Word-of-mouth says it all

Aug. 12, 2013

The phrase, “Any publicity is good publicity” may work in the entertainment field, but it doesn’t work in the retail tire industry. Recalls and scandals are always bad. So is poor customer service.

Creative, targeted marketing and advertising can only take you so far. Ultimately, it must be backed up by performance. That’s where word-of-mouth comes into play.

Let’s face it, consumers are chatty. Historically, by any research I’ve ever seen, they tell a lot more people about a bad experience than a good one.

With cell phone cameras and instant access to Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, etc., you can’t get away with anything. A bad experience at your tire dealership can become big news in no time.

Imagine how the store manager at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s company-owned store in Commack, N.Y., felt recently when an unannounced visit from television reporters caught his employees in a series of lies.

The undercover investigation was planned for ABC’s new television program “The Lookout.” The report gave the dealer a black eye.

Billed as a “survival guide to the modern consumer jungle,” the show sent a woman reporter — along with a trained woman technician and the obligatory hidden cameras — to the store to check out customer service.

Two cars with blown wiper fuses were brought in separately. First, two men took their vehicle into the dealership claiming the wipers wouldn’t work. The technician discovered the problem and replaced the $4 fuse for free.

A few days later, the women showed up with the same problem. On hidden camera, one technician replaced the fuse within a few minutes, explained a big wiring job was necessary, and charged the women $53.50.

The counterman said the car needed an oil change. The women asked how he knew. “It’s dirty,” he said. Assuming ABC was above-board throughout the telecast (that includes the editing), the cameras showed the oil to be a brownish, golden color.

Finally, the technician legitimately found a problem with the throttle cable. A plastic connector, held in place by a screw, was cracked. However, both he and the counterman used scare tactics to tell the supposedly unsuspecting women it would be illegal not to fix the problem. In addition, if it weren’t fixed, the car could speed up and “kill people.” As it turned out, the opposite was true of both their claims.

Now for the “Ah, ha” moment. When confronted with the ruse about the fuse, the counterman said “I don’t wish to make a comment and I do not remember saying it (the vehicle) was going to crash or it would cause a problem.”

Following the first airing of the episode, the Goodyear store manager called and apologized to the woman technician. “We are reviewing our service policies with all associates at the store to make sure they are familiar with the proper way to service our customers,” he wrote in a follow-up letter to her.

Then Goodyear Chairman, CEO and President Rich Kramer wrote his own letter to her. Here are some excerpts.

“I assure you we do not tolerate such behavior. The two individuals in our Commack store are no longer with the company. Their behavior does not represent the outstanding work done by our associates at more than 600 Goodyear retail locations across the country.

“As regrettable as this incident was for Goodyear, your experience provided us with an important reminder that we must treat every customer fairly and honestly, with no exceptions.”

If an undercover television crew came to your store, would you pass a similar “inspection”? Is your store clean and attractive? Are your restrooms mom-worthy?

“I use radio and billboard advertising, but a lot of my marketing comes from operations,” says Parham Parastaran, president of Nona Inc. in Champaign, Ill. Parastaran runs 11 tire stores in Illinois under various names, including Fast Tire Car-X Auto in Antioch.

“I try to really impress people so they will tell other people. I don’t want to just sell tires, I want to entrench myself in those communities. That’s the way to do it.

“I picture a customer leaving our store and going back to his or her cubicle or place of business and saying, ‘Wow, I just went to Fast Tire and they really impressed me.’ You can’t get any better press than that.”

No, you can’t. And lip service won’t result in good word-of-mouth publicity.

Always remember: The person who truly defines customer service is... the customer.   

If you have questions or comments, please email me at [email protected].

For more of Bob Ulrich's editorials, see:

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About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.