Another Mini Case Study in Customer Empathy

Not a client this time, but personal experience, true story…

The Case Study:

My poor suffering wife’s car was itself suffering from an electrical fault.

We first took it to the small local garage round the corner: 

  • Outcome: They spent 2 hours on it, and couldn’t solve the problem. Because they hadn’t fixed it, they didn’t charge us. 
  • Their rationale was: “Well, I know what it’s like being charged when you’re no further forwards, so we can’t really charge you when we haven’t fixed it."
  • They then recommended: That we take it to the main franchise dealer who may have better equipment to track the fault.

So we upped the ante and took it to the main dealership. Before looking at the car they told us it would be £90 ($150/EU110) for 1 hour of a technician’s time.

  • Outcome: They used up the hour, couldn’t solve the problem, we left £90 poorer.
  • Their rationale was: “Sorry and everything, but we’ve still spent an hour’s time and incurred the cost…"
  • They then recommended: That we book in again with them for a further 2 hours at the same rate, although there would again be no guarantee they would fix it.

I decided to take another approach, and phoned up a random ‘man and van’ auto-electrics-technician from the local directory. His pricing was interesting – No charge at all unless the problem is fixed, in which case it’s a £60 call-out fee, plus £60 per hour for time spent.

  • Outcome: He found and fixed the problem within 20 minutes, and so charged us a total of £80. 
  • Rationale: He said he knew it would probably be one of two things, and it took a little longer because it turned out to be the 2nd one.
  • I’m then recommending: …him to my friends and contacts.

So on reflection…

Credit to garage 1 – They had incurred the time just as garage 2 had, but their zero charging approach was based entirely on the customer’s perspective. This is great customer, empathy and we’ll be happy to use them and recommend them again (…perhaps for the less technical stuff though).

Shame on garage 2 – The engagement was all about them from the first word, and their charges ignored the fact that they hadn’t improved the customer’s position at all. This is lousy customer empathy and the kind of business you don’t deal with unless you have to. (By the way, based on the final garage 3 outcome, I then successfully challenged the dealer for a refund of their charges!)

Double kudos and a final reminder from garage 3 – That as well as the empathy (“We won’t charge you anything if we don’t fix it") and the confidence to back yourself, there’s also the need, ultimately, for capability.
(- See blog Trust, and the Banks on how this impacts customer trust and the tough message that this gives to small businesses). 

At the end of the day, I wanted the car fixed, and the garage/s wanted to be paid for their efforts. The sustainable solution to both these needs then only comes from having both empathy and capability. Otherwise, like garage 1, you end up working but not charging, or like garage 2, customers will only come to you while they have no other choice. Neither of these ‘strategies’ will work in the long term.

What do you think? Which garage are you?

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