Missing the Mark: My Warranty Tale

 

Last year I took my car in for warranty service.  This car has been great, the service at the dealer was mostly great, and yet the experience clearly missed the mark for me.

It seems that a GM “Three Year Bumper-To-Bumper Warranty” does not cover never-installed missing parts for three years. You have to know a part that was never installed is missing and bring the car in sooner than three years. Otherwise you have to pay for the missing part. Funny thing, I thought I had already paid for all the standard parts when I bought the car!

This post is not meant as an angry customer rant but simply as a communication lesson we can all learn from and use. If you’re interested, here’s the full, long-winded story: 

My car is a relatively new Pontiac. We all know GM closed the Pontiac division but the warranty is honored in full at any GM dealer. I selected Victory GM for the first warranty work as they had been Pontiac dealers and I thought they would still have Pontiac expertise.

Not long after I purchased the car, it had two minor issues that were not worth the time to have addressed alone. Since there was plenty of time in the three year warranty period remaining, I waited until I needed more service work done before making the two time-consuming trips (each about 45 minutes round-trip) to the dealer (one for drop-off and one for pick-up).

So once I needed an oil change and the tires rotated, I took the car to the dealer for servicing and the two warranty issues. One warranty issue was a warped plastic panel near the windshield. It was covered by warranty and replaced. No problem.

Glove Box with Locking Latch

The glove box after the lock was installed.

The other issue was that the glove box had a dime-sized hole in the latch. I told the service representative,“I’m guessing something may go in this hole but I don’t know. It just seems odd.” She said she didn’t know either but would check on it. 

Well, it turns out the glove box was supposed to have a lock in that hole. Even though the car is under full warranty, this was not covered because I “had not brought it in sooner.” 

Huh?!?

I think it is a testament to the car’s quality that I had not needed to bring it in sooner. In fact, if it had been a lemon, and I had it in their shop regularly, this would have likely been addressed under the warranty due to the need of a visit sooner.

But since the car has been great and apparently high quality, never-installed parts are not covered if you wait “too long,” even if you are within the bumper-to-bumper warranty period.

I am still unsure how I was supposed to know a specific small standard part was missing when even the customer service representative didn’t even know.

Now, I’m not going to argue about the likely fine print on this topic in the warranty. I may be wrong about my position. I’ll concede that the warranty likely has some “less than three year” threshold for missing parts. I suppose I should have read it for this issue to be sure, but candidly this is a minor issue and the time to read through all the fine print is costly to me too and would still have not changed my opinion of what the warranty advertised.

And I admit that I assumed the description of a “Three Year Bumper-to-Bumper Warranty” was not just about parts that break but missing parts that are yet to be discovered. After all, the warranty description on their website even says it covers problems from “workmanship.” In fact, it says,

“The entire vehicle is warranted for repairs, including parts and labor, to correct problems in materials or workmanship, for three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first (except normal maintenance).”

I may be wrong but my opinion is that forgetting to install a standard part is clearly a workmanship problem and, despite being missing, would be considered an aspect of the entire vehicle.

Anyway, the part and installation cost me $112.38 and I did pay it when I picked up the car. I wanted the missing lock and this was the only option I was given, despite my repeated questioning of the bill. The service representative was very nice and had empathy for my dissapointment but it still was a “I’m sorry, it’s not my decision” response. The service manager had given the same response to her (but did not come out to tell me this himself). 

While I’ll never say “never,” it is unlikely I will return to this dealer despite how impressed I was with all of their other work, communication, shop cleanliness, and otherwise friendly attitude. Despite all that, they and GM missed the mark on delivery when I called on them to honor the concept of the bumper-to-bumper warranty I had purchased. It made all of the many other efforts to be great look far less impressive.

Interestingly, I still continue to receive frequent mail from GM touting their great quality and full bumper-to-bumper warranties. Instead of helping me think highly of their products and service, each piece of mail from GM that brags about the warranty now reminds me of my strange and disappointing experience, an experience that could have, in my opinion, been avoided.

When people ask about my car and my experience with GM during the closing of Pontiac, this story often comes up now, including my mention of which dealership. I’m not angry but I do think this is an interesting story with several business and communication lessons:  

* If you are going to have exclusions to your big marketing theme, such as their “Three Year Bumper-to-Bumper Warranty,” be sure the exclusions are logical to the consumer (and not just your accountant or your attorney). Otherwise, the consumer may feel deceived and destroy their trust in your company.

*  If your trained staff (such as the service representative) do not know your product well enough to identify a problem, don’t expect your customers to be able to do so.

Assumptions, no matter how logical, can be a challenge to a relationship, be it personal or business. Sometimes the assumptions are wrong. Don’t spend too much time fighting to be right. Pay the price and move on to something more positive in your life. (Of course, if you are writer, you can pay the price, write about it, and then move on.) 

* While many companies talk about creating a “remarkable” experience for their customers, customers will remark about the bad experiences even more often than the good experiences. Don’t be so focused on what makes you great that you forget to work to address the bad experiences too.

* An otherwise great experience for your customers can be forever overshadowed by a single problem, a problem that will likely be remembered when the other great things are long forgotten. Sometimes these problems are unavoidable but other times they occur due to communication problems or lack of attention, issues you can work to notice and avoid.

* In attempts to sing your own praises (i.e., marketing), be sure you are praise worthy. Otherwise, your self-promotion efforts just remind your customers of your failures and, thus, you are now marketing against yourself.

* Being polite and friendly is very important for each customer, no matter their attitude. However, being polite and friendly while failing the customer makes you appear insincere.

* There are two sides to each issue. I understand that either GM or the dealership believes they are right and that there are likely very good business reasons for their policy about this part. Sometimes in business you absolutely must draw a line in the sand about policy to protect your business from those that would abuse your polices. Just keep a diligence on this line to be sure you don’t use blanket policy statements when the situation is unique.

My story is not meant as a rant against GM or Victory GM dealership. They did many things right and I still enjoy my car. The Victory GM staff were very polite and, interestingly, wanted me to complete a customer satisfaction survey for which they would give me a prize for completing.

Is the customer always right? I actually don’t think so. But if you’ll listen, your customers can also be the best voice to warn you when you’ve missed the mark and your marketing, sales, and service messages don’t match. Of course, they will not only warn you (assuming you are even listening), they will often warn everyone else too!

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About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.