Thursday, January 26, 2012

A failure to communicate

I've used Discount Tires for my vehicle needs for years. Like most people I first became familiar with their company through their classic, hilarious and highly-effective commercial touting their return and replacement policy. Their service and price is why I began going to them when I started to drive.



But I'm going to have to think pretty hard about going in again any time soon. A few weeks ago I went to my usual location to get a new tire, which was worn. When I went in I told the salesperson what I needed and why and let them know that was all I was purchasing that day. Getting only one tire at a time is a young man's gamble. When you change one tire you should change all of them so they all wear evenly, everything balances right and you have no surprises a week later when an old tire fails. But I had been out sick from work for a few months and cash was tight. So I made myself clear about my needs that day

Apparently, through no fault of the employees I'm sure since they are very likely pressured to make sales from upper management, my desires as a customer where pushed aside. Before I left I received no less than six attempts to up-sell my purchase. Quoting a price, then lowering it, adding services and then discounted incentives (still adding up to more than I told them I would spend). Between my last visit to Discount Tires and this one it was like I had visited two different companies. At least at least on the front end experience. The exception being the swiftness and quality of their labor service in replacing the tire which remained great and if anything was better than before.

I understand the hard up-sell. The economy has been in the dumps for years and companies are desperate for every nickle and dime from their brick and mortar outlets as they can be (while still somehow being able to afford using private jets to fly to meetings to exotic vacation resorts). My current employer tried the hard-sells at every opportunity until they realized the customer backlash wasn't worth it and dropped the requirement for most departments. When a customer says no that should be the end of it. No guilt trips, no acting like I just duct-taped loaded guns with filed down sears to the heads of the passengers of my car, no miming like Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the whole deal and so be it, the fiery deaths of my passengers is on my head.

The pitches that the tire crew was giving me were presented in terms of my safety. I can appreciate that message. They pointed out the others tires were worn (Meh, not so much. All four were new less than a year ago. I wanted one changed because it kept getting scraped on a curb) and that I should change them and here's a great deal on 4 tires, etc., etc.

But the intent and sincerity perceived by the customer is important. If the pitch doesn't come off as sincere then I would think you are playing me for a sucker. The first tell that the clerk really was only saying what he had to was that he wouldn't look at me. Our last conversation before I left went like this:
"Have we told you that you really should replace all those tires? They are getting worn."
"Yes. Four times now in the last half an hour."
"Well, that shows you how important it is."
Sure, except you were looking everywhere but at me when you said all that. It doesn't mean he was a bad salesman, just that he was uncomfortable pushing another sales pitch on me. At least I hope that is what it was and he wasn't some predatory huckster. Also, one thing the clerk wasn't aware of: Their company's email message.

During the purchase the clerk asked for and I gave my email address. I didn't mind. This is important because that way I can receive tire recall notices, a handy and necessary service. So while seated in the lobby waiting for the tire to be replaced I did what anyone else would do: Browse the internet, check email and read some news. While waiting I got hit up again for more tires and shortly after received an email from Discount Tires thanking me for my purchase. I read it, knowing I needed to head off a barrage of emails and catalogs mailed to my house by changing my marketing preferences. It was after going to their website via the email and personalizing my visit I felt like was nothing more than a mark with a wallet.


In the image above there are several options for receiving messages from Discount Tires. This is an original, cropped screenshot with the only the customer name changed. In the initial view the message options default to sales pitches and one service reminder which would just be a sales pitch when you go in to the store. The two safety notices, really the most important part for the consumer and in the worst case scenario can mean life or death for a driver, is left unchecked by the company.

So this is the business plan? Hit me up for another sale but, in the case of the many who don't bother to sign up, or those that do but don't update their marketing preferences, not receive any notification that they might be driving on a faulty tire?

I guess ultimately the responsibility for checking the warranties and disposition of almost anything anyone purchases is on the buyer but only to a point. Any company has a moral if not legal obligation to inform someone using their product it may be faulty. The government regularly posts information about faulty products and recommends or orders companies to do so on their own. But if there was a recall of tires how would one find out? If they did, would I receive any notification because I did not opt in to the service? Is regular mail an option? Is it still an option if one did not opt in on the website? Would it take weeks or months to mail me a letter when email goes out almost immediately?

It wouldn't hurt to have the communication preferences default to choose all options, none of them or prioritize the safety notifications and then let the customer decide. Hold the sales pitches and default to caring about your customers a little bit more. The front end sales pitches and the way the customer notification service may be unrelated but it looks like it is a part of a narrowly focused top-down business strategy that prefers making a sale over any other consideration.

By the way, guys? Don't bother to contact me with offers or that "you are sorry I wasn't satisfied with my experience" or even as I know happens on occasion...threats. The tire service was great, the annoying hard up-sells were not. I know you won't change the front end sales pitches because if you did, let's be honest, sales would drop and that's the reality of business. In my experience few respond to those ads and instead search for the best deal they can through the internet going to their favored supplier first, based on their past experiences. Instead, just think about maybe changing the set up of those initial customer communication options.

4 comments:

  1. I've loved the 2 sets of tires I've got from them, but after the hard sell of the last visit, I won't go back.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Where's that wonderful animated gif of Pilate SHOVING his hands into the water from?

    I must know. He looks Montalbanesque.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Norman Jewison's 1973 Jesus Christ Superstar

    ReplyDelete
  4. That is a pain, but I am not sure you can limit it to just Discout Tire. I am more shocked these days when I don't get the high pressure sell.

    Also discount suffers from the multiple sales person, each out for commission syndrome. So you keep getting hit up by different sales people for the upsell, since they don't know you have already declined.

    ReplyDelete

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