Are you Selling Winter Tires or Customer Experience?

Note: This article was re-editing and re-posted on the Macadamian blog.

In Canada, right around when the first major snowfall hits, all the last-minute drivers bring their cars into Canadian Tire to get their snow tires put on. Pop Quiz: If you were managing a Canadian Tire, what would you say you’re selling?

The obvious answer is “winter tires”. Someone brings their car in, you put some winter tires on it, then the driver picks it up. This is the naive answer. Yes, ostensibly you’re trading tires for money, but what you’re really doing is providing a service. Anyone can put winter tires on cars, but the people who will be most successful at doing so will be the people who take this opportunity to show off their customer experience skills.

This year, I needed new winter tires and new rims. Let me tell you about how this went for me at Canadian Tire, and as I go, explain some of the ways in which they could have sold the experience of getting winter tires, rather than just some rubber and steel.

I did a bit of research first to make sure I knew what I was doing ahead of time. I got my tire size, the bolt pattern for the rims, looked into which brands of tires they sell and figured out which ones I want. Then I called the store’s automotive department. The conversation was pretty straightforward; juggle the auto-answering system, tell the tire guy my specs, and hear that yes they have tires and rims in stock for me. Good start!

I drive over to the store about 20 minutes later, and walk up to the automotive desk. I mention that I called not long ago, and the guy asks me for my phone number, then does some work on his computer, then asks me what size the tires are.

Why didn’t the guy on the phone enter the tire size into whatever record the behind-the-counter guy pulled up with my phone number? In fact, I’ve been here several times before, including 6 months ago to get my old winters thrown out and summers put on; this data should have all been there already. This would have saved time and a lot of trouble if I hadn’t known my specs off the top of my head.

After mentioning that the rims need to match a 4-bolt pattern and making sure I point this out because the 2008 model of my car is much more popular and has a 5-bolt pattern, the service rep disagrees (!) and insisted we look it up in some book. Lo and behold, it’s a 4-bolt.

Why didn’t the service rep trust me? Again, this could have all been avoided if they’d recorded this information last time they worked on my tires. This is at least the third time I’ve mentioned my tire information to this store, shouldn’t it be worth writing down?

After asking what brand of tires I would like (it didn’t occur to him that I might not know? good thing I did) the service rep informed me that I would have to leave my car there for a day and a half for them to get the tires installed (why didn’t the guy on the phone warn me about this?), then told me the price and that they’d call me when my car was ready. I pulled out my wallet, but he said payments are done when the car is picked up.

By waiting until pick-up, I have to come back into the store and wait in line again to get to the register. Not efficient. I should have been able to complete the transaction right then and there.

The next day, about five hours past the estimated time the service rep gave me, I still hadn’t received a call. So I reluctantly called the store, dialed through the auto-answering system, got transferred from Auto Department: Tires to Auto Department: Service and was finally told that yeah, the car is ready to be picked up.

Gee, thanks for letting me know! Why did they not call me when it was ready like they promised? Why did I have to jump through so many hoops to get a simple answer? If the store is this busy, and calling people back is too much of a hassle, maybe it’s worth investing in some sort of “dial a number/enter your license plate/find out if your car is ready” system.

I ended up walking to the store because it was late and I had no one around to drive me out of their way in the middle of a snowstorm. File this in the over-and-above category, but if they know I don’t have my car, maybe they could run a service offering to pick me up and drive me to the store? I’d gladly have paid them to avoid a 40-minute walk, knee deep in snow. Hell, if they’d let me pay for the tires when I bought them, they could have driven my car to me!

So I get there, half-frozen and covered in snow, wait in line to get to the register, pay for stuff I technically bought yesterday, and they hand me my keys, telling me the car is in the lot. Thanks. Have you seen a parking lot during holiday shopping season? This particular location shares its parking lot with a Starbucks and a Best Buy. It’s massive, completely full, and somewhere in there is my car, covered in a foot of snow.

Rather than having me wander about aimlessly looking for my car, they could have simply noted where they had parked it and told me that when I’d picked up my keys. Better still, they could run a valet service where an employee finds my car, brushes off the snow, then brings it to the front entrance.

I now have my car back with new winter tires and rims, which are working great. So in one sense, you could say that Canadian Tire sold me some great winter tires. That’s true, but what they didn’t even attempt to sell was a great customer experience.

To sum up, the next time I need new tires I’ll be looking for a store that:

  • keeps the guy on the phone and the guy behind the counter in sync.
  • warns me right away if it will be a long wait to get the tires installed.
  • trusts me when I know my specs, or better yet doesn’t expect me to.
  • keeps a history of previous work they’ve done on my car, and uses it to avoid unnecessary questions.
  • eagerly explains the differences between the various tires it carries.
  • lets me buy and pay for tires in one transaction.
  • calls me back when it says it will.
  • offers an easy way to check if my car is ready.
  • brings my car to me, or at least tells me where it’s parked.
  • sells great tires.

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2 Responses to “Are you Selling Winter Tires or Customer Experience?”

  1. Oren Says:

    I could give you a few places that do all of the above for you. canadian tire is like the dollarama of automotive maintenance.

    The one in kanata, oddly enough, is the only one that has details on all three of my cars that I’ve owned, and keeps them in perfect order (a challenge, especially considering the first and the last are almost identical!).

    Anyway, keep in mind we exist in a world full of “its 2009, shouldn’t xyz by now?” :)

    at least my dentist communicates over email to ask when I want to come in.

  2. Denis Says:

    I buy Toyota’s and return to the same dealership for servicing. If I have a problem with the service desk then I complain to the sales representative. The post-sales experience improves dramatically when the pre-sales folks hear about how their customers are being treated. I’m happy to report that the service I get at the Toyota dealership near Scotiabank place is awesome. Changing to winter tires was as easy as getting my oil changed. I simply booked an appointment and they got it done very professionally as per my requirements. If they mess up in anyway then they investigate and take full responsability … pro-actively! You pay for what you get. Don’t cheap out and expect great service ;P

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