Trust Your Customers

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In this blog, I have often written about listening to your customers. Usually, I focus on designing and selling products and solutions, to be sure they are what the customer needs, not what we want to sell them or think they need. Today I am writing about customer service when it comes to repair, maintenance and support. It starts with a story of a recent experience I had, which is full of lessons.

In my vehicle, I have auto headlights. When a sensor detects it is dark out, my headlights come on, and the screen in my vehicle dims. A few weeks back, this stopped working. My headlights would come on and off — seemingly at random — and my screen would go dim. When this happens in the middle of the day, you can not see the screen at all. The vehicle is less than a year old. I made an appointment with the dealer and brought it in for repair.

They called me back an hour later to tell me that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle. They said the screen brightness had been lowered, and that is all they could find. They informed me that they had run all diagnostics, and nothing came back. I told them that it was not just a screen brightness setting, as the screen would oscillate between bright and dark a few times in a matter of 10 minutes. In fact, I had some videos of it that I offered to show them if that would help. They told me the videos would not help because they had already done everything and nothing was wrong. I asked if they had taken the vehicle for a drive to witness the issue themselves, and they told me again that did not need to happen; there was nothing wrong. This conversation went on for about five minutes. At this point, I asked to speak with a service manager, because in my view there was a problem, and the screen was essentially unusable while this continued. The service manager was on the phone, and I was told I could talk to him when I arrived to get the vehicle.

I arrived, and the service manager came out and walked me out where I was to pick up my vehicle. He indicated that I had thrown a winter hat on the dashboard; it had slid down and was covering the light sensor. This was, indeed, the source of the problem.

Now that the story is done, let’s think about the lessons. Yes, I unknowingly did something that caused the problem. I can be clear and upfront about that. It was my fault. But, what about how this entire interaction happened?

It is clear that the first technician did not realize a hat was covering the sensor. They spent time working on the vehicle, changing my brightness and other settings, and running diagnostics. Based on the time spent with the vehicle, and that they played with brightness settings, I believe they witnessed that this was not working properly. Where they went from there, is where the lessons start.

When the technician saw the problem, but could not resolve it, they should have asked someone else for help or suggestions. It is possible the culture in this shop does not reward that type of behavior (asking for help). It could be that the tech simply did not want to bother and was ready to move on to the next vehicle. The service advisor I spoke to seemed unwilling or unable to understand what I was saying versus what was on the sheet the technician gave them. No matter what I said about how obvious the problem was, when it started, and that I had recorded it happening, they never once suggested they ought to look into this a bit more. The conversation was essentially them telling me I was wrong, and there was not actually a problem.

In the end, what I believe happened was that the service advisor, at my insistence, went to the service manager with my concerns. I am guessing that the service manager took a look at the documentation of what was done to the vehicle, and then went and looked at my vehicle. They likely immediately saw the bright orange hat covering the light sensor and recognized the problem. I assume this because it only took me ten minutes after the phone to get to the shop, and when I arrived they had figured out the issue. The manager did the right thing and explained the problem to me. However, he never took responsibility for the technician who did not recognize the problem nor for the service adviser who, essentially, did not listen to what I was telling them. He also had a bit of an attitude that made me feel like I was the dumb one for insisting there was an issue when it was my own fault.

  • Lesson 1: Ensure a culture that encourages asking questions when something is unknown.
  • Lesson 2: Encourage and reward employees who ask questions and challenge answers, in order to be sure your customers’ needs are being met.
  • Lesson 3: Train your team to listen to what the customer is telling them. In fact, the more you troubleshoot and can not find an issue, the more you need to understand the customer’s problem.
  • Lesson 4: Be willing to admit when you are wrong. Apologize, move and fix the procedures that caused the problem.
  • Lesson 5: Even if your customer does something that you believe is “stupid” or that they should have known not to do, treat them with respect.

I think that technology and automobile support teams are similar in the vein that users of each are often timid of talking to the techs because they don’t want to be made to feel stupid. They are often afraid that they have done something wrong, and we will call them out on it. This is why we need to go out of our way to ensure they don’t feel that way. Along with designing and installing equipment, our job is to make sure it is usable, reliable and meets the client’s expectations. If we do not listen to our clients, we will not meet any of those expectations.