Hugo had no choice but to call the local large-chain auto parts retailer.  Enough unsatisfying experiences made them his last resort for anything auto related.  This time, though, his clutch cable was broken – near his home, thankfully – and it was too late to travel by bus to another supplier.

So, he called the store, placed the order for a clutch cable…pick up tomorrow at 11am.  Great!  Easy.  The guy on the phone was helpful, efficient, friendly…unlike what he had experienced before.  Seeds of changing his mind about the company were planted.

The next day, shortly after 11am, Hugo went in to the store ready to pick up his cable.   The guy on the phone call wasn’t working that day.  “No, we don’t have a pick up under your name and we haven’t received a delivery today,” another employee told him.  “Come back at 2pm.  We should be receiving a delivery by then.”  Hmm…OK.  Inconvenient…frustrating…but OK.

As 2pm rolled around, Hugo went in to the store again.  To his dismay, he received the same story…matter of fact…unapologetic…“Come back at 5pm.  We should be receiving a delivery by then.”  By now, Hugo – among the top five most patient people I know – is getting very frustrated.  OK, though…it’s still the quickest option for getting the clutch cable.

What do you think happened at 5pm?  Yup…very much the same story.  This time, though, as Hugo let them have it a little bit about poor service and how they should have told him 5pm in the first place, the manager walked by. Overhearing some of the conversation, he said, “There is a package in the back, but I don’t think it’s a clutch cable.”  Hugo replied, “Would you please go check and see?”  Sure enough, it was a clutch cable.  It turns out, nobody Hugo spoke with that day thought that the box sitting there in the back could have contained a clutch cable, so they just kept telling him that they hadn’t received it.

The story doesn’t end here, though.  Before handing over the cable, the manager asked Hugo for his receipt.  Hugo replied by saying that he didn’t have a receipt because it was a phone order.  “I can’t give you the cable if you don’t have a receipt.  It could be for somebody else, “ the manager said.   After some conversation to convince the manager that it was unlikely that somebody else ordered a clutch cable for pick up that day, much less a clutch cable for a ’94 Nissan Sentra, Hugo finally got his cable.

In the course of conversation, the manager explained that orders are not supposed to be placed without being paid for first.  So, the guy on the phone didn’t really do his job properly.  Hugo explained that the guy on the phone performed a great service for him, saving him an unnecessary trip into the store.  The employee should be commended, not reprimanded…that the problem was with the policies and the service he received from the other employees.

I often say that the pinnacle of marketing is when customers become advocates.  In fact, Advocacy is the last stage in the natural consumer progression through what I describe as a relational brand building approach: Awareness-Trial-Relevance-Affinity-Loyalty-Advocacy.  All policies should work around building Advocacy among consumers.  Instead, this chain allowed customer policies to be driven by inventory control concerns.  As a result of the experience, the chain fell even further outside of Hugo’s consideration set for auto parts retailers than it was before.  After all, the only person who gave him good service wasn’t doing his job.