Deficient Customer Care and what you can do about it.

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationBackground:
It is interesting how negative personal experiences with an organization can make you reconsider different areas of our day-to day work experiences and reactions. The following case has made me focus on what we can do when deficient customer service directly effects us.
Four years ago, a family member purchased a second-hand Mercedes Benz A Class (2005 model) from an employee of an authorised dealer for M-B in Madrid, Spain. The car had been serviced by the M-B dealer and the log book showed that all the required maintenance has been carried out properly. The car was always garaged and had never been on bad roads. In August, 2013, with only 74.000 Km of use, the car’s automatic gear box broke down and badly damaged the car’s transmission which resulted in a bill for 1.484,83 euros just for the repair of the transmission. The gear box was, fortunately, covered by a special policy with our insurance company which covered the cost of the replacement gear box. Obviously, the damage to the transmission would NOT have occurred if the gear box had not been defective and caused the breakdown.

Action taken:
Since the car had such a low milage, The family member & I immediately contacted the M-B dealer in Madrid and asked if it was normal for one of their cars to break down with such a low milage and did they think it appropriate that the client should have to pay for the repair when it was obviously a manufacturing defect. After all, one does not expect a M-B to break down after such a small amount of use! The response from the Customer Service Department of the dealer & M-B Spain was basically “Bad luck, the guarantee has expired…so…, not our problem!”

While MB were acting in accordance with their legal rights, the response created a sensation that M-B’s customers were of less importance than their bottom line profits.

NOTE: The staff  in the dealer’s repair centre / workshop were professional, courteous and understanding & did their best to help us at all times. They actually refused to let the Insurance company remove the gearbox to have it repaired somewhere else. It was the dealer’s & then M-B’s German Customer Service Dept. Responses that let the whole organization down.

We then contacted M-B international Customer Service in Germany by email and by telephone to find out if this was something that was “normal” with M-B cars. The response was polite and the same as that from the dealer which was basically: “Bad luck, the guarantee has expired…so…, not our problem!”.

We then contacted other “quality” car sellers (BMW, Audi, Honda and 6 others) and ask them what their response would be to this situation and all of them agreed that NO quality car should have a gearbox problem with such a low milage and said that they would have responded in a totally different way to M-B.

What were the learning points from this event:
For the organization

Just because a company says that “customer care is important”, their actions speak louder than their words. To put it bluntly, there are times for organizations to : “Either put up or shut up!”

Many organizations are so arrogant that they feel that they can treat customers badly and that they will accept this bad treatment. Which is a serious error: many customers vote with their feet, tell their friends about the bad treatment which results in the company losing customers that they never know that they have lost! (see the reference at the end of this article)

Many organization never think about who they might be dealing with or the power to influence others that a customer might have. Normally, the more expensive the product, the greater influence the buyer may have!

There are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule which means that any organization which is inflexible in the application of it’s Customer Service policy is heading for disaster. There is ALWAYS someone who has the power to authorize the exception, but many Customer Service Staff are “afraid” to take a complaint to a higher level: That is why the C.S. policy manual exists!

What might seem reasonable and logical to a “normal” person who has paid good money for a product and have certain expectations about quality, durability, post-sales support, etc,. is often perceived as being unreasonable by member of the C.S. team because of the indoctrination received from the organization.

Anyone working in Customer Service should read the article mentioned at the end of this article as it provide valuable input on how their response to a complaint can affect their business (and possibly their own jobs!).

Latest updates:
June, 2014, problems with the petrol gauge: 4 days in the garage, collected the car, got halfway home and had to return with  the same problem!

One week later, the same problem again and back to the dealership!

July, 2015, same problem as indicated above: the petrol gauge. Now, it appears that the battery is responsible however a search on the internet indicates that this is a common problem wih many models that is known to Mercedes Benz but it appears that they can’t / won’t fix it. Their solution is to sell you a new battery for $280 to solve the problem.

For the client / “victim”

1.    Ensure that you have a legitimate complaint. For example, if you car has 300,000 km or more on the clock, you have to expect that there will be problems sooner or later.

2.    Make the complaint, in writing, in the dealership where you brought the vehicle as soon as possible after discovering the problem. Give them time to respond to your complaint. A professional and ethical organization will respond rapidly while others will keep you waiting in the hope that you drop the complaint.

3.    If there is no response to your complaint in 10 working days, increase the pressure: – Contact the National Sales Manager, General Manager or other senior directors. Often they tend to be “unreachable” or “unavailable” to mere clients, but try all available means to reach them. If there is no immediate response from anyone you do reach, wait for 10 days and then contact the people in the European or International Head office with copies of all your     documentation, etc., with copies to all the senior managers.

4.    Put your bad experience on the internet: social networks such as face book, linkedin, twitter and other open forums.

5.     If possible, put your complain on the internet in as many language as possible – the more the better. If you can do it in Mandarin Chinese, even better as many producers or sellers of luxury and EXPENSIVE goods are trying to get a market share there! Put your complaint on the Chinese social networks, too.

6.     Tell all your friends, family, colleagues, clients, etc., about what has happened; what you have done and what responses have been received from the organization.

7.    Always let the organization know that you are publishing your problem which gives them another opportunity to respond to your complaint.

8.    If, after trying all of these steps, you still have no satisfactory response, contact local and national consumer protection organizations – with COMPLETE details and documentation of the communication between you and the organization.

9.     If you thing you really do have a valid & legitimate complaint, persist with it.

– Never threaten the organization in writing or verbally.
– Never use inappropriate or offensive language in writing or verbally.
– Never exaggerate, tell lies or omit relevant data.
– Never get angry and respond viscerally.
– Always keep a copy of ALL the documentation that they send you and you send them.
– Record any phone conversations – make sure that you get the name of the person that you are talking to – They will probably record your call so it is fair for you to record them.
– If the problem is resolved, always update the status of your complaint on EVERY site you have posted on.
– Be persistent but “educated”.

To avoid future problems:
1.    Check the internet before spending money on anything. Look for complaints about the company, it’s products and their Customer Service or support services.

2.    Ask friends, family, colleagues about their experiences with the company / products / customer Service, etc., before buying.

“Caveat Emptor” may be true in many cases, but NOT always.

The content of this article is based on personal experience and any additional feedback / comments would be gratefully received.

The following article may prove useful in your negotiation with a problematic Customer Service Department. Basically, it states that “As a rule of thumb, four out of every five customers who complain but receive satisfactory treatment remain loyal. Moreover, these customers may tell up to ten or twelve other people of their positive experience. Every dissatisfied customer, by contrast, will typically share his or her experience with double that number.”

Best practice benchmarking of customer relationships and retail marketing
A Joint study by The Union of the Electricity Industry – EURELECTRIC and The Boston Consulting Group (2000)

(c) Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain, January, 2014 (bilingual web page – English & Spanish)

Graphic from:


About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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