It won’t be often that you find me whining about something that happened to me.  Fortunately for you, today is no exception.  However, I will share that the last 6 days have been less than stellar in terms of things going right.  So you don’t think this is going to end up as simply a litany of complaints or simply a “bitch session,” know that the ultimate lesson here has to  do with customer service and its ultimate effect on customer retention.

That I’m writing this entry while in Panama is germane because the last 6 days has been all about moving from Hawaii back to the mainland.  In the course of preparing for the move Johanna (for those of you who don’t know Johanna, she has been my indispensible “right hand” for almost two years.) and I completed the packing and shipping of everything.  Johanna obtained quotes and we went with the “low bid” relocation company.  That’s another story not for today.  But the relocation company neglected to tell us that we needed a lien holder’s authorization to ship the car from Hawaii to California.

When I learned of this early last Friday morning, I got right on the phone and took care of it with my vehicle lessor, GMAC … or so I thought.  I was assured that I would receive the necessary authorization Friday night or, at the very latest, Monday.  Monday noon arrived and passed with no authorization.  My next call to GMAC provided yet more reinforcement of the importance of customer service in retention of good and faithful customers.  This time I was told that they could not provide the requisite authorization because I failed to provide the required proof of Shipboard Insurance coverage.   I won’t bore you with the myriad reasons I presented to this poor Philippina why GMAC was going to be responsible for my car not make its shipboard debut.  Instead I’ll tell you that she apologized and said the she could do nothing to resolve the matter. 

Of course, being my mother’s son I insisted on talking with her supervisor, who she insisted was also powerless.  So on the way to her supervisor I got routed to Muzac hell … for 20 minutes!  Needless to say I was not happy.   But then I met Alyson Kitaoka, my angel at AAA Hawaii.  I explained to her my dilemma and she smiled and said “No problem Mr. Stockwell (hey that’s my Dad’s name … not me!) I’ll take care of this in 5 minutes.  Sure enough, within 5 minutes Alyson had faxed a copy of the pertinent page from my policy along with instructions to please issue the lien holder’s authorization to GMAC and copied me.  Problem solved!  … Not so fast buster; GMAC wanted one more crack at providing lousy customer service.

When I was selling life insurance for Mass Mutual, some of my colleagues (never me) referred to the underwriters (the men and women rating the risk on each life insured) as the “sales prevention department.”  It seems that General Motors has their very own Sales Prevention Department right there in what GMAC calls “Customer Service.”  If you don’t believe me, call (800) 200-4622.  Serena (her name is changed here to protect her from my relatives) there at GMAC decided that she didn’t like the format in which AAA provides Proof of Insurance to a lien holder.  So she derailed the issue of the lien holder’s authorization until AAA got it right.  Never fear … I have Alyson on my side!  Alyson even apologized for what was occurring, even though she had no responsibility.  She then apologized and said that it might take longer than 5 minutes this time because underwriting had to provide a copy of the “Dec” (short for declaration page – the front page of your policy with names, dates, amounts, loss payees, etc.).  I’m sure underwriting at AAA is not a Sales Prevention Department because 20 minutes later Alyson had faxed the “Dec” page to Serena at GMAC along with a polite recommendation that GMAC issue the required letter of authorization immediately.  I guess even GMAC thought they had done enough damage at that point.  I got the letter the following day.

Since it’s possible that only people who are really close to me are reading this blog, I’ll address this learning to my two kids, Jenn and Isaac, both of whom are in responsible leadership positions at firms who recognize the importance of exceptional customer service. 

  • AAA Insurance: YES!
  •  GMAC Financing: NO! 
  • Alyson Kitaoka: Priceless J

If I can get anyone at GM or GMAC to read this please take note:  There is nothing particularly special about your car, its price or performance that makes me want to drive another one.  Your finance and leasing arm, GMAC lost a fairly good customer for you.  I wonder how often that’s occurred before?  I’m betting at least once or twice … per day.  Let’s see … two per day, at 365 days per year, at roughly $30K per car, multiplied by maybe 6 car purchases in an adult lifetime … hmmm;

·         2 incidents times 365 days = 730 lost customers

·         730 lost customers x $30,000 per car = $21,900,000 lost revenues at next customer purchase

·         6 purchases per adult lifetime x $21,900,000 lost revenues per purchase = $131,400,000

That comes out to over $131 Million in lost revenues because your Customer Service representatives are not empowered, or incented, or expected to provide customer service. 

I feel better already!

 Wait!  Hasn’t GM just asked me as a taxpayer for money to bail them out? Aren’t they supposed to figure out how to fix what’s broken before they get the money?  Okay, let’s think about this.  Hell!  I don’t have to think about this one at all.  Maybe we should just let the markets work … you know … reward excellent performance … don’t reward lousy performance?  Hmmmm. 

Dear Mr. Obama ……


Mike Stockwell writes this blog for his clients, friends and frankly, for his own entertainment.  Mike is the founder of The Pacific Group – Business Advisory Services and works with owners and executives small and mid-size businesses in California and Hawaii, helping them to bring balance back to their lives and take their business to the next level.  Find out more about Mike and his business at: and contact him at


Copyright © 2009-2010 by Michael Stockwell

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