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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Scare Tactics

Cultivate excellence, not fear.

Published: Monday, June 12, 2006 - 21:00

In a recent Volkswagen Jetta commercial, a pleasant conversation between two friends is abruptly interrupted by a horrific accident. Fortunately there are no injuries thanks to the air-bag system in the Jetta. Similar experiences are provided by Allstate Insurance warning us to buy a policy to protect our automobile investment. And certain hospitals have warned us that, by not using the services of their doctors, we could place our lives in jeopardy. I can hardly wait for the bird flu pandemic to strike so I can find out which new product will prevent me from growing webbed feet. We recently drove across the heartland of America to visit four grandchildren in St. Louis, Missouri. The changing scenery with the early blossoming of tree buds and tulips gave us a short respite from Michigan’s frigid winter, and we got to listen to a myriad radio stations. Coming from the Rust Belt, I enjoyed hearing the hog belly reports and the noon price of soybean futures, instead of the latest unemployment percentages.

What caught our attention were OnStar’s almost incessant recounting of travelers’ most horrendous experiences. Every commercial seems to begin with much wailing and gnashing of teeth about an automobile accident accompanied by air bag deployment. Each situation is saved by an ever-vigilant OnStar representative, but the introduction is always disconcerting.

Travelers’ most intimate and startling conversations are preserved, so that we listeners can understand the importance of having our own guardian angel sitting in an OnStar office eagerly awaiting our screams. Frankly, if I want to hear screams, the local proctologist office seems like an obvious choice.

It’s time for OnStar to introduce us to travelers who are at least enjoying themselves and maybe just need directions to the local ice cream parlor. How about an OnStar commercial that just says to the caller requesting an override of automatic door locks, "Sorry Dufus, you should have been more careful. Call us back should your air bags deploy."

This distasteful trend in commercials is meant merely to mask the inadequacies in quality and customer service, for example, hospitals that advertise an emergency room wait of no longer than 29 minutes. Should you not be seen within that time frame, you are entitled to two movie tickets or a pizza. What’s next? "If we can’t complete your kidney transplant in less than 90 minutes, you’re entitled to a free operation of your choice?" Another local hospital, in an attempt to mitigate some of this advertising, put this message on a highway billboard: "Do you want it fast or correct?" Enough about that.

Michelin tires have a commercial with children cavorting in swirling tires—if you love your children and value their lives, you will buy Michelin tires. If you don’t subscribe to OnStar, you’re putting your life and the lives of your family in jeopardy.

The advertising campaign of a local hospital guaranteed a $100 refund if you aren’t satisfied with its services. This would include your dissatisfaction with the food, the room décor or the manner in which you were treated by the staff, even the temperature of the soup. It sounds like they’re aware of their service inadequacies and, rather than addressing and correcting the defects, they’re offering a refund. Earlier this year, Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan, won the United States’ highest award for quality—the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award—by providing exemplary service and no gimmicks.

Organizations that are in lock step with their customers, that anticipate their needs, wants and expectations, that include customers in feedback sessions and that survey customers periodically don’t need gimmicks. Consumers flock to customer-conscious organizations for their service only—they aren’t drawn in by the gimmicks. The Ritz Carlton Hotel chain prides itself in delivering world-class service and has won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice. Within their extraordinary service module is this provision: every employee is empowered up to $2,000 daily to make sure that guests are completely satisfied. This feature isn’t part of their advertising, and people don’t choose the Ritz Carlton because of the possibility of receiving a refund. Guests know only that they’ll be treated in a first-class manner, and that’s enough.

It was recently announced that Henry Ford Health System in Michigan will open a new hospital in the suburbs. The President and CEO is the former general manager of the Dearborn, Michigan, Ritz Carlton, Gerard van Grinsven. His plan is to infuse the award-winning processes and world-renowned customer service of the Ritz Carlton into the new hospital—no gimmicks—just world-class service. I’m sure the soup will be hot.

People frequent a particular organization because of its caring, knowledgeable, personable, professional employees, not because of macabre advertising gimmicks. Extraordinary customer service can stand on its own without gimmicks and scare tactics. I wonder if consumers will be offended by the scare tactics and turn to other organizations that simply provide great customer service.

As for me, I’m switching stations each time the OnStar wailing begins, opting for the serenity of the pork belly reports. Now I’m off to my proctologist, thanks to directions from OnStar. Let the teeth gnashing begin!


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.