BMW of Manhattan – When Social Media Reflects The Real World

Posted: December 6, 2008 in Social Media, Society & Culture, Trends
Tags: , , , , , ,

See updates in comments. This situation has since been resolved.

I wanted to use a recent experience with horrendous service from BMW of Manhattan, to reflect on one of the main issues that companies don’t understabmwnd about social media. The basic principle is actually so fundamentally simple. If people are complaining about your service or products in the social media ecosystems than you have a problem with your service or product quality.

The Evolution of a Problem
We bought a BMW X5 in May from BMW of Manhattan. The experience commenced on the wrong foot. The sales guy got the order wrong, which of course we didn’t discover until after waiting for 5 weeks for our car to be delivered to the showroom. We timed the return of the last lease and the pick up of the new car for the same day. We now had no vehicle and my wife drives over 100 miles a day to get to school. One of the selling points of a luxury car is the ability to use loaners when your car is being serviced. However, this wasn’t service-related so they couldn’t arrange a loaner. So we had to rent a car for another few weeks, which I felt was only right for BMW of Manhattan to pay for due to their mistake. After fighting them on this point, the general manager ultimately agreed to pay for half. Although a bit upset (and now driving a rented Chevy for 2 weeks), in the grand scheme of things, I would have let this slide if it was the only problem I ever had with them.

When Quality Assurance Fails
Within the first 30 days of owning the car, we started experiencing electrical problems. We brought it into service and somehow the problem seemed to “fix itself” (yeah right – that happens a lot with technology). By September, the entire navigation system and screen to control all the other electronic amenities went out…then came back…then went out. It was clear that there was a problem.  Again, upset, but in the grand scheme of things, I would have even let this slide if it was fixed in a convenient and timely manner at no cost to me.

When Promises (and Brand Positioning) Are Not Fulfilled: “The Ultimate Driving Machine”???
When we bought the car we were told that loaners are always available when we need service for the car. We were also told that the loaners can be picked up from any service location. LIES on both counts! Loaners are one of the reasons why we buy luxury cars. Our previous experience with several Infiniti models was excellent and we had no reason to expect any different from BMW. When my wife told me that we had to book a service date in December (2 months away) in order to schedule an available loaner I was taken back. Taken back at the fact that we were lied to, taken advantage of, and as a marketer – taken back that BMW would sacrifice the desire to keep me as a long term valuable customer, generate word of mouth, and fulfill on their brand promise.  Although I enjoy the car, the problems were beginning to get on my nerves. I expect exceptional service from a brand like BMW, and so far I have received  anything but that from BMW of Manhattan. I have left messages for the general manager and sent letters to corporate. Nothing. The BMW service center in Brooklyn was MUCH better, but again, since we were lied to by BMW of Manhattan, we apparently are unable to pickup a loaner vehicle in Brooklyn. Today my wife spent hours waiting to get the car back because the service center was short staffed and very busy. Anything else to add to the list of problems guys? Let’s see how long the problem stays fixed. I am going to go ballistic if it returns.

The Social Media Lesson
So here I am blogging about the poor experience, even going out of my way to layer the post with enough mentions of BMW of Manhattan that it hopefully comes up on the first page of search engines when someone searches for “BMW of Manhattan”. My 700+ connections in Facebook, my Twitter network, and my LinkedIn network, which are all comprised of affluent luxury car buyers, many of which are actually in the New York and surrounding areas, are now commenting about my experience with the poor service. Word of mouth to not buy from BMW of Manhattan is now spreading, even if only within the microcosm of my network, and some of the networks of those individuals within my network. This is not a social media problem – it is a service quality problem.

I wonder if anyone from BMW of Manhattan (or even BMW corporate) is monitoring social media to hear the multiple rants and posting I have published about this issue. If so, please post a comment here and I will be able to get back to you and discuss. I’d be happy to discuss some ways to improve your service. For the record – I really do love my X5. It’s a solidly built vehicle, andmaybe I just had bad enough luck to have a bad saleperson, and got one with a bum navigation system. But I cannot endorse doing business with BMW of Manhattan after all that I have witnessed. It seems that the problems started with my first experience on the sale floor, and continued with some faulty equipment, but the clincher was that after all of that, there were no records in my customer record saying “we screwed up with this guy already, please take care of this valuable customer”. This lack of basic customer service quality assurance now reverberates throughout the fabric of my social media ecosystem. What an easy problem to solve. Also an easy problem to discover by listening to the social media conversations. BMW are you listening?

