Halfords Autocentres Co-create a Great Customer Experience

The Situation: An Unexpected Problem Shows Up

I got a phone call to tell me that it had not been possible to get the road tax renewed. Why? Because the MOT had run out. Given that I had asked (and paid for) the car to be ‘road taxed’ over two weeks ago, I was not happy to get this news when the road tax had run out. So I set myself the task of getting the car through its MOT on the next day – the day where I would be working from home.

The Customer Experience

1) Research Phase: Finding A Suitable Local MOT Centre

About 7-8 am I turned up at Google and searched for MOT centres in my part of the world. Halfords Autocentres caught my eye. Why? I know where the local centre is and it is only five minutes drive from my home. And because of the offer.

MOT Only £27.42 – 50% Off

Book Now To Take Advantage Of Our Exclusive Online Deal. Save Today!

The offer – MOT for only £27 and ability to book online – was too good to resist.  So I clicked on the link and ended up on a well designed-helpful web page. Here is screenshot of the middle section of this page:

HalfordsMOTBookingScreen

This one page, answered my key questions-concerns:

1. Can I book online? Yes

2. Can I make an MOT booking for today? Yes, provided there is an open slot at your chosen centre.

3. How long does it take? 45 minutes if no repairs needed, up to 60 minutes if minor repairs needed.

4. What happens if the car fails the MOT?  Most repairs can be carried out at the autocentre on the day of the MOT.

2. Purchase Phase: Booking and Paying Online

Within five minutes I had selected my local Halfords autocentre, entered the details of my wife’s car, selected the ‘MOT’ product, accessed the MOT calendar, found an empty slot for that day, booked that slot, entered my contact details, paid, got a confirmation, and printed off my the relevant documents.  Easy!

3. MOT Phase: Arrival At Local Autocentre

Five minutes before my appointed slot, I turned up at the local Halford Autocentre. Alex was on reception, he recognised me, he smiled, he welcomed me.  I did not have anything to explain as Alex had a copy of my booking.

Exactly on time, one of the mechanics showed up, took the keys and got on with testing my wife’s car; I could see exactly what was happening because the office and service bays are separated by glass.  Whilst the mechanic was conducting the test, Alex and I were catching up when he was not taking calls (from customers) or serving customers who popped in.

4. MOT Phase: Results and Departure from Local Autocentre

The forty-five minutes flew by. Alex went to talk with the mechanics. Coming back he told me that the car had ‘failed’ its MOT and there was nothing to worry about. Noticing my confusion, Alex explained that the regulations had changed and so the ‘state of wiring’ in-around the engine did not meet regulations. And there was nothing to worry about because the mechanics were tidying up the wiring – the job would be done in the next five to ten minutes.

True to his promise, within 10 minutes Alex had my MOT certificate ready. He went through it including pointing out that two tyres would need to be replaced soon. At the end of this review I was expecting to be charged for the ‘tidying up’ of the wiring. Surprise! No charge.

I thanked Alex. I thanked the mechanic who came into the office at the moment. And I wished them both a great Christmas and the very best for 2014.  What did I get in return?  An early Christmas gift. Both Alex and the mechanic said, with a certain genuineness (conveyed by the tone of their voices) “And the same to you, mate!”

What Made This Such a Great Experience?

It occurs to me that the following factors worked together to make my experience a great one:

  1. Compelling offer (price competitive MOT, online booking) that grabbed my attention

  2. Well designed MOT page that is informative, useful and usable

  3. Easy to find local Halfords autocentre, easy to search for MOT slots by day, one click booking of an empty time slot, easy payment-checkout process, online confirmation of booking, ease of printing out the paperwork.

  4. The right hand knows what the left hand is doing – in this case the local Halfords autocentre knew of my booking, had printed off the paperwork, and were expecting me.

  5. Keeping the promise – the MOT was completed within 45 minutes. And the minor repairs ‘tidying up the wiring’ in-around the engine was completed in the 5 – 10 minutes, and in any case less than the 60 minutes quoted on the website at the time of booking.

  6. A friendly face that I knew, who knew me, and who welcomed me.

  7. Generosity – the chaps at Halfords could have charged me for ‘tidying up’ the wiring. And I would have paid. They didn’t. Most importantly, they made no big deal of it. In a world where I expect to pay for everything, this generosity of spirit was and is welcome.

  8. The humanity right at the end – between myself, Alex and the mechanic. I can still hear the genuine warmth-melody of “And the same to you mate!”

