How to Keep Customers Loyal, Even After Issuing a Safety Recall Notice!

Updated: Feb 8


Man on the phone standing beside broken down car.

I am unabashedly a loyal customer of Mazda. I love their cars! I bought my first Mazda in 2008 and I have owned three since then. I recommend Mazda to my friends and colleagues. For fourteen years it has been a great customer experience, until last month.


In January 2022 I received a safety recall notice from Mazda informing me that my 2019 Mazda has a fuel pump that may fail, which according to the notice could “result in engine no start and / or stall, increasing the risk of a crash”.


Okay, so that got my attention! Reading further the notice stated:


“Your Mazda dealer will replace the low-pressure fuel pump on your vehicle with an improved part. The repair will be performed at no cost to you.”


Great! Easy peasy! That is, until I read the next sentence.


“Repair parts are not currently available. It is expected that parts will become available in Summer 2022 or earlier.”


Seriously? Putting aside for a moment the disturbing possibility of a crash, (and wondering why they capitalized the word “Summer”) it occurred to me, what do I drive if my fuel pump fails before the replacement pump is available? No answer to that question in their recall notice!


So how could this terrible customer experience have been handled better? Here’s a start. Think beyond the immediate issue implications and resolutions. Identify and address as many important concerns your customers may have (like how do I get around if my car won’t run) and include them in said safety recall notice.


Here is a 5-step plan to get out of reaction mode and into proactive mode to keep customers loyal even after issuing a safety recall notice.


1. Communicate the problem to the customer promptly, clearly, and concisely.

2. Demonstrate empathy in your communication.

3. Address your customer’s most important needs in your communication.

4. Act on what you learn from your customers.

5. Exceed the customer’s expectations with your response.


1. Communicate the problem to the customer promptly, clearly, and concisely.


Effective communication will increase the odds of satisfying your customer even when delivering bad news, such as a safety recall notice. The Mazda safety recall notice was issued in January 2022. Yet the models with this possible quality problem were manufactured in 2018. Almost four years later Mazda owners are just getting a notification about it? Mazda failed the “promptly” requirement for communicating this serious problem to their customers.


The safety recall notice was clear and concise, but it failed step #2…


2. Demonstrate empathy in your communication.


Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others” (Source: The Oxford Languages Dictionary). Making a connection with your customer, especially if your communication involves a problem, is vital to customer happiness and satisfaction. The first best connection you can make with a customer is to understand what they need on both a business and an emotional level. Empathy is an excellent first step to resolution.


On an emotional level, the idea of getting into a crash due to a fuel pump failure is terrifying! Show a little empathy toward your customers in the safety recall notice. Some probability data on the likelihood of a crash happening would have a gone a long way to making the situation more palatable. I mean, should I stop driving my Mazda because of the danger created by the pump failing while I’m cruising through Hartford, CT on Route 84 at 60 miles per hour? That stretch of 84 is scary enough when my car is working fine!


3. Address your customer’s most important needs in your communication.


Sounds simple enough. Yet learning what your customer’s most important needs are can be challenging when your company is in reaction mode, acting on problems as they present themselves. How do you get ahead in this process and be ready when a crisis presents itself? Start by asking your customers what their needs are. What’s the best way to do this? A survey you say?


While we have all suffered from survey fatigue, a voice of the customer (VoC) survey is a good option for learning what your customers want, provided you tell them why you are conducting the survey and how it will benefit them. In fact, according to Ryan Gould, Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services at Elevation Marketing, 87% of respondents said they’d participated in surveys because they felt it would help make a difference in a company’s products or services.”


Giving the customer an opportunity to tell you what they want is the best way to learn what their needs are!


Another tried and true source for learning what customers need is your customer-facing team. Ask them how your customers can be better served. They know a lot about what they like, don’t like, and what they want from your company.


Getting back to my car experience for a moment, Mazda should have realized that on a business level I need a car to get around! Okay, so Mazda likely knew that, but in their safety recall notice they did not address what they would do for their customers should the pump fail before a replacement part became available. They left it to the customer to figure out how they would get around should their Mazda be sidelined.


 


“Effective communications will increase the odds of satisfying your customer even when delivering bad news, such as a safety recall notice.”



 

4. Act on what you have learned about your customer’s needs.


Once you have information from your customers on what their needs are, it is critical to act on it. Using this information solely as a directional metric is a waste of resources, time, and money if you don’t act on the data. Customers and your customer-facing teams expect that if they take the time to answer your questions, you will acknowledge and potentially act on specific needs they voice. While this is a worthwhile response to survey information, it should not be the only way you act on the information. It should be used for systemic change in your company as well. VoC surveys provide valuable information on what you are doing right, doing wrong and what you should be doing.

A logical follow up step to collecting customer feedback is customer journey mapping which will help you to better understand your customer’s needs by identifying areas of improvement at customer touch points, giving you the opportunity to correct them and deliver a better customer experience.


How might the safety recall notice customer touch point be improved to deliver a better customer experience? Mazda could have arranged for their dealerships to reach out to customers who had received the recall notice to answer questions and inform them on what their options are.


Since this did not happen, I called the dealership that I purchased my three Mazda’s from. When I asked the customer service representative what I would drive around in if my fuel pump failed before the replacement pump became available, she replied “good question, let me ask”. I guess I was the first person to ask her this question? The response that came back was that the dealership would provide a free loaner car until the part became available and my car could be upgraded. If my Mazda broke down on the side of the road before then, they would tow the car to wherever I wanted at their expense. Good answer.


 


“Giving the customer an opportunity to tell you what they want is a great way to anticipate their future needs!”



 

5. Exceed the customer’s expectations with your response.


Here is “where the rubber meets the road” (pun intended). Do you need to exceed expectations? Isn’t meeting expectations enough? Some would say that you should only try to meet expectations because exceeding expectations will become the norm and customers will come to expect it with every customer service transaction. So, what’s wrong with that? By setting the bar higher it challenges your company to always make the customer your first priority. This is how you create and keep customers loyal, stay ahead of your competition, and how you grow revenue and profit.


So, what does Mazda have to say about exceeding customer’s expectations? The following two quotes are from their website.


Mazda is striving to improve customer satisfaction through providing a Mazda brand experience that exceeds customer expectations.”


And how do they intend to do this?


“Three Approaches to Establish an Emotional Connection with Customers


To establish an emotional connection with customers, Mazda considers it necessary to take into account all touch points, i.e., not only the period during which customers are in possession of a Mazda vehicle, but also the periods before they purchase the vehicle and after they let go of it.”


I whole-heartedly embrace Mazda’s three approaches to establish an emotional connection with customers. When you are recalling over 120,000 cars, it is probably a good idea to apply this approach to the recall notices and not leave customers hanging.


Despite this experience, I am still a loyal Mazda customer. The customer service I have received from their dealerships has been outstanding. Their cars are high quality, look great, and are fun to drive!


“Zoom-Zoom”


To learn more about how to deliver exceptional customer service experiences that drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, revenue and profit, please visit Bass Harbor Group’s website at www.bassharborgroup.com.


 

Patrick Sandefur is the Founder and Managing Director of Bass Harbor Group / Customer Experience Solutions. His 30+ year career in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Business Development has given him a unique perspective of what customers want and expect when interacting with a brand.


Read more from Patrick Sandefur by clicking on recent posts below.