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Comments
  1. Pete Czech says:

    That’s really lame. I’ll head out to Tenafly or Rochelle Park for my BMW (if i don’t go Audi after hearing this !)

    Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Rob Graham says:

    One lesson I learned years ago is to pretend that everybody you come in contact with has the words ‘make me feel important’ tattooed on their forehead. This is especially important with regard to customer service. No vendor should ever forget that as a consumer you have other options. If the consumer ever feels that a vendor doesn’t care about them as customers, cares only about making money, or projects even a little bit that the customer is putting them out then it’s nearly impossible to get that customer make on the other side of the fence again.

    Bottom line: It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to keep an existing customer than it is to find a new one. Make all of your customers feel genuinely wanted and important whenever possible.

  3. I would be surprised if anyone from BMW of Manhattan is monitoring social media. With the way things are in this economy, you would think that car dealers (or any business for that matter) would do anything and everything (tangible or not) to make their customers happy.

    You always remember the places that treat you right and even pay more (at least I do on occasion) for products or services that you know you will not have problems with.

  4. Brian says:

    This is why I favor Mercedes. I’ve heard of poor BMW service before. The whole system is probably rotten. At the least we know to avoid BMW of Manhattan. Jim wouldn’t lie. They must really suck!

  5. Right on, Jason! What I’m waiting to know is what BMW and BMW of Manhattan are going to do about this. The social web is a feedback mechanism. A company that cares about its reputation (and what better synonym is there for “brand”?) should respond to the feedback the way people and businesses of good reputation do. They should correct the service problem immediately for you. They should overcompensate beyond the point of pain. And they should follow through by correcting their service systems, policies and culture for everyone else as well. If they do, this will have been worth the pain and cost. Of course it never should have happened in the first place, but the fact is that things will happen, systems and people will let you down and promises worth keeping will be broken. The sign of a brand that is growing rather than dying is — what do they do next?

  6. Hubby works for luxury dealer (neither of the makes you mentioned) and he said the best way to really get anyone’s attention is to be sure to complete any and all customer surveys from the dealership or BMW. The negatives hurt their CSI and cost them money and they HATE that at the dealerships. They want super high CSI’s always!

  7. Oh – and hubby ads to expect continued problems with electrical, it’s a BMW thing in general.

  8. Robyn Hawk says:

    Jason – make sure to send this URL to the regional, State and National Hdqtrs for BMW.

    In today’s financial climate I would imagine that they would not be happy to see how far this has gone – sort of like driving their car around with a License Plate that says “Lemon”.

  9. chris miller says:

    Forgetting for a second that the internet, blogs and social media give voice to consumer, think about how pissed and frustrated Jason has to be to sit down and take the time to write about this.

    Pretty frustrated huh. Also note that he almost takes pains to forgive and embrace the brand BMW while clearly stating that it’s a Service Quality Problem and takes issue with how he was treated at BMW of Manhattan.

    But then read some of the comments “That’s why I favor Mercedes” and “expect continued problems with electrical, it’s a BMW thing in general.”

    See where I’m going with this, BMW corporate communications. Issues with how a dealer handles a problem degenerate into issues with the brand, you are after all, linked. So I hope you are as he asks “listening”

    And lastly, I’m a loyal BMW person having had an X5, a 540i a Z4 and about to order a European delivery on a 335xi. And this makes me glad that I’m in Chicago and not dealing with BMW of Manhattan!

  10. My mom has a BMW–which was purchased as a “certified Pre-owned”. She went a different dealership to trade it in, and found that it had been in an accident in Florida, which is a deal-breaker for “certified pre-owned”. She went back with this info, to the dealer she bought it from, and EVENTUALLY was offered a brand-new one, at BMW cost. She took it. So it’s a nice ending, to a very shady story. Certainly not expected from an upmarket carmaker like BMW.
    On the other hand, I bought a Mercedes at auction–will original warranty still in effect. No only did they cover me, but they went over it with a fine toothcomb, and fixed EVERYTHING they could–about $3500–at no charge to me, and I got a loaner.
    It’s all aggravating and bottomline . . . time consuming CRAP!! Sorry for all that.

  11. tjcnyc says:

    Brands win or lose on their ability to deliver what they promise. In the automotive business that’s a tricky combination of car and service. Neither part is easy.

    Still, it’s a very slippery slope from “The Ultimate Driving Machine” to “The Ultimate Deafness Machine”.

    BMW is a great brand, with a legendary engineering history. Figuring out a way to leverage technology to listen to feedback and respond should be easy for them. I’m going to be optimistic that they’ll get this right.

