The Value of Great Customer Service

February 28, 2013 Gary Ritkes

The Conflict

At 67,000 miles the engine in my wife’s 2009 Volkswagen Routan blew. And I mean gone. Done. Kaput. We have the car towed to the dealership, and after it gets checked out I get a call from Jimmy, my service rep for the past nine years and three VWs. He tells me the engine is blown and it’s going to cost $5,800 for a new engine. My stomach knots up. I can’t afford that. I’m trying to figure out how to tell my wife (“Hey, Honey, you know how much you hate grocery shopping? Problem solved!”) when Jimmy says sometimes Volkswagen will take into consideration the unique or extraordinary circumstances of a highly-valued customer’s situation. Perhaps they would help with my case.

The Customer Support Team

Let me take a moment to address two points in this story thus far. The first is Jimmy. Like I said, he’s been my service rep for a long time. I cannot overstate the importance or the value in providing customers with a dedicated service contact. After nine years, I know Jimmy. I trust him and I’m more at ease knowing he’s the one taking care of my car. And after nine years he knows me and how I take care of vehicles. He had the insight to know when something was out of the ordinary, and then refer me to the customer support team. The second point is the customer support team itself. Keep in mind; at this point I had no clue if I qualified as a “highly-valued customer.” I hoped I did. The point, however, is that they have a mechanism in place to evaluate a customer’s claim on an individual basis and not a “one-size-fits-all” one. They easily could have said my car was out of warranty and there was nothing else they could do. Back to the story.

Customer Support Comes Through

Jimmy gets me in touch with a VW Customer Support specialist, and within 24 hours they have reviewed my case. Even though the Routan is out of warranty, they tell me, they do consider me a highly-valued customer (I qualify!) and they thank me for my loyalty. I’m waiting for the “but” when they say VW will pay $3,500 towards my new engine, and they’re giving me an additional $1,500 towards my next purchase. (I may have casually mentioned to them that this was my wife’s car and that I was shopping for a new car for myself.) I couldn’t believe it. I dodged a $5,000 bullet. Now before anyone starts correcting my math in the comments, I do realize that I still actually paid $2,300 for the new engine, and that I would only get the additional $1,500 if I buy another VW. You know what I say to that? “So what?” At the end of the day, VW still offered me $5,000. So what if they separated part of that out as a credit? Worst case – I don’t buy another VW and I still get $3,500 towards my new engine. And if that $1,500 credit encourages me to make my next vehicle a VW (and it is very encouraging), then both VW and I come out ahead.

Customer service departments should be empowered to come up with unique solutions that benefit both the customer and the company. If I wasn’t shopping for a new car, might they have offered me something other than a credit? Possibly. But this solution fit my unique needs. And yes, this could have backfired. If they had provided poor customer service, a credit towards a future purchase would have certainly rubbed me the wrong way, and probably would have driven me away from wanting to buy another VW. But every step of the way, from Jimmy in the service department all the way up through corporate, Volkswagen was courteous, attentive and lightning fast. Pair that with a credit and you have a winning combo.

The Moral of this Customer Service Story

And that’s the moral of this little story. Sometimes companies are so focused on bringing in new customers that it’s easy to take existing customers for granted. As consumers, we are so used to this that when a company goes out of its way to make a customer happy, we see it as extraordinary. Think about your business. How much do you spend on new customer acquisition? Now, how much do you spend on customer retention? It generally takes far less than you’d expect to convert a customer first into a return customer, and then into a brand evangelist where they actively try to convert new customers to your brand at absolutely zero cost to you. Think that never happens? I just wrote an entire post telling you how great Volkswagen’s customer service is.

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About the Author

Gary Ritkes

Gary Ritkes, President of SproutLoud, oversees all Business Development and Marketing for the company. Gary, a pioneer in the emerging vertical of Distributed Marketing Technology, is an industry leader and innovator with 20+ years experience in graphic communications and marketing strategy. Gary has been involved with SproutLoud since the inception of the company. Prior to joining SproutLoud, Gary was VP of Marketing for Rex Three, Inc., SproutLoud’s first and largest vendor among its network of providers. He has served many Fortune 1000 clients and worldwide advertising agencies in providing marketing technology direction and optimization. He was an original founder of U.S. based Earth Color Group and co-founder of Advanced Digital Services (ADS), which was sold in 1996 to publicly traded Katz Digital Technologies. He has served as a board member of the local chapter of the American Advertising Federation chapter and other national industry associations, including the DMA and AGA.

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