Crisis or recession, economic collapse or not, it is no surprise that the market for premium products is growing. Separate reports are now being produced to clearly demonstrate the fact that in a critical situation, the rich get richer. But however much the market for high-end products grows on the demand side, the supply side still often falls behind.
The 480 HP miracle
It happened recently to one of our professional partners that, while proudly driving his new 480 HP German premium sportscar, the car suddenly stopped in the middle of the highway. He said he had been on a long journey through six European countries and, although he had a similar incident a few days before setting off, the local official service station reassured him that “there was no active fault, the car was fine”. He has since received the same reply from four service centres in four countries, and the car again screeched down to 80 km/h and then stalled completely. The story itself is not worth much from a business development perspective, but the real reasons for this article are the lessons to be learned in customer service. One of the guarantees of premium cars is high-quality service. And that is exactly what is missing from this story. Local importers point to the manufacturing plant, Assistance points to the importer, while the manufacturer’s head office is impossible to reach. The importers do not talk to each other, some shake the problem off, some try to resolve the situation, unfortunately without success, and the owner is left with a car that cost EUR 200,000 and does not work. The advice is to drive it so that the fault comes up: if it breaks down on the motorway or when the car is packed with the driver’s, that’s no big deal. The system erases past faults, so according to the dealerships, the car works perfectly. All the owner can do in response to that statement is smile, because they bought a premium German supercar; because, you know, cars from other countries are less safe and more focussed on design. But this is demonstrably no longer the case, and I say this from experience. The interesting thing is that, except for one service manager, who identified exactly what was wrong with the car, but simply had so many reservations that they could not perform the repair promptly, the brand representatives did not and did not want to understand how to deal with such a situation. I think this is the most interesting point of the story, not to diminish the personal problem of the car owner, which has since been experienced by several owners who have bought the same make and model.
The premium beliefs
Unfortunately, after a while, premium brands begin to believe that the brand alone is enough. The owner should be happy to be supplied with a product and be part of the brand. Of course, this is not so directly evident, but with a cheaper car, they are well aware that an owner, who often pays their last penny for the car, would make a huge fuss about a breakdown. In a premium environment, the situation is much more sophisticated. It will be written off as a loss by the owner. At least, that is the way a lot of premium brands think. In most cases, this link is simply missing from the system of the big premium brand. They try to impose rules on importers that often make them impossible. Then there is the other side. Most of the time, the dealerships are staffed by people who are quite far removed from the premium world. Often they are even jealous of the customers, because they can buy the products they only dream of. Clearly, it is not easy to deal with these situations mentally. And a large proportion of premium brands simply ignore this. Business is booming, so why is it a problem if a customer is dissatisfied? What they don’t count on is that the younger generation can no longer buy this bullshit. What could be passed off as complaint management 20 years ago is now considered unacceptable in today’s fast-paced business world. One customer cannot ruin a brand. This is true in itself. But they can start a process because a premium customer base has a problem. In most cases, they have become premium customers because they are successful. And successful people share their experiences. Not out of malice, but simply to exchange views. When buying a car, for example, they really listen to each other. The business circle of our professional partner mentioned above had more than 20% share of the local sales of the top-of-the-range category of his previous car brand, and he calculated that as a mentor, he had influenced the purchase of 37 cars in Europe. I’m not saying he is an average businessman, but he is far from being popular. I toyed with the idea of what would happen if those 37 people passed the story on to 37 more people they knew and so on. Of course, a customer should not be appreciated because of the concrete harm they may cause, but because they trusted a product and paid a lot for it. Manufacturing errors happen, even more than once, but there is no excuse for poor service.