Saturn and Bad Customer Service

angry.jpgOccasionally here at CustomersRock!, I find the need to share not-so-pleasant customer experiences.  Today is one of those posts. 

“A different kind of company, a different kind of car.”  That was Saturn‘s tagline when it first started up from within GM.  It was different – plastic side panels that wouldn’t dent, American-made parts, a no-haggling purchase experience.  I bought one in 1992 and drove it for 6 years until we had to sell it when we moved overseas to England for 3 years.  I used to get knowing looks from other GM Saturn owners, and I would always get great comments from non-Saturn owners.  Even bringing it in for service was no-hassle, as they considered me part of the “Saturn family”.  The customer experience was indeed showing Saturn to be a different kind of company from others.

Fast-forward 15 years.  I was recently alerted to a major change in Saturn from Gavin Heaton’s post (and follow-up post) this week about Tim Jackson’s customer service plight.   Tim (Masiguy) had been a true Saturn fan for many years.  His GM Saturn Vue developed serious problems as a result of a string of mistakes from the dealer’s service department.  Unfortunately, rather than truly satisfying Masiguy, Saturn (both the dealer and corporate) has been walking in their company shoes.  Compensation suggested by Saturn was in the form of four oil change coupons (or $100 of future service).  Well, you guessed it, Masiguy doesn’t want to step foot into a Saturn dealer again, so those coupons would be worthless.  He is completely frustrated (Masiwife even secretly commandeered his blog once this week to express their feelings) as well as disappointed in Saturn.  Saturn let him down.

A strong company-customer relationship can help carry a customer through quite a few issues with products or service.  However, there is a customer pain threshold from which it is difficult to return once it is crossed.  CustomersRock! companies track all of their customer touch points, looking for opportunities to improve the customer experience as well as customer pain points.  They then make a plan to take action in order to keep customer relationships strong.  One of my clients even used to track email responses for expletives to see whether a customer had crossed over the “frustration threshold”!

Customer service is one of those touch points that can make or break a customer relationship.  Service is one of the top 3 considerations of customers purchasing complex products (such as autos and technology).   In many organizations, customer service is also the face of the company to the customer.  Bad customer service, as evidenced in this Saturn saga, will not only drive away existing customers, but through negative word-of-mouth, it will also drive away potential customers.  This has never been truer than in today’s culture, where news spreads quickly across the Internet and blogosphere.  Just look at this story.  It has also been covered by the aforementioned Gavin at ServantofChaos, Sean at Craphammer, and Paul at Hee-HawMarketing.  Who’s next?

 If only the positive customer experiences got as much press!  Here at CustomersRock! I strive to share positive customer stories for your reading pleasure as well as for your encouragement.  Just not today.

(Photo source: blitzkrieg)

11 Responses

  1. Becky, great point about the “frustration threshold”. Given the high cost of acquiring customers, you would think corporations would care more about their loss.

    The thing is, Saturn have had many opportunities to enter into the conversation at any point. Tim has blogged about this extensively for the past 3-4 weeks … his comments are open as are Sean’s, Paul’s and mine. One of the ways of dissipating frustration is through communication and engagement — silence, or worse, dull form letters — only serve to exacerbate our alienation from corporations. It is a shame that this process has ended up here — and particularly heartbreaking for Tim as he was a true brand advocate before it.

    It is not that we are simply complaining … really we would all like to have seen a better outcome for this as it reflects on us all as marketers. But it would be nice to see Saturn stand by their tag line.

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  3. Thanks for your comment, Gavin. What I have found is that most companies put their marketing spend towards acquiring new customers, rather than keeping existing customers, so I am not sure how much the average company even notices they are losing customers. Saturn’s lack of engagement in any conversation tells me things have indeed changed there, and perhaps they should change their tag line.

  4. Becky,

    Thank you for picking up on this issue as well. Gavin, Paul and Sean have all been very kind as well.

    This issue amazes me in the lack of “personal touch”. You hit it the nail on the head when speaking about the various touch points and pain thresholds. Clearly, at this moment in their history, they have forgotten or abandoned what got them popular in the earl years. My experience aside, it’s sad for the brand and GM. As many people have already said- it’s no wonder GM is struggling to stay afloat.

  5. Tim,

    Saturn has indeed forgotten about their past and just become “yet another GM company”. It is really too bad, as I saw Saturn as the forerunner of some of today’s unique cars. They were also the forerunner of programs such as Costco’s Auto Buying program for its members, where there is a no-haggle price when purchasing. I am not convinced that anyone in the auto industry has yet nailed the customer service aspect of the business, which as I stated, is where the rubber meets the road!

  6. Goner

    Hi all,

    First, just want to say I use the name “Goner” as it best describes who I am in relation to The Saturn Company now after yet another horribly unpleasant visit to their service department. It’s hard enough to know we pay prices at dealers that way exceed the neighborhood mechanic, but to have to have extremely unpleasant experiences with service people while doing so is like rubbing salt in a wound. Well, this wound is unbeatable I have now determined and any last consideration I have had of a Saturn for a future upgrade purchase has completely vanished. My prior bad experience was with a regional director who explained that they don’t “pay off” customers to make them happy, when I asked for some kind of compensation for a very bad roadside service experience. Apparently, they don’t seem to do anything to make their customers happy. She didn’t even offer coupons of any kind. From her I received only words that she would report what happened and try to improve on things. I knew litigation wasn’t something I wanted to waste my time on and simply hoped things would get better, relying on this great customer satisfaction record we all have heard about. Today I found out that not only has Saturn not improved, but has gotten worse. I am not a lifer, just a six-year owner, but in that period, I can think of only one experience in their service department that has impressed me. On my service receipt it states, “Your customer satisfaction is our #1 goal”. Boy, do they need to change a lot of their tag lines! In a nutshell, due to them telling me my car would be ready at a certain time and it was not, I was late to an important appointment. I received an angry apology, misinformation and eventually the service clerk told me he did not appreciate what he overheard me say on the phone while he put/had me on hold! The overall impression I have gotten from my experience with Saturn is that they care more about feeding their arrogance and losing any money at all than about anything their customers have to say or need. They rank so low on my customer service scale, and I am quite surprised they continue to bring in new customers. I finally had to start spreading the word online here, as I am also at my end with them. This is also only the beginning…I will find another blog and another and another, as all I can really say at this point is that there is no excuse for a company like Saturn to be this way – and stay in business. Maybe time will tell now. We can only hope.

  7. I am so sorry to hear they still don’t get it. Tim actually lives here near me, and I made sure to find out which dealership group that Saturn dealer is with, as it sounds to me like neither Saturn nor the dealer gets it. I won’t be buying my next car from that group!

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  9. This is an example of a broken customer service department. Companies do this all the time in trying to apologize by giving you coupons for the next time you buy their product or use their service. It is absolutely stupid, because they are not dealing with the issue at hand. As you said why would I want to buy a product or service again once I’ve been cheated.