Shoot the marketing assistant…

hondanewpriceSo, let’s get this right…

Honda have just sent me this message saying that their service pricing has, until July this year, been complex and had hidden charges. Apparently they have now changed this, but they aren’t apologising for what they’ve done in the past, nor offering refunds on their previous bills…

[Incidentally, a few weeks ago, they wrote to me saying that there was a safety recall on the air bags, but they weren’t able to source sufficient to carry out the repair but would let me know when they had managed to do so. Needless to say they haven’t, but that’s an aside.]

I flag this latest faux pas because I seem to encounter a lot of examples these days where the copy hasn’t be proofread or, as in this case, the implications of the message haven’t been thought through. It seems to me that it is now so easy to post something via the internet, that some people are inclined to post first, think later.

While I’m sure that proof reading on-screen is fine for professionals, for many of us a printed copy is far easier. With printing being seen as prohibitively expensive, or unsustainable, firms are discouraging staff from using it, too. So the danger of errors creeping in are far higher. Last night, I began a new book – not the author’s first and published by a well known imprint. I was somewhat taken aback to see not just one but four typos on the opening page! I had to force myself past them, and am glad to report that the rest of the book seems a lot better edited.

But the problem with the Honda announcement is not one of typos. It’s that the marketing junior who wrote it just didn’t think about the alternative way of interpreting their words. Worse – neither did their manager(s). Even worse still, since something like this would normally be passed through the legal department, is that no-one consider what the legal implications might be of them admitting that, until a particular day in July 2013, they had consistently made their charges too complicated for customers to understand and loaded them with hidden costs.

A few years ago, we used to say that quality was paramount; that quality determined the long-term success of any organisation. How you defined quality was not the kind of measurement that production engineers made – they were merely steps along the way. No, you measured quality in terms of the customer’s perception of you. Getting customers to tell you what they think of you is a challenge. It used to be said that for every customer that actually told you, there would be another 19 who shared that view. These days, with the advent of customer dialogue that defines Web 2.0, customer feedback is far easier to glean. You soon got to know what their predominant concerns revolved around and you set about addressing them.

Pre-internet, Texaco launched a loyalty scheme. It consisted of a card and little sticky stars. At the same time, they created a dedicated “customer services” telephone number for people to ring if they had any issues or ideas about the running of their local Texaco petrol station. The marketing people were staggered to discover that almost all the calls that they received revolved around the little stars.

These days, with sites like ebay, Amazon, Trip Advisor, and many others, Web 2.0 has revolutionised the extent to which customers can give feedback and share it with future potential buyers. It is easy to gather feedback, and it’s easy to share it.

The other day, in as sensitive a fashion that I could think of, I fed back to one of my suppliers that some training materials, which he provided us with, needed a revision – and pretty soon – the content was confusing, the layout as if it had been done with an office word processor, and the reproduction had rendered the colours consistently awful. They were shockingly poor compared to those of one of their competitors. I fully accept that this is subjective and that my colleagues and I are only a small sample of his customers. But that didn’t explain why he had to throw his toys completely out of the pram on receiving this feedback.

Sadly, I think he is typical of a number of contemporary business types, and especially, entrepreneurial ones. The customers’ pleas for improvement go unheeded.

Best wishes

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