Don't make your small company look like a big company

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PARK RIDGE, IL - JULY 01:  Toyota vehicles sit...

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Someone once told me that all small companies try to look like big companies and all big companies to look more like small companies. I guess I once accepted that at face value, but I am starting to question it. My wife and I recently had an experience with our local car dealer that felt like a small company looking like a big company--it was a huge turn-off in multiple ways, and might serve as a cautionary tale for other small businesses.

It started with us leaving our car for service and being pleasantly surprised that it was ready by noon instead of at the end of the day as we expected. The service agent called and said, "It's ready, you can pick it up any time." My wife and I headed straight down, talked to the agent to find out what they'd done, paid the bill, and waited.

"It will just be five minutes," was the first lie. "We're washing your car." I guess they heard that the expensive car dealerships wash the cars before they give them back, but shouldn't they have washed the car before they called us?

After thirty minutes of cooling our heels (and I personally prefer warm heels), we finally got the car. The extra value service of washing the car had turned into a huge dissatisfier.

But that wasn't the end of it. We were called a few days later and asked how the service was. So, my wife, to her eternal regret, let them know that she wasn't happy with blowing a half hour waiting for the car to be washed. This led to an extended phone call, where the call center that apparently does the surveys for this small business, repeatedly mispronounced the name of the town where the car dealer is located. (Instead of Pa-RAM-us, they kept saying what sounded like PA-ra-moose, which I believe is a parakeet with antlers.) So, folks, when you try to seem big and impressive with this fabulous survey operation, you seem silly when they don't know the name of your town.

But it got worse. The caller told my wife that they were authorized only to mark down her one-to-five ratings for the three questions and that if she wanted to discuss the actual reason that the dealer annoyed us that she needed to fill out a written survey that they'd happily mail to her.

My wife, bless her, asked them why they thought it was a good idea to waste even more of her time when she was complaining about having her time wasted. And then the double-speak ensued as policies and other arcana were patiently explained by the outsourced disembodied survey taker. In other words, just like a big company would act. Sheesh.

Then, she got a follow-up phone call the next day from a supervisor checking on why she didn't want to fill out the written survey. (I am stifling laughter as I think about what her reaction must have been.) The supervisor explained to her that the written survey is more important than the phone survey, so my wife asked, "Oh, so should I ignore the phone calls you give me from now on?"

"No," he spluttered, "but if you turn down the written survey, we can never send you one again." She laughed and told him that was fine with her. And, you guessed it, a few days later, we got a written survey in the mail.

What's the lesson here? Just because you're a small business, don't expect that everyone you hire to represent you will act the way you expect them to. My advice is to think carefully before you bug your customers, take their input any way they'll provide it, and test your own survey takers with your employees as mystery customers (much like mystery shoppers) to make sure things are going as you expect. And remember, when your customer feedback mechanism is broken, your customer can't give you that feedback very easily.

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Moran published on March 16, 2009 10:37 AM.

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