Service Networks and my Mid-Life Crisis…

Let’s get one thing clarified first. My Mid-Life Crisis (I’ll shorten this to MLC) is a thing and not an emotional or psychological condition. As I was turning 40 I decided to do the sensible thing and buy a bright red sports car. This is my MLC. The MLC was ‘pre-loved’ (academics aren’t that well paid) from a premium German manufacturer (I am protecting the names of the other parties here) and as I didn’t want to be landed with some unexpected, massive bill later on, I took out an extended warranty.

Last weekend the MLC began to emit a noise that sounded expensive and then another expensive looking light appeared on the dash as I drove home (they really should be flashing pound signs rather that icons that allegedly look like engines). I phoned the dealer and asked for it to be booked in to be looked at (and hopefully repaired under warranty). They booked me in for the following day but asked me to ring the roadside assistance number that came as part of the warranty as they did not want the car to be driven. That’s one hand off from the dealer to a third party…

I called the assistance number and they offer me a specific technician for the MLC but between 7-9AM the next day as they have no available technicians. I politely declined and decided to take it to the dealer at the allotted time the next day. The assistance company then called me to say they have found a specific technician who turned up at the allotted time (about 2 hours after calling), plugged the MLC into a computer, diagnosed the fault, said it’s safe to drive and that he cannot fix it and I should take it to the dealer. He also kindly notified his organisation that I might need a courtesy car.

I took my MLC to the dealer on the following morning where I was greeted by a happy chap who directed me to take a seat and I then see ‘my’ service advisor (a further hand-over). The advisor was very polite and informed me that it should be covered under the warranty (great!), but I could not have a courtesy car for two weeks as they normally have 15 of them but 5 have been crashed (not so great). He also informed me that if the repair is over £500 then he needed approval from the warranty firm for the repairs (not good, more waiting). The car should be fixed by noon of the following day and after signing a bit of paper and handing over the keys I headed to work.

Some time later, ensconced in the Ivory Towers of WBS, I received a call from the manufacturer’s courtesy vehicles provider to make me aware that I could have a car and to let them know if and when I wanted it (yet another handover). The interesting fact about this is that his call was prompted not by the dealer, but by the repairman logging it on the previous night. I then received a sequence of calls from ‘my’ service advisor keeping me updated (they identified two faults but there was really only one and they had to seek approval from the warranty provider to carry out the repair), and my MLC was now fit to drive again. So, all’s well that ends well right? Not quite…

Let’s consider the number of party’s I interacted with. 1) The nice lady at the dealer, 2) The nice lady at the automotive assistance place, 3) The repairman, 4) My service advisor, 5) The courtesy vehicle provider, and 6) (indirectly) the warranty provider. That’s a whole sequence of potential break points in the service. Also, if I had needed a car (but remember I was told I could not have one for two weeks?) to get around and couldn’t do it that would have seriously affected my view of the premium German brand. So what can we take away from this?

Organisations must consider that services are delivered in networks. Networks have break points and that failure of ANY of these points leads to me – or you, or your customers – having a negative view of said firms products or services. This could lead me to take my business else where. So, how can organisations get round this? First, make sure that using the service appears simple. As a customer I had clear visibility of a major part of the service network. I didn’t need (or want) this and it probably increased my frustration. Second, take ownership of the network. This does not mean in-sourcing it, but it does mean maintaining a consistent experience throughout. After all, if it does go wrong, people can go elsewhere…