The myth of luxury at scale
It was just after 9:30 Friday night when a vociferous klaxon and a yellow tire emoji alerted us that our right front tire had experienced a sudden loss of pressure. My Audi Q7 was handling fine, so instead of pulling over, we decided to check the tire pressure at the next gas station (approximately 40 miles away). As I started to fill the tire, an unmistakable hiss sent shivers down my spine.
Hey, Shelly, you got a flat tire on a Friday night. Why all the drama?
Why indeed. This story is a cautionary tale about expectation management and customer service.
At the beginning of the 2017 model year, Audi really stepped up its SUV game. The Q7 is a 7-seat marvel, nicely powered, beautifully appointed, and (most importantly for me) it handles like a sports car and is as safe as a truck. It was the perfect escape vehicle for city dwellers who travel north to ski on winter weekends.
There was only one little issue. At the time, the Q7 was only available with "run flat" tires. Not ideal. They are noisy and handle a bit worse than normal tires. But they were not a deal breaker.
Oh, there was one more thing. Because the SUV has 7 seats, there's no room for a spare. So the car doesn't have one. Wait. What? No spare? Not even a donut? "Nope." Replied my salesperson, "You won't need one. This car can travel 50 miles on a run flat with a huge hole it. You're never more than 50 miles from a tire store. You'll be fine."
I wanted this car. But it took the salesperson the better part of an hour to convince me that we would not be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire and no way to deal. He regaled me with tales of run flat tire prowess and told me that Audi Roadside Assistance and the "tire package" he was selling me would ensure the luxury customer experience I had come to expect from Audi, even under the worst of conditions.
I Feel Like a Moron!
So Friday night we get about 70 miles north of where the indicator light came on and the tire starts to make the kind of noises that you never want to hear a tire make. We pull into another gas station and press the non-emergency panic button for Audi Roadside Assistance. I explained that we needed the promised "super-special Audi Q7 roadside assistance" because we have run flat tires and no spare and we are 190 miles north of NYC and 30 miles south of our destination. The very nice, patronizingly apologetic Audi person tells us, "I can tow you to the nearest Audi Dealership. There's one 52 miles away in Rutland, VT and one 47 miles away in Albany, NY." I asked her how my wife, my cat, and I were supposed to get home or travel to Albany or Rutland. She suggested an Uber. I asked her if she was sure that either dealer would have the matching tire. She didn't know and had no way to find out at that time of night. To make a long story short, the Q7 tires are not only run flat, they are 285/45R20 size. In other words, no tire store stocks them; they are almost always special order.
So, just before midnight, we went to Walmart, bought a cat litter box and food dishes, got the closest pet-friendly hotel room we could find, and figured one of the seven tire stores in Bennington would have at least one 285/45R20 in stock.
You Need What?
I started calling tire stores at 7:30 am. The closest tire that would fit the car was in Hartford, CT (125 miles south of Bennington, VT). No one had the tire. We called Audi in Rutland; they didn't have the tire. We called Audi in Albany. They had a tire, but not the same brand and told us we would need to purchase four new tires or we would void our Audi warranty. I texted my salesperson at Audi Manhattan. Crickets. We were stranded.
At Point of Sale
Audi sold us on the luxury customer experience we were going to have with our Q7 Prestige. The company assured us that Audi Roadside Assistance was the perk of perks, that Audi Care and the accompanying tire package would ensure the only thing we'd have to put in the car was gas. Audi gave us our salesperson's cell number and a direct dial to the head of the service department. We were to buy with confidence, because as loyal Audi customers, we should know that they were as good at their word.
My wife and I (and our cat) had an adventure in Bennington. Although it was seriously inconvenient and a huge waste of time, no one was hurt and no serious damage was done. Except that's not quite true.
I used to be an extremely loyal Audi customer. In fact, until this weekend, if you asked me what car I was most likely to get next, I would have told you another Q7 or even the new Q8. Audi all the way. That was then.
It didn't take too much for Audi to destroy 25 years of customer loyalty. The company not only broke its roadside assistance promises, but my self-serving salesperson didn't reach out to help in any way.
Forgetting, for a moment, that the biggest lesson is, don't ever consider driving a car that doesn't have a spare tire (full size, if possible), the business lesson here is that Audi sells luxury at scale, but it cannot deliver luxury at scale.
That broken promise and the reality of this Audi customer's experience (CX) will cost Audi a customer. A better use of inbound data and communication would have let a digitally savvy marketing department or customer service department do its best to contain the situation and even turn it around. But Audi's martech stack is clearly archaic, and the company's ability to turn data into action in an omni-channel world obviously does not exist.
My key takeaway from this experience has nothing to do with my car and everything to do with what tools need to be deployed to sell luxury at scale and deliver luxury at scale. If you're going to set super-high CX expectations, you have to deliver!
Author's note: 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.