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So today I had a little car trouble, nothing huge, just that the day did not end up like I thought it would. It got me thinking about customer service. What do we want when we go somewhere and spend our hard earned money? How do we, as human beings, expect to be treated? In an age where we’re losing our social interaction skills, where kids will grow up sorting out their issues over a computer instead of trying to talk out a problem, where will we be ten years from now? What will we expect from customer service interactions then?

I was at a conference recently where the speaker pointed out that this very issue, social interactive skills, is one of the biggest contributing factors to violence in schools. Kids are not widely taught, nor do they get to practice often, social conflict. Everything can be thrown out from behind the wall of social media. You can bully someone from the comfort of your own room, without ever having to be near the person you are aiming at. It was a powerful statement that rang true with me.

I think, how can I effect this change? I don’t have any kids of my own yet to teach. I can let my dog bark it out with the neighboring dogs, at least they don’t know how to use Facebook….yet, though I have thought about starting a page for her…

Today, however, I’m no different than the rest of society. When trying to work something out verbally fails, you go to the Internet. You “take it to the streets” (a phrase that I can’t say without singing it like Michael McDonald in my head) to a larger audience to find someone who will listen.

Suffice it to say, I will not be emailing the letter below (to be followed promptly by posting it on their Facebook) until my car is returned to me tomorrow, I’m not an idiot. I also hope that after tomorrow, there is nothing more I have to add to it before sending.

What do I expect out of this, what do I want?

To be heard!

Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that why we blog, post on social media, talk at the “water cooler”, de-stress over lunches or happy hours with friends? We all just want to be heard, and more importantly, to be there for others when they need to vent.

Dear Bill and Pinnacle Nissan;
There’s no reason you should know who I am, so let me give you a bit of background. I am a loyal customer who purchased a Nissan Altima five years ago. It was my first new car, ever. I bought a service package, so that I could take care of my car, make sure to keep it looking beautiful and running smoothly. You are near my office, so it’s incredibly convenient to drop my car off in the morning, receive complementary shuttle service to my office and then pick up my car on the way home. It’s one of the main reasons why I bought my car at your specific Nissan dealership.

Over the course of the last five years, you have done every oil change, every battery replacement, every tire replacement, every brake pad replacement, even after the service contract has run out. My car has kept up beautifully. I couldn’t ask for a more reliable vehicle.

Each time I come, I’m asked who my service person is. I don’t know, I have to say, it changes every time. There was Angel, there was Rob, there was another Rob, there was Phil, there was Bill. Who can keep track over that period of time? It didn’t bother me. Some were nice, some were new, some were pushier than others, but they all got the job done.

My friends ask, why do you always take your car to the dealership, it’s sooo much more expensive? Most times, it is. But it’s convenient, it’s consistent and there are perks: no one else works on my car while I’m at work, no one else washes my car and vacuums it out for me before they return it.

I would hear other customers dropping off their cars and complaining that their service person always changed. Who cares? I always thought. As long as they take care of you and get the job done, then it shouldn’t matter who it is.

I have worked in customer service my entire adulthood, in fact, I’ve been very blessed in my young life to have managed huge teams of people. I have worked in sales, on multi-million dollar accounts. No matter what business you are in, the one thing we all strive for is to sell a consistent product to our customers. So it doesn’t matter if we get Rob, or Phil or the other Rob; the output should still be the same and we should leave with our problem solved and feeling like we had a respectful interaction with one of Nissan’s service personnel.

I have always felt this way, for five years. Until today. I dropped my car off at 8am, the car was shaking between 20 and 40 mph, I knew something was wrong immediately and brought it in. I had a new guy (new to me), Michael. Seemed great, took my info, told me how much it would be if tires needed rebalancing (which is what I was assuming) and if so, could he just go ahead and do that? Yes! I thought to myself, somebody gets it! I’m a busy woman, if you can push forward with something, please do. I liked his initiative and thought to myself, finally, someone who gets me and understands that time is precious.

I happily walked over to the shuttle and was ever happier when the shuttle guy, Buck (my favorite) was there waiting for a rider. Perfect timing.

Michael called me at 11am to tell me that it wasn’t the tire balancing – one of my tires had a huge bulge in it and was separating. Also, I had alignment issues that needed to be fixed (I guess I knew that too but had hoped it wasn’t that bad). “It’s a good thing you came in this morning” he said “you could have blown this tire on the highway and it would have been really bad.” Wow, someone who cares. I told him to go ahead with the fixes and went about the rest of my busy day.

As I was getting ready to leave work at 3pm, I thought it was odd that I hadn’t heard from anyone saying the car was done. I wasn’t concerned, sometimes people just forget to call to tell you it was ready. No biggie. Except this time, my new tire was on, but the alignment wasn’t done. “My bad” I said “I never told you what time I needed it done by”. Michael said it would be done by 5pm or offered me a rental car for the night. Luckily, I have friends that like to go out after work and didn’t mind taking me to get my car. There are worst things in life, right?

