As I learned to drive, my father not only braved my initial road experience, he also tried to teach me about the way a car functioned.

He opened the hood of our 1969 Buick Le Sabre and pointed out areas where you add fluids.  There was a carburetor and a radiator.  He even showed me how to change a tire. 

Dad’s goal was admirable.  He wanted me to be able to do minor maintenance myself.

To no avail.  Any time someone opens the hood of a car, my brain goes MIA.

In my teens I mastered high school BC Calculus well enough for college credit and learned French by living in France for 6 months.  But car engines baffled me then and still do now.

What do I know about car maintenance?  Change your oil every 5,000 miles.  And independent car repair shops are cheaper than dealership service centers.

Once in a while I set aside the second maxim out of convenience: the local dealership is closer to home than my trusted mechanic’s shop.  I go to the dealership occasionally for an oil change.

But the dealership is working to deter me from giving them even that little bit of business.

Every time I pay, I receive a slip with these bullet points on top of my receipt:






Did you catch the word ‘excellent’ mentioned (and bolded) twice?

I may not know car maintenance, but I do know marketing and marketing research.

Customer surveys are useless when you look to buy off answers.  Pre-empting responses like this taints results, discourages participation, and prevents you from learning what customers really think.

And that’s the point, isn’t it?

It’s clear to me that Honda must dangle incentives to dealerships to receive excellent on every measure of their customer survey.  This dealership doesn’t care how I feel about their service.  They care about racking up ‘excellents.’

If they cared, they would ask me how the service was while I was still there, and not put the onus on me to contact them only if something was less than excellent.

The irony is that Honda is trying to improve customer experience with these surveys and incentives, but the use of this slip achieves the opposite.

I leave the dealership feeling worse about them than when I arrived.

I trust them less because I have a tangible example of how they try to circumvent the rules with the parent company.  If they are flouting the rules in this area, where else might they be doing it when caring for my car?

As a result of this dwindling trust, I’ve never let them do anything more than an oil change to my car.  And my inclination to go there for oil changes is diminishing too.

Marketing is about getting potential customers to know, like, and trust you.  Customers buy once they trust a brand.  If you continue to deepen that trust by delivering what they expect or exceeding their expectations, customers will continue to buy from you.  And refer others to you.

Squander that trust and you lose not only the customer, but also potential referrals.  Moreover, a dissatisfied customer complains more than a happy customer raves.  You may lose potential customers before you know they exist.

Every part of the interaction with your brand contributes to the customer’s perception and image of the brand.  The way you answer the phone.  The cleanliness of the restrooms. The way you handle returns or complaints.  The surveys you conduct.  Every aspect reflects upon your brand.

This may sound scary, but it is actually a huge opportunity.  You have many ways to make your brand likeable and trustworthy in your customers’ eyes.

  • Treat customers as you would treat your best friend.  Make their experience with your brand special.  Get to know them.
  • Find out what matters to them relative to the product or service you provide, and deliver it.
  • Ask about their experience with your brand, and listen to their response.
  • Take responsibility for shortcomings.  (And take pride in praise!)
  • Act to correct mishaps and to compensate customers for any inconvenience.  Ensure they feel that they matter to you.

The most successful businesses listen attentively to feedback and act on it.  Companies that ignore customers lose business.

Just like the local dealership is likely to lose my business.

Thanks to my father, I am not a complete car ignoramus.  I’m off now to put air in my tires.

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