I am BMW’s dream customer: I am young(ish), make a high income, and I’m a driving enthusiast. Translated: I will spend far too much money on cars during the course of my lifetime. And be happy doing it. And BMW had me, and lost me. And I learned both that BMW (in America anyway) is on it’s way out, as well as a lesson in the value of a business principle that should never be underestimated: that of “customer experience”.
In 2011 I bought a beautiful BMW 550i. It was a great car. And I spent a pretty penny on it. It was my first true luxury car, and I had expectations. I expected that the car would be awesome. Check. It was awesome and I loved driving it. The combination of handling and speed was addicting. I also expected to be treated like I bought something special. No check. From the moment I phoned back to my Minnetonka BMW dealer the first time with a whistling sound in the moon roof, I felt like a second rate customer. I felt like I had purchased a Kia. They treated me not badly, but also not like I was special. But I overlooked it and thought, “They’ll make me feel special once I get there and talk to them in person.” No such luck. When I drove into their luxury-like service center, which was already an inconvenient 45 min drive for me, they processed me like I was a head of cattle. Absolutely nothing special. I was annoyed and almost a little angry. “If I wanted to be treated this way, I thought, I would have just purchased a Kia.” Was it my young age (I was 35 at the time but looked like I was 32 maybe). I don’t know what the reason was, but frankly I didn’t care. I decided at that point that they would never, ever win my business again.
A few months later I had to get my oil changed. I didn’t like the idea of driving 45 minutes to get an oil change, so I searched around for someone that could do a BMW change closer to me. I was referred to a guy working in the very local St. Paul Audi service department named Dan. Dan had worked for a previous business where they serviced mostly BMWs and was a bit of an expert. I called him and he was great on the phone and told me he’d be happy for me to bring my car in and that they service lots of BMWs. I drove my car in a few days later. From the moment my wheels entered the Audi service department’s entrance, everything was right. They greeted me at my car by name and opened my door for me. Wow. What a difference. They welcomed me and showed me around their office, customer waiting area, and business work space. They offered me a soda (or pop for you fellow mid-westerners), a coffee, or a snack. The explained that my car would be serviced in such an amount of time and it would be washed and vacuumed, just as it would every time I brought it in. They also invited me to bring my car by to be washed and vacuumed whenever I was in the area, free of charge. All the guys in the service area were friendly and welcoming. It was all just as it should be. As a Business Coach and Consultant, I couldn’t have written the script more perfectly.
Now, Dan could have been great and also talked about how great Audi’s were and how they were better than BMWs. But he didn’t. He did just the right thing: he complimented the heck out of my Beemer. He told me how much he liked it and how pretty it was (car enthusiasts are weird about our cars- we really do think they’re “pretty”). He talked with me about its performance specs. I loved this guy because he confirmed that I had made a good decision in buying that car. At the same time he spoke very highly of the Audis on the lot. When I’d bring my BMW in, I’d chat with Dan about this or that Audi and each time I would leave thinking “Maybe at some point I would buy an Audi”.
Skip ahead about a year after I started bringing my BMW to the Audi dealer and Dan. It was a Monday afternoon and I had just left a meeting with a new client in Minneapolis. I was driving my BMW and, as I usually do when I’m in an unfamiliar area, I was looking around at the local businesses. At the corner of a busy intersection I noticed a shop that had closed down. I wondered to myself “What was that business and why did it shut down?” Just after I gazed to my right perhaps a second longer than I normally would, and was lost in that thought, I looked forward again only to realize that the Jeep in front of me had come to a rather abrupt stop. But it was too late for me. I locked up the brakes which only dampened the impact. I was only going about 30 mph when I started braking, so I figured I was going about 15 or 20 when I rear-ended him. My first real accident.
If you know anything about cars, you may know that a later model BMW 550i is a four door sedan. But I had the sporty version of it with a souped-up front end that I believe was a little lower than the standard version. Anyway my low front end basically went under the higher back end of the Jeep. It wasn’t pretty. My hood looked like I hit a wall going about 40 mph. I couldn’t believe the damage from what I felt like was a fender-bender.
So, here I am, about 15 miles from the BMW dealer where I bought the vehicle, and who is the first person I think to call and ask where I should have the car towed to get it fixed? Of course I called Dan. He referred me to the best auto body shop in the Twin Cities (where my experience was also excellent). I think Dan thought it was a little odd that I called him, but I sure was happy I did, and that I didn’t call Minnetonka BMW.
Now, as you may have guessed, my car was deemed totaled by the insurance company and I was in need of a car. It was decision time. I started looking around at new cars and, specifically, at the new car that I’d always wanted: the BMW M3. Every car enthusiast at least respects this car, but would love to own this car. It’s become the standard in performance sedans for the past decade or two. But I couldn’t help myself from coming back again and again to considering Audi. “If I buy an Audi, I will be able to be treated right every time I need something done” I would think to myself. I finally decided I needed all wheel drive as I don’t like driving a crappy winter car. I like driving something good all year long. The BMW M3 is rear-wheel drive only. So, ruling that out was a first step. But then I had a lot of good options in the performance four door sedan class. But I just started thinking Audi and I came to the conclusion that the Audi S4 was my car. So I went to the dealer, talked to Dan again about what he thought (since we obviously had very similar tastes in cars), and Dan thought the S4 would definitely not disappoint me. So I bought one. I spent $58,000 on a car and it had nothing whatsoever to do with the salesman. Dan sold me that car single-handedly. And I love it. After my purchase I got a follow up call from my sales rep asking if everything was good. I got stuff in the mail. I got a thank you gift. They did everything right. BMW did none of this. They treated me like a head of second-class cattle, and they’ve been rewarded as they should: they’ve lost an ideal lifetime customer.
Just this morning I decided to write this blog. Why? I met with another successful business owner, Eric Hanson, owner of the reputable August Ash website building and marketing company, and we got to talking about cars. He shared my passion and it was an interesting conversation. We both used to own BMWs. We both had very bad experiences at different BMW dealers. We both now own Audis (he owns a beautiful A8L). We agreed about how BMW is losing its feel of being the premier brand (and that Mercedes seems like an “old” brand) and that Audi is going to replace BMW as the more premium brand soon- if not already). Speaking to someone who shared my experiences almost exactly convinced me of a couple things: BMW is taking their leadership position for granted, similar to the US Post Office it seems. And bad customer experiences, especially in the high-end auto industry, is a really bad thing for that brand.
If Audi continues to treat me the way they do, they’ll have a customer for life (and I would also become a stock purchaser if I thought the auto industry had better prospects for growth and profits). And I’ll gladly spend way too much money over the course of my life with them and probably send several potential clients to St Paul Audi.
Goodbye BMW, Hello Audi!