5pm comes and goes, no phone call. I thought, okay it’s Friday, they’ve probably had a crazy day, I’ll give it a little longer. At 5:30 Michael calls to tell me that there’s been a mistake. They don’t have the tire I need (wait, I thought you said that was fixed already?) and I would now need to come get a loner car for the night. He offered to let me keep it until Monday if that was more convenient for me, which it wasn’t. I don’t live near work and I work from home on Mondays. That’s okay, I told him, I will bring it back mid day tomorrow. I also asked him if he could take anything off the bill, for inconvenience, and he agreed to take 10% off the total. Great.

When I came to pick up the rental car, he had brought in my insurance info from the glove compartment already and I happily gave over my license. When she asked me for a credit card, it stopped me in my tracks. Who knows why, maybe it was because of the week I’d had, maybe it was because I was sick of surprises today, maybe I just wanted to go home with my own, fixed car and not have to worry about it anymore, but it really upset me that I would have to take on any kind of liability for the fact that Nissan had not finished my car on time.

I’m a safe woman, I’m not going to take it down to Mexico and party for the night, but I get it, you have policies and you have rules, but the liability for a rental car or anything should not be my issue right now. It’s not my doing you didn’t have the car done. It’s not my doing that I was told the new tire was on and balanced and then told it was not. It’s not my doing that I now have to come return the car in the middle of my Saturday. This is on you, you put down your own credit card.

Now to some, and honestly maybe even for me on a different day, this probably wouldn’t have been an issue; it’s a what-if, it’s a worst case. But today, asking me to take some small amount of responsibility for something I had zero responsibility for, put me over the edge. I refused. I kept apologizing to the rental car guy and the girl behind the counter. None of this was there fault, but I was visibly angry. I waited for Michael and explained my issue. Now, to be fair, maybe Michael’s had a rough week too, or a rough day. Maybe he’s had multiple people upset with him, I have no idea.

Regardless of his situation, his job in that moment was to listen, to problem solve and to be respectful. I would love to be writing you this letter to tell you that’s what I received today, but unfortunately, it wasn’t.

He took my being upset and appeared to get just as upset with me. As a “solution” he offered to return me my car with the broken tire on it. That was his solution, to send me home on the tire that six and a half hours earlier he told me I was lucky hadn’t blown and caused me harm. I was so appalled (just as appalled as he appeared to be at me for asking him to put my rental on his own credit card) that I said fine, and took out my card. Michael stormed out. That was it, he was done. He got his way, I guess? He didn’t want to deal with me anymore and walked away, out the door and across the parking lot to the service room with the other service guys, visibly upset and maybe even telling them what a b*tch I was being. I don’t care what he said or didn’t say about me. What Michael thinks or doesn’t think, what he says when I’m not within earshot; that’s of no importance to me.

Customer Service Secret: When someone is upset, all they want is to be heard. Suggesting that I go home on what he referred to as an “unsafe tire”, refusing to apologize and walking away when I was still visibly upset is not okay. It is, by far, the worst thing that he could have done. Listened, got me a supervisor, anything else, any ounce of empathy and I would not be writing this letter. But walking away from someone who has been a loyal customer for the last five years and who remained cool through all of the back and forth of today was absolutely the most disrespectful thing he could have ever done. My concerns mattered so little to him, that he could just walk out.

Big, huge props to the other people in the room. They all tried to calm me down, tried to tell me it would be okay, to smile and have a better day. That this was not a huge thing, that it would be okay. They were respectful, they acted like they cared, whether they did or not is irrelevant.

Sure, you’re dealing with cars, but really – you’re dealing with people. Respect them enough (whether what they are saying makes sense to you or not) to listen to them, to treat them like a human being. Not to walk away. I absolutely raised my voice. I absolutely was close to tears, but I wasn’t yelling at him, I wasn’t swearing, I wasn’t throwing my purse around maniacally, I was just upset. I was caught off guard that I’d be asked to take one ounce of liability for an issue I hadn’t created. Life happens. We get upset about things, small things sometimes, but we deal with it, we don’t walk away like it doesn’t matter.

So tonight, I’m hopeful that my car will be fixed tomorrow, by a time that’s convenient for me to get the car. I’m hopeful that I’ll return the rental car with zero issue and my car will be shiny, clean, aligned and safe. I’m hopeful maybe Michael won’t be there tomorrow, or maybe he’ll sleep it off and realize in the morning how he could have better handled the situation.

But you have lost a customer for life.

Maybe I don’t matter to you. Maybe it doesn’t matter that my car is almost paid off and that my next car might have been an Infinity from your dealership. Maybe it doesn’t matter that I would have bought the service package and taken my car in there for all of its oil changes, its batteries, its break pads, even after the service contract was up.

I may be just one customer, but I will never again give you the opportunity to make me feel the way I do today. You can be sure I won’t let anyone I care about purchase there, if there’s any chance that this is the way one of them might be treated. I’m not a shy woman. I am fiercely loyal and vocal about the things that I love. I am even more so when I feel like I’ve gone unheard.

I hope you read this. I hope you take the time to teach Michael, who I had such high hopes for earlier in the day (maybe that’s why I was so appalled at the ending?) what it means to be in customer service, what it means to think about the fact that you are dealing every day in the commodity of people, not of cars. I hope that this is a lesson not only for him, who I’m sure will learn and grow and I hope go on to bigger things, but to everyone who comes after him, to the next Michael, the next Rob, the next Phil.

Xxxx XxXxxxx