    I’m an Infiniti owner in NYC, and in my experience the dealership in White Plains (Pepe Infiniti) really get this stuff right.

    Here’s hoping BMW is listening and that they push to get the service recovery piece of this to work.

    P.S. Is it wrong for me to guess that BMW of Manhattan became lazy about service because Wall Street was booming for so long? Success does tend to breed contempt for your customers, if you’re not careful.

  12. Jason Heller says:

    UPDATE: 24 hours after receiving the car, the problem re-emerged and was never fixed. So much for the technical service. This was compounded by the fact that the BMW service center in Brooklyn confirmed that the navigation system needed to be replaced, while BMW of Manhattan claimed that it just needed to be reprogrammed. WRONG! This is very frustrating and upsetting. What HORRIBLE service!

  13. I actually used http://www.swapalease.com to get out of my lease with BMW because of how completely INEPT BMW of Manhattan was. I mean, truly, truly clueless. And I live right across the street from them, yet I’d drive out of the city to go to a better service department. I will NEVER buy a BMW again.

  14. pterantula says:

    Jason – you should read some Marvin Harris; I recommend “Why Nothing Works”, as well as “Cows, Pigs & Witches”. (It goes without saying you should also read “Parkinson’s Law” and “The Peter Principle”….).

  15. Craig Daitch says:

    How long have you had the car? Does it qualify for lemon laws?

  16. Jason Heller says:

    @craig – that’s a good question. does a nav system count for that? i am ready to get rid of this BMW and switch back to Infinity. I have had 2 Infinities and they are great cars, never once had any problems and the dealers always had loaners for us when we went in for routine servicing

  17. Jason Heller says:

    UPDATE: Via LinkedIn, I have contacted the President of BMW of Manhattan, the PR Specialist, the Marketing Manager, and the Business Development Manager. Additionally, I have contacted BMW corporate. Let’s see how/if they make this right. If this is not made right, I will be raising hell, and selling my BMW, never buying a BMW again, and dissuading as many people as possible from buying a BMW.

    It didn’t have to come to this. BMW can and should be better than this.

    Transcript of my note to the staff at BMW of Manhattan below:
    ______________________________

    I bought an X5 from you in May. I trust that your business means something more to you than the experience I have had this year with BMW off Manhattan. I will be recontacting BMW corporate about this as well. The way I have been treated from day one has been totally unacceptable. I surely hope that you deliver on the brand promise, which so far you have failed me on.

    You can read more about the evolution of this problem publicly now, here:
    https://thedigitalblur.com/2008/12/06/bmw-of-manhattan-when-social-media-reflects-the-real-world/

    Please get back to me and let me know how you will make this right. Additionally, the car is still having the same problems and the customer service has been abysmal. As a fellow marketer I am appalled. As a potential referral of many other affluent new car buyers I am shocked, and if I were you I would want to make this right. You have already lost sales as a result of the word of mouth spreading about the lies and how bad the service is at BMW of Manhattan.

    BMW can and should do better.

    Please contact me this week.

  18. Jason Heller says:

    And the letter to BMW corporate:

    To the management of BMW USA –

    I am addressing copies of this letter to your head of customer care, head of marketing and PR, the brand manager for the X5 if that exists, and to Tom Purves, CEO. If this issue goes unanswered you will have failed on your brand promise, and sacrificed many valuable customers in the New York area and beyond within my network of influence.

    I bought an X5 from BMW of Manhattan in May. I trust that your business means something more to you than the experience I have had this year with the horribly run dealership at BMW off Manhattan. The way I have been treated from day one has been totally unacceptable. I surely hope that you deliver on the brand promise, which so far you have failed me on.

    You can read more about the evolution of this problem publicly now, here:
    http://www.thedigitalblur.com/2008/12/06/bmw-of-manhattan-when-social-media-reflects-the-real-world

    I have asked the President of BMW of Manhattan to please get back to me and let me know how you will make this right. Additionally, the car is still having the same problems and the customer service has been abysmal. As a fellow marketer I am appalled. As a potential referral of many other affluent new car buyers I am shocked, and if I were you I would want to make this right. You have already lost sales as a result of the word of mouth spreading about the lies and how bad the service is at BMW of Manhattan.

    BMW can and should do better.

    Please contact me this week and let me know you care about your business, you care about your customers, and you care about your brand and your product. This is simply unacceptable.

