AKRON — Having spent nearly seven years on staff with Tire Business, there are those who'd think of me as a bit of a tire expert.
In fact, there are those who've outright said as much. I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but certainly I like to consider myself a little more knowledgeable on the subject than your average consumer.
Still, when it comes to purchasing tires for myself, I go through the same rigmarole as your typical buyer.
Like many consumers, I spend time researching various brands and models online, comparing feature sets and gauging value by looking over reviews and tread life.
Also, like many consumers, I may walk into a dealership with a particular tire in mind, but I tend to place more weight on the recommendation of the person behind the counter. After all, I just write about tires. They deal with them in the flesh every day.
Lastly, like many consumers, I'm fully capable of overreacting to an honest mistake.
My wife Jessie recently had been looking for a new set of tires for her own car, and of course the logical place to start was with me. Naturally, I provided her with way more information than she needed and created more confusion than assistance. I'm a journalist, not a salesman. I mean, it's her own fault when you really think about it. (Love you!)
The other week, I called a local dealer to set up an appointment to get new tires put on Jessie's car, and the conversation went about as I expected. I suggested a model—the newest version of the ones I have on my own car—tires I was certain the shop would carry. The dealer threw out a few of his own suggestions, a much more manageable selection than the list I hurled at my wife earlier in the week.
Ultimately, we settled on the tire I suggested. The dealer quoted a price, I agreed to it and we scheduled the tire change for Saturday, Oct. 4, a day when Jessie would be available to bring the car in. My schedule was tied up that day, but I assumed everything would go smoothly.
The next day, an employee at the shop called to inform me the tire was in. I confirmed the appointment, provided Jessie with the details and went on with my day.
On Saturday my wife sent a text to let me know that her appointment went well, but that the dealership installed a different tire on her car. The wrong tire. A lesser quality tire than what I had picked out.
In addition, the price was higher for that tire—a value alternative the dealer suggested earlier—than what was originally quoted.
I was confused. My confusion quickly became frustration and then anger as the conspiracy theorist inside me took over. What happened? Did they pull a bait-and-switch? Did they take advantage of her because she was a woman? I needed to know why this mix-up occurred, but by now the dealership was closed for the weekend. I'd have to wait until Monday to get my answer.
I never did get that answer. I didn't need to, and I no longer care.
Jessie and I went back down to the dealership the Monday after to resolve the issue. I had spent all of Sunday fretting this meeting, fully believing that returning the tires was a no-go because she had already driven on them. I was hoping for, at best, a partial reimbursement to match the initial quote I was given on the model installed, and I had gone to the trouble to prepare an argument explaining why I felt that was fair.
But I didn't need to argue. I never made it beyond, “The wrong tires were installed…,” before the dealer apologized for the mix-up and offered to switch out the tires for the correct ones at no extra charge. The situation was handled better than I could have expected—and that should be the goal of customer service.
If there's one thing tire dealers emphasize above all things, it's customer service. Some dealers are better at implementing it than others, but no one is perfect all the time.
There's a reason that the goal of customer service is to do right by the customer on the first try, and that reason is that humans are fickle creatures whose loyalty bounces from one retailer to the next the second they're aggrieved. People won't always give you the benefit of the doubt on a mistake before their anger gets the better of them, even if they should.
This mix-up was an honest mistake. In retrospect I wish I had given the dealer the benefit of the doubt from the beginning instead of getting bent out of shape about it.
Want to get back that disgruntled customer and retain them for life? Do what my dealer did: Make them feel bad for doubting you.