Six months after purchasing a new car with one of those on-board NASA super computers that monitors everything you never knew needed monitoring in a car; the flat tire sensor illuminated on the dashboard. Being of what I think is reasonable intelligence, I naturally assumed that meant I had some thing wrong with the tire…like it was flat. So, since I had recently moved over 100 miles away from the dealer from which I bought the car, I called my now local dealer for an appointment to have the sensor fixed and, or the tire changed. Mind you, this was one of those run-flat tires that can’t be patched but has to be replaced – at about four times the price of a regular tire.

The diagnosis was that the tire was fine and the sensor just needed to be reset. So, I accepted that as the truth. About a month later, I’m driving and, in my peripheral field of view, I see “FTI” appear on my dash once again in flashing red letters. Apparently the engineers who designed this car had a flare for the dramatic. Because, along with “FTI” flashing in red, was a dire warning about the perils that await me if I don’t drop everything and immediately attend to this. So I call for an appointment the next day. This time I specifically asked that the tire be taken off the car, off the rim and examined from the inside out.

Once again, the diagnosis? “The tire is fine. We replaced the FTI sensor”. I was assured that the tire was examined thoroughly. Two days later was Thanksgiving. So, my wife and I jumped in the car with the four perfectly fine tires and headed out to visit family over 300 miles away. Let’s bullet point what happened next:

  • “FTI” appears back flashing on the dashboard once we arrive at our destination
  • I call the car company’s roadside assistance number
  • It’s Thanksgiving. There’s not much they can do as all the local dealers are closed for the long weekend
  • They recommend I drive the car to the local dealer, leave the car in their parking lot, call them on Monday morning and ask them to look at the tire.
  • How do I get back home? Rent a car, was the answer. Great!
  • So, I do all that. What choice did I have at this point?
  • The following Monday, I call the dealer where I left the car as well as the dealer from whom I bought the car; railing to him about the issue.

Here’s where a bad situation turned good and my original dealer gained a customer for life. The service coordinator at my original dealer told me he would handle the entire situation from that point forward. He called the dealer where I left the car and told them to make any necessary repairs. As it turns out, the tire had a nail right in the middle of the tread. Shocker. My original dealer paid for the replacement tire, reimbursed me for the rental car and had one of his mechanics drive a flatbed over 600 miles round trip to pick up my car and deliver it back to me.

So, while I never thought where I bought a car was all that important. I was wrong. Apparently there is a huge difference even within a brand. Now, assume I buy a new car every 5 years for the next 30 years. My lifetime revenue to that car company, considering the type of cars they sell, is somewhere north of $200,000 in today’s dollars. That’s an exceptional return on that new tire, rental car and effort to pick up my car. Don’t you think?


  1. Great service experience, and an even better example of how a business uses service to have keep customers beyond the initial transaction – maybe even for life.

    I'm curious: did you ask the dealer why they went to such lengths to provide the exceptional service they did, even though on a transaction basis, it is clearly a loser?

    (In fact, if they don't link departmental metrics together as they don't in many businesses, the service department could be trying to lose you as a customer while sales is trying to keep you)

    While loyalty-profitability metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) can have a lot of power behind them, I love that customer lifetime valuable is easy to understand regardless of someone's position in the organization and almost universally accessible as it takes little additional investment to come to a credible figure that a Fortune 50 or a mom & pop storefront can have equal use for.

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