Just Below the Marketing Surface

I preface this blog entry by pointing out how amazing the world of communications is now! I had a very experienced Toyota/car industry expert call me out on my first paragraph stating that it was based on media hype and I humbly admit that I don’t know all the facts of the recall or of the company’s stability. So, he’s absolutely right! I shouldn’t be stating facts that I don’t know are true.

I stand corrected and hold myself responsible for my actions. I am leaving my first paragraph in so you can see what I’m referring to but I appreciate his corrections! I guess there are two lessons in this blog entry – starting with how amazing Wed 2.0 is and how not only do we have the power now to hold a company accountable but have the power to hold each other accountable as well.)

[Just below the surface lays a company in shambles! We’ve all heard about the Toyota recalls – the largest auto recall in American history. It has devastated the company. Did you know that Toyota knew about the safety issues and had no intentions of fixing them until the US DOT held their feet to the fire? Props to the US DOT for calling them out! ]

My gripe is not necessarily about the cars and the recall but more how Toyota is handling it. I watched the AMAZING Olympic opening ceremonies last night and Toyota ran an ad (which I have seen several times at this point) that carries the message “trust us again; we’re doing everything we can to make this right.”

As you can tell, I’m less than convinced. Why? Because before you go outward with a message that you’ve changed and are making things right and that you care about us as customers (I own a Toyota 4 Runner – not one involved in the recalls but I’m still a customer), you need to sell that idea to your employees – especially your CUSTOMER SERVICE PEOPLE!!!!

So, the millions you’re spending on that ad is in short, a complete waste of money – at least from what I’ve seen firsthand. Unfortunately, my 4 Runner’s 4 W D died about a month ago. It only has 66,000 miles on it and it’s just out of warranty.

I took it to Sloane Toyota in Devon, PA and was confronted with immediate attitude when I asked (kindly, might I add) “why would a truck’s 4 W D just die if it has been used according to the user’s manual, maintained to the book and is young in 4 Runner/4 W D terms?”

The “customer service rep” responded (looking at his computer the entire time) that he’s “never seen this happen on a 4 Runner with 60,000 miles” but “things just happen – especially if they haven’t been maintained properly.” So, as my temperature rose from his complete indifference, I explained that the truck has been well maintained and that I’ve seen many forums online that have users experiencing the same issues.

His response – “don’t talk to me about the Internet. There’s all sorts of loons out there gabbing about everything from this to that.” I calmly explained that those “loons” are HIS customers!

So, after I left (mad as hell and about $2000 poorer), I called Toyota Corporate to see if they could help absorb some of the cost since the truck was just out of  warranty and the service tech at the dealership said “it shouldn’t have gone” and encouraged me to call corporate. After a 45 minute wait on hold, I got yet another indifferent voice on the other side of the phone that tried to poke holes my story. It was like she was waiting for that “gotcha” moment to say “sorry, we can’t do anything for you.”

She told me she’d speak with the dealer and call me back (which she did two days later). When she did, she basically said, “nope, there’s nothing we can do…sorry” and tried to end the call as fast as possible. It was like an insurance adjuster doing everything they can do not to pay the claim.

So, here I am, my truck is still not 100% right. I paid over $1800 in parts and labor just to have the 4 wd work only some of the time and was treated as if I was trying to pull one over on Toyota – at the dealer AND corporate level.

So I refer you back to the ad I saw last night during the Olympics. The one that they spent millions on to convince me, a Toyota owner that they’re going to make things right and gain my trust again Now I know that that doesn’t’ mean they’re going to start paying for every little issue every Toyota owner is having – nor, in my case, did I want them to (I wanted them to absorb only some of the cost).

But what I did believe the ad to mean is that at a very minimum, their customer service reps at the dealer and corporate level would be a) professional b) compassionate c) recognize that these are their customers and try to satisfy them even if they can’t provide the solution the customer is requesting. But NOPE! It seems like its business as usual at Toyota and dare I say it, maybe they’re even more indifferent due to the flood of angry customers they have to deal with as a result of their negligence.

So, I use this as a case study and you should too! If you’re selling me on the fact that you care about me as customer, you better sell your employees on it first. Because the Toyota employees that I encountered, clearly don’t believe in that ad that corporate is spending millions on it to convince me to believe! If they don’t believe, I certainly don’t believe! I’m actually even more disenfranchised now than ever before!

Okay….so this isn’t just a rant about my bad experience with Toyota, it’s a lessons learned for all business owners and marketing directors Your great ideas, messaging, well placed and timed ads mean NOTHING if your own people don’t believe it. Sell it internally first then go outwards with the message. Or, you too, will be like Toyota and have an online war of “loons” waged against you as a result.

This to me is a very sad case. I’m disappointed in Toyota and they should be in themselves. Their customer service reps need to be trained or fired.

This is Meg Ferguson, a marketing expert and consumer just like you, encouraging you to use the power of Wed 2.0. Your voices are being heard! While Toyota might not hear my specific story it is just one of the hundreds of thousands if not millions that they’re being bombarded with. There is a groundswell and it is powerful. Embrace it.

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