it is very impressive. I never imagined that I would be connecting a brand that I have now become a ‘fan’ of with a story about Customer Effort, but what you are about to read demonstrates that even the best can get it wrong.

Before I share the story, I must point out that at a time when Customer Effort is being ever more discussed by organisations, I am hearing and reading stories every day that seem to suggest that the poor consumer is being subjected to ever increasing amounts of unnecessary ‘waste’! Being kept on hold; filling in forms; waiting for hours on end to get a response – just have a scan of Facebook and you will see enough evidence to write a book about it! The thing is, companies are losing customers (many of whom may have been loyal) as a result of it – much of the time it is completely avoidable.

So that leads me nicely in to a story that I believe was completely avoidable. Last week I hired a car with Enterprise – a Vauxhall Corsa. A nice little car that provides everything I need at a very affordable price. I drove away as satisfied as I always tend to be with the Enterprise experience. My need to hire a car at the moment is due to having work commitments in Surrey – a long way from Chester. A few days after receiving the car, I noticed a message on my phone. The message was from my Enterprise branch in Chester. The message advised that the car I had been given was subject to a Vauxhall recall. I needed to take it to a Vauxhall garage IMMEDIATELY. ‘Don’t worry said the message, ‘it will only take a couple of minutes to have it checked out’.

My instant reaction was one of annoyance. The week before I collected this car from Enterprise, I read in the news about Vauxhall having to recall around 20,000 cars. You may have seen that as well. My immediate thought was ‘why have Enterprise given me a car that is subject to a recall?’! I was not happy. Like all of you, I am very busy – when am I going to have time to take a car that is not mine to a Vauxhall garage?! I certainly could not do so the afternoon I received the message. However, with a long drive back to North West ahead of me the following evening, I really had no choice but to deal with the problem.

That night I identified a Vauxhall dealership closest to where I was staying – Now Vauxhall. In the morning I would have to take the car there and get it checked. If you know Staples Corner in North London (where Now Vauxhall is located), you will know that it is a rather busy traffic location. Situated at the start of the M1, getting to it can often be tricky – on this particular morning it took me 45 minutes to travel 1.5 miles to get a car checked out that was not even mine. My blood pressure was rising by the minute. As I walked through the front door of Now Vauxhall, I was not in the best of spirits. I had decided that I would have some VERY strong words to say to Enterprise about the whole situation.

Now Vauxhall, Staples Corner, North London

Now Vauxhall, Staples Corner, North London

Things did not get much a better. A lovely lady on the service desk wanted some information from me. My name, address, phone number, inside leg measurement etc… I must have said five times that the car was not mine – why did I have to give them this information? She could not answer the question. My frustration was steadily switching from Enterprise to Now Vauxhall. Having taken my details, I was asked to sit in the waiting area. As the clock ticked, more and more customers subject to the same recall started to arrive. It was a steady flow. The waiting area was getting busier and busier.

15 minutes went by and nothing happened. 20 minutes. 25 minutes. I was getting more and more frustrated. While I was waiting, I noticed hordes of Now Vauxhall staff (who I assume were sales staff) standing around chatting, laughing and joking with each other. They were doing absolutely nothing whilst dozens of their customers sat waiting for what I was told was a ‘2 minute job’!

At the 40 minute mark, I approached the receptionist. I was now getting desperate – I pleaded with her to just find out how long I would have to wait. She was not overly keen on finding out. The desperation in my eyes must have convinced her. A chap appeared from behind the service desk, went outside; came back less than a minute later and thrust the car keys back in to my hand. This man said absolutely nothing to me throughout that exchange. I kid you not – he did not say a word. Not even a little apology for keeping me waiting.

I wasted 90 minutes of my life last week – 90 minutes that I will NEVER get back. I am self employed. I cannot afford to lose 90 minutes – especially when I was spending it on a car that is NOT EVEN MINE!!!! A few days later I received a phone call from Enterprise in Chester. They wanted to apologise for what had happened. It was a good thing they waited a few days – I had calmed down a bit by then. They wanted to know what they could do to make the situation better. That is not what I wanted to hear. In a scenario where they have caused completely unnecessary effort for me, I wanted them to tell me what they were going to do. I do not want to hear excuses about why it happened – that is none of my concern. Just tell me what you are going to do to acknowledge that it should not have happened.

