22 May 2012

Forgive them… cos they know what they do

Customer loyalty as a term has often been bandied around, strung together with numbers, tightly wrapped up in excel sheets. Analyst debate, segment, typify and label. Planners come up with deep insights after much thinking and trying to look out of windowless offices. And some profound statements in a pitch later, one realises that this indeed is true.
One such statement about a customer’s loyalty to a brand is the fact that a loyal customer forgives.
This is so true. Provided the brand asks for it and deserves it.
One has a connect with a brand that spans time, emotions and finally and practically, usage of the brand.
In stark contrast with NB’s #Nissan experience was my brand experience with #Maruti Suzuki. (My previous post: The Wheels of the Fortunate).
Anyone who has ever owned a (generically speaking) Maruti knows what it stands for – the vehicle represents convenience, value-for-money, low maintenance and finally serviceability virtually anywhere you go.
We’ve all seen the mileage commercial – ‘Kitna deti hai’. It brings a smile on  your face but that is what it once again stands for.
We all know that in terms of numbers and reach, this is surely the largest selling car brand in India.
With that kind of numbers, reach and almost irreplaceable brand equity one would expect arrogance, even complacence. However what puts #Maruti Suzuki as really the No.1 in my mind is their dedication to customer service. And I am impressed.
And here’s an example.
Trading in my earlier (also a) #Maruti Suzuki vehicle, I decided to replace it with another one from the same fold.
Not quite sure of the newer models I called the nearest showroom,gave them my co ordinates and asked them for a test drive of three of their hatchback models: the Swift, the Ritz and the A Star.
It’s not that I was fiercely loyal to #Maruti Suzuki alone.

I had half-heartedly tried the Honda showroom number. Didnt get through. Gave up as it was not high on my list.

I had called the nearest  #Hyundai dealer. They were to call me back and tell me when they’d send an Eon for a test drive. When they didnt I called back. I was told I had not left my number and address. Strange. I did that. They didn’t call back. Obviously Hyundai has enough customers and didn’t need my business. Fair enough.

So back to the #Maruti Suzuki test drives.

For some reason the sales person who was to come was not on time. 20 minutes late. I pushed my annoyance aside and went down exitedly to test drive a Swift/Ritz/A-Star, whatever the guy had got.

Imagine my dismay when I see a Zen! I was livid. Told him I didnt want to test drive a Zen and how could he get 3 cars wrong! He apologised, said he’d get a Swift and come back but I just told him I didnt want to test drive any car and went back upstairs fuming.

Clearly it was a fruitless day for test drives. I’d not got through to Honda, Hyundai was not interested and now these guys had messed up.

A little later however, the sales guys messaged me. Profuse apologies. He said I should give him one more chance. He told me there was a mix up. A little later he messaged me again, saying he’d not repeat this error. The next morning he called. Apologised again and promised to come for a test drive, anytime – emphasis being on any time.

I softened. And decided to give him that second chance. Forgave my brand. And sure enough… He kept his word. Arrived 10 minutes before the appointment time.

A few days later I was signing the papers. Throughout the buying process the service was impeccable. Even when he had to go out of town unexpectedly he had put someone in charge to complete the formalities.

Did the company need my business more vs Hyundai? No way. Did they make me feel that way. Yes. Would I have forgiven a new brand that I had had no truck with earlier? Unlikely. I forgave my usual brand but I did get back more in terms of service.

And here’s what I think, I think we forgive our brands because it’s so much easier to be with the familiar. The tried. The tested. The true.

And I think that brand managers who are wrapped up in their excel sheets should understand that Customer Loyalty doesn’t come from a customer: it comes from the brand’s loyalty to the customer.

Thankfully for me, #Maruti Suzuki has got it right.