the quality dilemma

This activity describes George and Gillian’s experience of buying a large screen TV. This vignette presents readers with the opportunity to apply important marketing concepts. Readers should review the five gaps model and SERVQUAL whilst completing this activity.

George is an accountant and his partner Gillian is a schoolteacher. Both are in the late 20s. They live in a modern inner-city apartment. Recently they purchased a 72-inch screen TV from an electrical retailer; this activity describes the service encounter.

Two days after the exchange the TV was delivered by a subcontract driver, contracted by the retailer. Gillian had taken a half-day off work to accommodate the delivery. When George unpacked the TV, he noticed that it was damaged; his conclusion was that the packaging was insufficient. Gillian, who had wanted another brand but had relied on the salesperson’s advice, questioned why everything had to be so complicated.

The next day at work, George telephoned the retailer to explain the situation; he was put on hold for about 10 minutes while the receptionist tried to locate the salesperson. This irritated George who had deadlines of his own to meet. The salesperson initially blamed the sub-contractor and told George to ring the sub-contractor. George refused. George was surprised by three things: the previously enthusiastic salesperson was now reluctant to get involved, the previously confident salesperson was now unsure of procedures, and there was an attempt to shift the blame away from the salesperson’s recommendation. The call ended when the salesperson told George he would get back to him.

Three days later an angrier George rang the salesperson to be told that he was still waiting to hear back from the manufacturer’s agent about who should accept responsibility. Reluctantly, George agreed to wait for further information. Gillian could not understand why there was a hold up.

It is now two weeks since the delivery date. George and Gillian are fast losing patience, the salesperson is now avoiding their calls, and their lounge room remains littered with the packaging from the TV.

A colleague at Gillian’s school, who knew the managing director [MD] of this retail group, suggested that George telephone the MD direct. George explained the situation to a patient and seemingly understanding MD, however, George is amazed by how little day-to-day understanding of the business the MD has. He compares this MD with his own Managing Partner who is a fanatic for detail and would have pounced on a customer complaint. The MD expresses that he is staggered that it has taken more than two weeks to have the situation resolved; he assures George that it will be solved.

Within 15 minutes of George’s call the group sales manager telephones George to explain what will happen. The damaged TV will be sent back to the manufacturer’s agent who will assess and repair the damage. After repairs the manufacturer’s agent will deliver the TV to George, however, there could be a fee if the manufacturer believes they are not at fault. The sales manager is unsure how long this will take. “What you have to realize is that this is out of our control”, states the sales manager. George is not amused, he expected a new TV–not a repaired TV.

George telephones the managing director of the company and blasts him. “This is no way to treat a customer, I trusted you, and I believed the promises you make in your advertisements. I will tell everyone I know to avoid you.” A now defensive managing director explains that he did not make the TV or their rules. George continues “Don’t give me that, you made a decision to sell a brand that has poor back up service for their customers I entered into a contract with you, I believed that you would provide me with a quality product…you have one last chance, get this fixed or I will make your life miserable…you have my phone number ring me back and let me know your decision.”

George is taken aback; it is clear that the MD has forgotten the meaning of professional responsibility. By now the MD knows that he is not dealing with someone who could be placated with a few well–chosen words. Although the managing director is angry, he is not angry with George, as he can understand his frustration. The MD is angry with his sales manager who has made a deal with a company with poor back-up service and is risking his company’s reputation. The MD rings the salesperson, he then explains that the sales manager overbought on this Qwert brand of TV and he promoted the Qwert brand in preference to the Steen brand. He did this to help the company clear stock. He was now annoyed that he had lowered his personal standards and advised the MD to send all the Qwert products back as this was not the only problem he had. Furthermore, he would never sell another Qwert because they never return calls or follow up.

The MD telephones the regional manager at Steen, a quality brand they had a relationship with for many years. “I need a favour and I need it done today, I need you to deliver a large screen TV to …, and at the same time pick up a Qwert TV and then return it to me. Send out your best person, handle the situation delicately, bill me with the costs and ring me when it is completed.”

The regional manager at Steen is surprised by the telephone call but is happy to comply with the MD’s request. He knew that Qwert was below the quality of his brand and that it had little back up service. He had refused to match price against Qwert TVs and knew that although he had lost business in the short-term he knew that quality products win in the long-term. Later that day the Steen regional manager rings the MD to tell him that he personally installed and tuned the new TV, in addition he tells the MD that there would be no additional charges for his services.

The MD telephones George and they start to talk. George thanks him and apologises for losing his cool. The MD states that it is he who should apologise and that George’s call had alerted him to a major problem and to call him personally next time he is looking for any appliances, as he would try to make up for the inconvenience he has caused.

The next day the MD calls the sales manager into his office. “Brian, what the hell is happening? Why didn’t you fix that customer’s problem when I asked? Why did I have to get involved?” Brian explains that the manufacturer’s agent has a process and that we must follow the process. “Sure they [Qwert] are a little slow getting back to customers but they are very cheap and the GP is good.” The managing director asks Brian “Who are you working for, me and my customers or Qwert’s agent?” Brian tries to explain that it is not that simple. The managing director is sure something is going on and he thanks his sales manager for his time and for explaining the situation.

The next thing the MD does is to wander down to the warehouse to talk to Jack, one of his long-term employees. The MD finds out that Brian the sales manager bought up big on Qwert TV’s to get a spiv and there are a number of unhappy customers. Jack explained “Boss, Brian has his own ways of doing things, things that make me cringe, I know you’re busy, but, Brian is dangerous …”

At the end of their discussion the MD thanks Jack for the information and requests that Jack makes a list of all the problem Qwert TV’s. “Jack make me a list of dissatisfied customers and we will swap them ASAP, I will fix the problem and take it off the Qwert’s account.” His next stop is the chief accountant to put a freeze (until further notice) on all payments to the manufacturer’s agent that handles Qwert.

The MD then realises, that Brian, the sales manager, has a different idea of quality service, that one of his best salespeople is demotivated and may be inclined to leave, and that Jack knew about the problems before the customer brought the problem to his attention.

The MD then considers how he is going to fix the problem, however, the phone rings and …

Who is to blame

When asked participants agreed that allocation of blame included all characters the results demonstrate who the participants thought were most to blame. Clearly, the MD is the main offender as he failed to put the systems in place to manage the end to end buyer decision process, the salesperson for letting his standards drop and switching them from their original choice, the salesmanager for being dodgy, having an agenda, and being involved in a spiv, George and Gillian for shopping on price, and Jack for not speaking up when he knew there were problems.

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