Audi Q8

While driving an Audi Q7 (back in December 2018), I got a flat tire on a Friday night. What should have been an unremarkable event turned out to be anything but. In fact, my experience was so counter to what I had come to expect from Audi, I wrote The Myth of Luxury at Scale, a cautionary tale about expectation management and customer service. It’s a fun read (if schadenfreude is your thing). What follows is the epilogue to that story.

Starting at the end, as of yesterday afternoon, I am the proud owner of a brand-new Audi Q8. It’s a five-seat SUV with a full-size spare. If you took the time to read “The Myth of Luxury at Scale,” you must be wondering how it would ever be possible for Audi to sell me another car. In truth, Audi doesn’t sell cars; it manufactures them. Audi dealers sell cars. In my case, the dealer is Audi Manhattan. Let me be crystal clear. I did not get a better deal than you would have gotten if you walked in and bought a car off their lot. Audi did not give me a free car. I would not have accepted it, even if offered. Moving on with the story.

Audi Corporate Customer Service

When the run flat tire on my Q7 was catastrophically punctured and I found myself stranded about 190 miles from home and between 50 and 150 miles from anyone with a solution, I called Audi Roadside Assistance. The very nice, patronizingly apologetic Audi person told me, “I can tow you to the nearest Audi dealership. There’s one 52 miles away in Rutland, Vermont, and one 47 miles away in Albany, New York.” I politely declined her offer and the case was closed. I would never have heard from Audi again, except they read “The Myth of Luxury at Scale” and reached out.

The email and telephone exchange with Audi Corporate was as emotionally unsatisfying (and as useless) as my original contact with Roadside Assistance. Audi Corporate was also patronizingly apologetic – to the point where I had to tell the customer service representative, “I understand that you are personally sorry, and that you’ve been trained to apologize profusely for the organization, but this was not your fault, I’m not mad at you, and I don’t want or need your apology. I want a solution.” This interaction went nowhere. However, I’m pretty sure Audi Corporate is “sorry.”

Audi Manhattan Customer Service

While the ridiculous email and phone conversations with Audi Corporate were going on, I was contacted by Timothy J. Comparato, the General Sales Manager at Audi Manhattan. He had read my article and he had been blind copied on the email communications with Audi Corporate, which included copies of the text messages and emails I had exchanged with my original salesperson (who worked for him). Tim was mortified.

Tim is the kind of professional every business leader wishes they had an army of. After he listened to my story, he said the magic words: “Shelly, as much as I’d like to, I can’t change the past, but you are a valued, longtime customer we simply do not want to lose. What can I do to make this right?” At that moment, I wasn’t sure there was anything he or Audi could do. I told him I was going to test drive the competitive SUVs from BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche. At that point, Tim asked for a favor. Odd, coming from a company I was not interested in doing business with. He asked me to simply consider the Audi Q8, come in, and test drive it, and if I liked it, he would work with me as best he could to “compensate” me for my troubles. We joked about the 90 percent discount I was expecting. But I made him understand I wasn’t looking for compensation, if I was to buy another Audi, they would have to earn back my trust.

Data-Driven CRM at Work

When I came in to take a test drive, they had the Q8 ready for me. The test vehicle was configured almost exactly the way I would have ordered it, it was priced competitively, and Tim was ready with specific accommodations that sealed the deal.

How did he know which version of the Q8 to put in front of me? I didn’t tell him anything. First, he did his research. He had my history, he spent the time looking at the various cars I leased in the past, and he had five different color variations to offer me. It was a stunning match of available features to customer needs. Then, there was no sales pitch, just an opportunity to test drive the car. As car buying goes, this was the most frictionless, professional transaction I have ever experienced.

Could this process be more automated? Of course, but having the data organized and available made this transaction possible.

Hey, Shelly, you leased a car. Why all the drama?

My key takeaway from my run flat experience had nothing to do with my car and everything to do with what tools Audi Corporate would have needed to sell and deliver luxury at scale. Clearly Audi Corporate did not have the data governance or data hygiene to transact in a data-driven world. But Audi Manhattan does – and analysis of the data, predicting what product configuration should be put in front of me and what features were most (and least) important coupled with the professionalism of Audi Manhattan’s GSM made the difference between an “I’ll let you know” interaction and an “I’ll take it!” transaction.

Goodwill Money Can’t Buy

I owe Audi this writing. While they deserved it, I hit them as hard as I could back in December. Audi Corporate responded, although not meaningfully. But Audi Manhattan stepped up big time, and in the end, it was their GSM’s professionalism (and human interaction) that kept a customer and won the day. I usually end my articles with a disclaimer that says, “This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.” This statement is 100 percent true for this article. But I did pay Audi to lease a new Q8 – and it is absolutely awesome!

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is a business advisor and technology consultant. He helps Fortune 500 companies with digital transformation, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn's Top Voice in Technology, he is the co-host of "Think About This with Shelly Palmer & Ross Martin" on the Westwood One Podcast Network. He covers tech and business for Good Day New York, writes a weekly column for Adweek, is a regular commentator on CNN and CNBC, and writes a popular daily business blog. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com

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