In many cases, I would turn my back on a company that subjected me to a situation like this. In the case of Enterprise I will not be doing so. I do trust them, and believe that they were genuinely sorry. If they do it again though, my reaction is likely to be very different. Vauxhall on the other hand is a different story. My experience at Now Vauxhall has confirmed one thing for me. I personally will NEVER be buying a Vauxhall. Now or in the future. They quite clearly do not care about their customers. They knew that 20,000 cars had been recalled – yet they were woefully unprepared to deal with it. Maybe I was just unlucky with the dealership I visited – it makes no difference. To me they were the face of Vauxhall that day. In a situation where they created unnecessary customer effort, they were neither prepared, sorry or empathetic to the time customers would have to put in to getting the issue that they created resolved.

Customer Effort can be fatal – for Vauxhall I am guessing it will prove to be so – I am unlikely to be the only person who will completely turn their back on the brand as a result of this debacle. I hope that stories like this allow others to understand the importance of dealing with customer effort. Mistakes happen – they always will. It is the way you handle them that will determine if a customer will come back to you in the future.

Update – 17th October 2014

The day I wrote this blog post, all of the organisations concerned contacted me – Enterprise, Now Vauxhall and Vauxhall Group. All have acknowledged the issues raised. I am particularly impressed with the response I received from Vauxhall Customer Assistance – it demonstrates a clear recognition and understanding of what happened, but more importantly, provides a clear view of how the business can learn from what went wrong. I believe that their response is a brilliant demonstration to all in dealing with a problem. I am delighted to share their response in full with you below:

Dear Mr Golding

I write further to our correspondence with you on Twitter today, and my voice message to you this afternoon.  I am sorry I was unable to speak with you directly, but I was keen to make contact with you after reading your blog entitled ‘Customer Effort – it’s real meaning through real stories (Vauxhall might want to read this!)’

We were very disappointed to read of your poor experience when visiting one of our authorised repairers, Now Vauxhall.  However, upon reading the details of your visit last week, we can very much understand your reasons for taking the time to put ‘pen to paper’.

I note from your blog that it was following a recall announcement for the Vauxhall Corsa that you had cause to visit the retailer in the first place.  Having read through the details of your visit I see immediately there are a numbers of learns to be had:

  • Dealership staff to recognise ‘peak periods’ within the business.  For example, first thing in the morning, or following a recall announcement when volumes of visitors may be greater than usual.  Sales staff to assist the service staff at these times, perhaps by helping with the checking in of vehicles or helping with admin etc.
  • Staff to be aware of the ‘2 minute jobs/waiting appointments’  and those which are longer bookings.  We want to try and ensure that a quick recall check such as yours does not end up ‘queuing’ behind an MOT & service, which is booked in for the day. 
  • From your report, on this occasion some of the dealership staff failed to demonstrate the customer service skills which we expect to be used in the workplace, when representing Now Vauxhall and Vauxhall Motors Ltd.  I regret that I am unable to offer an explanation as to why one service advisor failed to speak at all in his dealings with you.  This would seem to be one of the areas which also requires addressing.

The above suggestions, and your feedback, will all be passed to the Now Vauxhall Dealer Principal to review also.  This will ensure that areas of the business which require attention are addressed, in order to prevent such a situation arising again.

In the meantime, we would like to offer our sincere apologies that your experience when using our retailer was so poor, but thank you for taking the time out to let us know, and to make us aware.

Whilst I see from your blog that you have made a personal decision to never buy a Vauxhall, I do hope that you may consider accepting our apology.  I would like to assure you that this matter has been taken very seriously, and your comments will be used to help us demonstrate to our customers the high levels of customer service which should be expected at all times.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to respond, but please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any further queries.