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Toyota vs. Hyundai: Poor customer service speaks volumes about your brand!

Posted by Dale Berkebile on Wed, Dec 30, 2009

A Brand is more than a Logo - image

Ok, so I had an interesting experience over the holidays that I thought might be enlightening to people interested in branding's pros and cons.

My wife and I were traveling to Houston for the holidays. Over the time in Houston, I started to notice that my wife's Mercury Mountaineer was making some odd sounds. I knew we were going to have to get this checked out as soon as we got back to Fort Worth.

On the way home, we stopped for lunch. When we left the restaurant we backed out of our parking spot only to hear a god awful sound. As we started moving forward the sound seemed to go away, only to kick in with full-force once we were on the highway. I knew we were in trouble and told my wife to take the next exit.

So, we pull over in College Station and I get out and look under the car. It seems like the drive train or CV Joint is shot and there is grease oozing out of the rear axel. Although I am handy and work on my car at home, we had no tools and no idea where an auto parts shop was. Luckily, we were on an exit with a few car dealers.

Due to the perceived damage we stopped at the first dealer about a mile up the road. Keep in mind the problem seems to be getting worse and worse by the minute.

So this dealer, Garlyn Shelton Hyundai was the closest. Even though they seem to only handle Hyundai's, VW's and Chevrolet's we thought we would give them a try and in worse case see if they can point us to the Ford dealership close by.

Here is were the branding kicks in.

So we walk into their little waiting room with your basic chairs, one person waiting, nothing special. We head to the back and ask the receptionist if they can work on a Mercury and the problem we are having. Keep in mind we are several hours from our home and don't really know the local area. Obviously, we would not have stopped if we thought we could make it home.

Anyhow, the receptionist was fairly nice and took us to one of the sales manager's little cubicle. The sales manager acted a little put out and said he thought they were booked full and short staffed due to the holidays. This is totally understandable, and we knew it may take us all day if we could get in at all, but we had to do something.

The sales manager called the service manager and he was totally put out at having to talk with us. What a pain in the backside we were, thinking we could interrupt him and his work schedule. He had no interest in trying to fit this into his day and mentioned we should go to the Ford dealer down the street about a mile or two.

I thanked him and asked if he would mind giving me their phone number. I wanted to make sure we would have better luck with the Ford dealer before driving, our in very bad shape vehicle, several miles and then running into a similar situation. Again, highly put out  the service manager called the Ford dealer and asked if they would be able to get us in today. The Ford guy said no, the Hyundai service guy excepted that and hung up.

All the while I am wondering why this guy did not give me the number to the Ford dealer so we could tell them the dire situation we were in.

As all of this is going down I look over the sales managers shoulder at the sign hanging on the wall. It said "A Logo tells you WHAT you are buying… not WHO YOU ARE." As I am reading this banner I am thinking this is kind of odd. I do agree the a logo tells you what brand (product/service) your are buying, but the second part through me a loop. A logo is not WHO YOU ARE?

Hmmm, you see I think this is a flawed understanding of branding. I know a lot of people buy into the brand club and are happy to define who they are by the brands that they purchase. If this message was coming from BMW or Porcshe that would be one thing. They have a strong brand position, the problem was this was coming from Hyundai. Hyundai, hmmm, could you be any more of a rip-off brand, sounding like Honda maybe? I am then thinking a weak brand proclaiming… "logos" are not very important - could this be because your brand sucks? Do Hyundai owners take pride in their vehicles to the point of wanting to show off their new car brand on quality hats, shirts and the like? Or is it more appropriately advertised with Tchotchkes like cheap keychains?

Ok, back to the story. So the service guy fills us in that – no one can or wants to service our car today and basically walks out on us and gets back to his busy day. By this time I am totally livid and ready to thrash these unhelpful jerks.

My wife grabs me by the arm and we head out before things got ugly. As we get in the car, we are not sure what to do, but know the car can not be driven too far before we cause major damage. As we pull out of the Hyundai lot, we see a Toyota dealer up the road less than a mile away. I own a Toyota and figure this is our best bet since they are usually pretty good at servicing my car. By this time I am just praying they are willing to take a look at our Mercury and hopefully will work on it, if they can work it into their schedule.

So we pull into the Atkinson Toyota dealership. As we head into the service area they have a guy out front guiding people to the proper parking bay to start the servicing process. The first guy comes over and offers us a free water as we pull up to our lane's stop sign and wait a few seconds for Bobby Hall (the service rep assigned to us). Bobby comes out and starts asking us what we are here for and starts taking notes on a computerized notepad.

As we fill Bobby in on the details and he takes notes, he starts to recommend what they can do.

Although, they have a filled schedule he could see the sense of urgency and told us they will take a look at our car as soon as they can fit it in. From there he would be able to better tell us where we stand.

About two an a half hours later Bobby comes back and tells us we have some severe damage and the mechanic would not even drive the car off the lot. They also mentioned if they were not close to the first dealer and we drove further on our car having an accident, the first dealer could be liable for allowing us to drive on our damaged car.

After analysis, apparently we needed:

  • 2 rear axel bearings
  • 1 axel seal
  • 1 brake pad 

This was going to cost some where in the range of $1200. Honestly, we were thankful this is all it was going to cost.

The interesting thing is the Toyota waiting room was very plush, nicely furnished with a big screen TV and quality Toyota products in a nice display window.

They had a little office cubicle area with WiFi and several desks, a children's play area with toys and plenty of nice magazines and displays promoting Toyota technologies.

Beyond this Bobby was supper to work with and really went out of his way to make sure we felt comfortable and well taken care off. This was done even though we just stopped in without an appointment. Granted it took two days to get the vehicle fixed, but they did offer a shuttle to a hotel that they said they would cover or we could rent a car on their lot and they would cover one day of a rental car.

The point here is that Toyota and Bobby Hall went out of their way to give us a great experience in our awful situation.

When I got home I checked out both dealers web sites. To my surprise the Hyundai dealers site had a tagline that stated "Doing Business the Texan Way… Friendly!". I must say this made me totally sad to live in Texas, if this is the way Texans do business.

The long and short of this article is branding goes beyond a logo. It includes customer service. Toyota's customer service was outstanding and I would not only do business with them again, but I would recommend them to all my friends. The Hyundai dealer on the other hand was one of the worst experiences I have had with a dealer. Apparently customer service is as important to Hyundai as logos and taglines.

A brand is reinforced with…

  • good customer service
  • dress code
  • employee attitude
  • the way you answer the phone
  • and everything else employees say and do

If your company has employees that are hindering your brand you need to get rid of them. This is too costly because I will now never own a Hyundai, I will always tell not to buy their products.

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Tags: Positioning, Marketing, Branding, Brand Loyalty, Naming, Corporate Identity

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