  19. Ralf Lippold says:

    Hello,

    I have worked a couple of years for BMW and they are really fond of what they deliver to customers (that is for sure). On the other hand -probably driven by German behavior concerning the Web- the drive to adapt fast to the social media possibilities is still in a premature state. Other than Ford that is doing a great job and @ScottMonty is their social media guy, who does really great work.

    BMW had also until recently a pretty cool service called “InnovationLab”, where customers could bring in their ideas on how to improve “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. Now this service has been cancelled and I wonder why, is it fear that innovation could be done outside of corporate headquarters?

    Best regards,

    Ralf

    PS.: If anybody would like to publish their story on the Servicerevolution-Blog, please feel free to check it http://www.theservicerevolution.blogspot.com (and send me a note if interested in taking part of the journey to create better customer value across boundaries)

  20. Vlad Stesin says:

    Jason,

    I’ve had exactly the same sort of problems with BMW dealerships here in Canada. The one thing that I did learn, though, is that you don’t have to deal with the same dealership for service.

    Since dealerships make money on servicing that is under warranty (and doesn’t cost _you_ anything), you’re better off giving your business to someone else. They’ll be more than happy to welcome you, and chances are your car’s history is available on the network.

    Worked for me.

  21. GPatton says:

    My wife owned a BMWt 5 Series and it was horrible! We have a cousin with a BMW X5, a friend with a BMW 3 series, and another friend with a BMW 5 series. I can honestly say that we have all had way too many problems with these vehicles than we should have had. The running joke about BMWs is that they are the “ultimate driving machine” … on the rare occaision that they actually are in working order. I cannot believe that my brother’s Lincoln MKS is 2 years old, and it never saw the inside of a repair shop (except for routine maintenance) while my wife’s BMW has been in for repairs every 4-5 months. I used to drive a 2005 Cadillac CTS, and again, no real problems. In the 3 years I owned it, I think I brought it in for repairs (other than routine service) maybe 2 times. I am now driving a Volvo, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have very little issues with this too. I would have bought a BMW if they were built better, but NO WAY am I buying one now. The other people I know with BMWs have all had problems as well. They are definitely NOT worth the money!

    I guess German Engineering isn’t what it used to be!!

  22. Jason Heller says:

    Update 12/23/08: I am convinced that I have a lemon and will be reporting this to BMW corporate. The service manager claims that there are 2 parts that need to be replaced the CID & the CCC. He couldn’t explain what these were. After looking them up, they are the Central Information Display (which he claims is what made the ‘Check Engine’ light come on, after another service advisor claimed another reason), and the Car Communication Computer (which he claimed had a conflict from a bluetooth mobile connection from my or my wife’s phone and it made the entire unit go bad). I have zero trust in anything this dealer tells us. They have had the car for about 3 weeks now. One more week and it actually qualifies under lemon law for a replacement.

    They offered me so far a free bike rack installed for all of my problems. I don’t want a bike rack, I want the vehicle that I paid a lot of money for to be reliable and the dealer and service reps who I am doing business with to be honest with me and make me feel comfortable. None of these things are happening.

    I’ve been told by other dealers that these guys are most likely lying to not take a hit on the car, but aren’t they losing more by allowing this to continue, publicly, online where new car buyers are increasingly getting their information on which vehicles to buy and where?

    Hey BMW of Manhattan – proactively buy this car back and replace it with a new one. That is the only acceptable solution. And BMW corporate – this needs to be made right, even if the dealer is going to continue to deceive us. I will make sure that the community learns of your righting of this wrong once it happens.

  23. DC says:

    Was looking on the web whether or not to bring my aunt’s old X5 to BMW of Manhattan. Looks like I’m heading over to Brooklyn…

    The complaints you listed, made me return my X5 after my lease and go back to the Japanese brands. Prior to the X5, I had an Infiniti and afterward, decided to go with a Lexus. Hands down, the experiences do not compare. The Lexus and Infiniti personnel were definitely more hungry to make sure your experience was exceptional, while the BMW personnel had an air of arrogance and didn’t care much to help anyone out.

    I leased my X5 from BMW of Manhattan a while ago, but because I was going to school in Pittsburgh, had to deal with the dealership there. Terrible terrible service…

  24. Jason Heller says:

    Latest update Jan 2, 2009:

    After the back and forth with BMW of Manhattan and BMW corp over the last month, I received a call from the service mgr at the Manhattan dealer yesterday, who is going to “get me out of this vehicle and into another one”. Sounds like the right decision and a step towards keeping (earning) their customer satisfied. Will update the blog with more once I hear more.

  25. Jason Heller says:

    Update as of Feb 14, 2009. The situation has since been resolved amicably.

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