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It was a rare day off. Though, it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping to be doing with my newfound free time. Riding a jet ski, flying to New York for a long weekend–that’s what I would’ve preferred. When I found out the car needed an alignment, I told my wife I would take the day off to help her get it taken care of and hopefully enjoy a rare lunch date. Jen was extremely excited to have my support. Not only was she relieved to have someone to share the burden, but she was looking forward to enjoying a quiet lunch together on an atypical weekday.

We arrived at National Tire & Battery. It was around 11 o’clock in the morning. We enter through the front of the building, walking past the tire displays, straight to the front desk. “Our Jetta needs an alignment. It has been pulling to the right and when you don’t hold the steering wheel… it doesn’t exactly go straight.”

The service tech replies, “The alignment will take 45 minutes and cost $99.” OK, that’s not too bad. He continues, “we can assess any other possible problems when we get the car into the garage.” So I agree to his terms and hand over the keys.

It takes about 10 minutes for the car to enter the garage.  Now sitting in the waiting room, we’re laughing about some silly Youtube video we watched last night. Losing track of time, I look at the clock and realize it’s been over an hour since we relinquished our keys. As I stand up, I notice four mechanics standing beneath our now-hoisted vehicle. It appeared they were discussing something rather important, perhaps the meaning of life, because they looked rather baffled about what they were looking at.

I pop up and head over to the front desk to ask how long it will be. The service tech says he’ll check with the mechanic and return with a status update. Having already exceeded the initial 45-minute timeline, our stomachs were beginning to rumble and we were beginning to get annoyed at the antics we were seeing in the garage. I see the service tech chat with the mechanics for about fifteen minutes, though it was obvious they were not discussing our vehicle, unless it was the punchline to a really funny joke.

Finally, the service tech returns. He relayed the explanation from the head mechanic, “There is a part connected to the wheel that is bent and needs to be replaced before we can complete the alignment.” Seriously? It took an hour to figure that out? As I’m beginning to steam like a boiling kettle, one of the mechanics in the garage puts the wheel back on the car and lowers the vehicle to the ground.

I asked, “Why is he bringing the car down? I want to see this bent part myself.”

“Mr. Miller, you don’t need to see it to know its bent. You can feel it.” The service tech then casually adds, “The part will cost $190 bucks and we can have it here in 2-3 days.”

He then leads me to my car and introduces me to the head mechanic, “Mr. Miller, if you put your hand in here you can feel a bend in this bar.” I reached in and felt around a bit. Sure enough, something was bent.

“What could have caused this?” I asked.

He said, “probably a bad pothole or a curb could bend it if hit with enough force.” I was floored. I don’t recall ever hitting a large pothole or a curb like that. I told them I’d like to wait and call back after lunch. It took them another ten minutes just to pull the car around. In total, the entire event took an hour and thirty five minutes.

Time for a second opinion.

After lunch, I made an appointment with our local Volkswagen dealership to get a second opinion. I thought it was strange they put the wheel back on and told me they wouldn’t need to take the wheel off to see a bent part. I’m no mechanic but it all felt extremely fishy. Volkswagen had an appointment the next day, so I left for work two hours early to take it in and then head to the office. They called me back within 30 minutes.

“The suspension part you are referring to had a bend in it on purpose. This is the way it is designed. If you look at the other side of the vehicle, you will see the same part also has a bend in it.” My jaw about hit the floor. He said, “Mr. Miller, we can do the alignment here for you today for $149 and have your car done in about 45 minutes.” They used their expertise to solve the problem for me so I could get back to my family.

A Poor Experience Leads to Distrust

After paying for the alignment at the Volkswagen dealer, I immediately drove to National Tire & Battery and asked to see the store manager. After explaining what ended up happening with my car and expressing my frustration with their complete ineptitude, the manager really blew me away with what he said next. He asked me if I wanted the alignment for free. If he would have listened to what I just told him, he would have realized it was far too late to offer this as a viable option. Even if the alignment hadn’t been completed already, there is no way in hell I would take let them set a single toe in my car again.

Connecting Customer Service to User Experience Design

In the physical world, customer service is what connects a consumer to a brand. Its the link between how we feel about a service or product and it determines whether we recommend that brand to others. In the digital world, the experience is between a person and a web page. It is important to remember that when people are visiting your website or downloading your app, they are interacting with your brand. How do you want your brand represented? With a broken, unusable contact form? Perhaps a website that doesn’t work on mobile devices?

National Tire & Battery alienated me by disrespecting my time and then showing a complete lack of knowledge (or perhaps lying to get me to open up my wallet). With websites like Facebook and Yelp and Angie’s List, a negative experience for just one person can be detrimental to a business these days. With just a few sentences and the click of the “update my status” button, hundreds and even thousands of people can learn about a poor customer service experience in just minutes.

Ultimately, there is an emotional connection that must be established between a brand and a consumer. This connection can be any number of things. Once you understand that everything your company creates is an extension of your brand, you will quickly realize the importance of design as being an integral role in how consumers interact with your brand, whether through direct contact with customer service representatives or a website.

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