And Finally

It occurs to me that:

whilst there is truth in the saying that customers don’t want relationships with companies, this truth turns out to be falsehood when it comes to the human to human level: between the customer and the employees (flesh and blood human beings) who deal with, serve, and help the customer.

great experience designers craft experiences where hi-touch integrates with and complement hi-tech; hi-tech is great for making it easy to get jobs done; hi-touch is essential for calling forth the kind of emotions that cultivate emotional bonds.

Halfords Autocentres have got it right when it comes to the MOT experience – at least in my case, for this specific experience.

Better World Books: a great example of hi-touch relationship marketing

Better World Books is a customer-centred company

We like customer-centric companies because they leave us feeling good.  And also because the kind of behaviour that we label as being customer-centred is rare.  It is the combination of the two that put Better World Books on my emotional radar back in December 2010 when I received an email from Better World Books that took me by surprise and delighted me.  I was so impressed that I wrote the following post which I encourage you to read: ‘Better World Books: a great example of customer-centricity’.

Their latest email is a great example of hi-touch relationship marketing

Today I opened up an email from Better World Books that left me smiling, laughing and just delighted.   In fact, this email is such a good example of hi-touch relationship marketing that I want to share that email with you.  Here it is:

Dear Maz,

We’re just checking in to see if you received your order (The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living). If it hasn’t arrived please respond to this email and let us know.

We aim to flabbergast our customers with impeccable service so do let us know if we haven’t achieved this in your case by responding to this email. Amazon.co.uk gives you the opportunity to leave us feedback. You can do this by visiting http://www.amazon.co.uk/feedback . We would be grateful if you would take the time to rate us on the order and service received.

Thanks again for buying from us.

Humbly Yours,

Indaba (our super-cool email robot)”

Straight after reading the email I went to Amazon and gave Better World Books a five star rating – the maximum.  And here I am sharing it with you. 

What makes this email so effective, so delightful?

The vast majority of business communications strike me as dull, inhuman (corporate speak) and the communicator pushing stuff at me.  And as such I tend to ignore them – I suspect that you do the same and that is why direct mail response rates are around 1 – 2%!   So what makes this email so effective?

“Dear Maz” Maz is what I call myself yet it is not my first name and it is not on Amazon’s records.  So it is clear that Better World Books have gone the extra mile to figure out, record and use my preferred first name.  That is a great first touch – only friends and colleagues call me ‘Maz’.

“We’re just checking in to see if you have received your order.. – the way that I relate to this is wow here is a company that cares about me and is checking to see if all is ok and if not it is inviting me to get in touch with them.

“We aim to flabbergast our customers with impeccable service… – this sentence has such a resonance because of my past experience with Better World Books, the fact that the book that I ordered arrived before it’s due date and because of this email.  Put differently, I totally believe that Better World Books are being straight when they say that they aim to flabbergast their customers with impeccable service.  Lastly, I am simply flabbergasted that I company would make such a statement in writing.  I have never read that kind of statement from any other company that I do business with!

“Amazon.co.uk gives you the opportunity to leave us feedback..” – they are inviting me to leave feedback and it really does occur as an invitation that I can accept or decline, there is no hard sell.  Yet by the time Better World Books are making this invitation they have done all that is necessary to get that feedback, positive feedback, from me;

“Thanks again for buying from us. – as human beings we do like to be acknowledged and a simple thank you is great way of acknowledging our customers and making them feel good about us;

“Humbly Yours,  Indaba (our super-cool email robot)” – I cannot tell you why but at some emotional level I simply love this ending.  It is so unpretentious and it is something that one of my best friends would write.  And there is a wonderful twist: it really would be something if a robot was writing such a personal email that pushes so many emotional buttons!

It is short and it is easy to understand – it probably took me less than 30 seconds to read it and get it both emotionally and rationally.

Conclusion

In the west we live in and are immersed in a technology centred world and this technology has brought us great benefits.  The downside is that it has encouraged businesses to act like machines.  In the process many of us, especially as customers and employees, are starved of the human touch that reaches into our emotional core.  So there is gaping hole waiting to be filled by smart companies like Better World Books who use hi-tech to practice hi-touch!

One more thing to mention

There is world of difference between relationship marketing and database driven direct marketing practices by most customer marketing groups.  Relationship marketing aims to build relationships  through emotional bonds like this email from Better World Books.  As such relationship marketing communications are not all about selling.  This is sharp contrast to database driven direct marketing masquerading as relationship marketing.  How can you tell the difference?  You only hear from the latter when they have something to sell to you in part because these marketers cannot demonstrate ROI on service centred communications.