BMW me up, Scot

Leaving just one customer dissatisfied could damage your brand's reputation more than you might think

 I used to drive BMWs. It's reasonable to say I was your archetypal BMW 'brand evangelist.' I walked into a BMW showroom a couple of months ago and tried to buy a new one. I was ready to pay the cash equivalent of a small neighbourhood in certain parts of Manchester, but the salesman just wanted me to have a test drive. I had no need of testing, so I left.

No big deal. But then the 'tapakata, pakata' noise started, swiftly accompanied by coloured smoke, and the distracting noise of metal grinding on metal. The car limped into the BMW Service Centre and let out a final squeak as I turned off the ignition and sat in the car park hissing and creaking. The car that is, not me.

There was a fault with the air intake manifold – two metal flaps had fallen inside the engine. “Sounds bad, how much will it cost to fix?” I said. There was a pause before the technician said, “Seven thousand pounds.” “SEVE... What the... you are joking?” “Plus labour...” he added quietly, “ tax. Round numbers, 10 grand.”

“So it's a write-off,” I said. “I thought BMW diesel engines were invincible. This one's less that five years old and was BMW serviced from new. It's barely run-in.”

“Mmmm,” he said. “I can submit a 'goodwill claim' to BMW for you.”

“You mean it shouldn't have happened?”

“All I can say, sir, is that it is 'unusual' and we wouldn't expect a BMW of this age, with this mileage, to experience this fault.”

“So you do mean it shouldn't have happened.”

A few days later, I received a call... 

“Good news Mr. McKee. BMW is prepared to contribute £8,500. You just have to pay the balance of £1,500.”

“So it shouldn't have happened then.”

“It's a goodwill gesture Mr. McKee, that's all I can tell you.”

“Okay Mike, I'm a reasonable guy. In principle, that's acceptable. However...”

I explained it would be a waste of time and money to spend £8,500 on the repair when I wanted a new BMW. I explained that I'd been trying to buy one and that I was 'happy' to pay for my new car. All I needed was for BMW to turn the £8,500 repair offer into a virtual part exchange.

It seemed so easy. I was the customer being inconvenienced, I wasn't going to make a fuss about a car that shouldn't have broken and I was going to add more money to the pot and keep spending with BMW. I figured they'd be happy. BMW said, “No.” Not, “No and here's the thinking behind our decision because we'd still like to retain you as a customer.” Just, “No.”

Which brings me to the thing about brand reputation. I expected more from the brand. I remember a BMW case study where the point was made that BMW wanted 'BMW drivers for life'. An admirable quest, but clearly bollocks.

I won't be buying another BMW. I don't imagine for a second that BMW will notice the difference but I will nonetheless exercise my right as a customer to take my money elsewhere. My perceptions of the brand have changed. One car buyer walking away (twice) from BMW is barely troubling, but if this experience is typical of the brand's values, it won't be long before we're all walking away. If I was the person responsible for maintaining the BMW brand reputation I'd be more than a little concerned. The 'Ultimate Driving Machine.' Really?