Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bayi's Story on Customer Service

Vanilla Ice Cream that puzzled General Motors!!

Never underestimate your client's complaint, no matter how funny it might seem!

This is a real story that happened between a customer of General Motors and its Customer Care Executive.

A complaint was received by the Pontiac Division of General Motors:

"This is the second time I have written to you, and I don't blame you for not answering me, because I sounded crazy, but it is a fact that we have a tradition in our family of ice cream for dessert after dinner each night, but the kind of ice cream varies so, every night, after we have eaten, the whole family votes on which kind of ice cream we should have and I drive down to the store to get it. It's also a fact that I recently purchased a new Pontiac and since then my trips to the store have created a problem….

You see, every time I buy a vanilla ice cream, when I start back from the store my car won't start. If I get any other kind of ice cream my car starts just fine. I want you to know I am serious about this question, no matter how silly it sounds. "What is there about a Pontiac that makes it not start when I get vanilla ice cream, and easy to start whenever I get any other kind?" The Pontiac President was understandably skeptical about the letter, but sent an engineer to check it out anyway.

The latter was surprised to be greeted by a successful, obviously well-educated man in a fine neighbourhood. He had managed to meet the man just after dinner time, so the two hopped into the car and, sure enough after they came back to the car, it wouldn't start. The engineer returned for three more nights. The first night, they got chocolate. The car started. The second night, he got strawberry. The car started. The third night, he ordered vanilla. The car failed to start.

Now the engineer, being a logical man, refused to believe that this man's car was allergic to vanilla ice cream. He arranged, therefore, to continue his visits for as long as it took to solve the problem. And towards this end he began to take notes. He jotted down all sorts of data: time of day, types of gas uses, time to drive back and forth, etc.

In a short time he had a clue. The man took less time to buy vanilla ice cream than any other flavour. Why? The answer was in the layout of the store. Vanilla, being the most popular flavour, was in a separate case at the front of the store for quick pickup. All the other flavours were kept in the back of the store at a different counter where it took considerably longer to check out the flavour.

Now, the question for the engineer was why the car wouldn't start when it took less time. EUREKA! Time was now the problem – not the vanilla ice cream!!! The engineer quickly came up with the answer: "vapour lock".

It was happening every night, but the extra time taken to get the other flavours allowed the engine to cool down sufficiently to start. When the man got vanilla, the engine was still too hot for the vapour lock to dissipate.

Lessons Learned:

Even crazy looking problems are sometimes real and all problems seem to be simple only when we find the solution, with cool thinking.


Story from: BayiSingh


Purple Haze said...

Why should there have been vapour lock in the first place ?

Maverick SM said...

Purple Haze,

I honestly don't know and I hope automobile engineers can give us a better answer

agnos said...

hi mav - this is a good example of tackling the symptom rather than looking at the root cause of the problem.

is it a real story or is one of the story cook up by process consultant to bring the point home to the audience?

Anonymous said...

Just to creat another 'Irish?bolihland' version;

If the Pontiac is changed to Proton X

U can bet it will take as long as the famed chronic automatic window problem either to remain as of today or blame it on bomoh!


PurpLe~MuShRooM said...

Good one. I will share this with my team during my mthly team meeting. Thanks Mav!

Anonymous said...

the customer is not a very creative person, he makes his complain sounded so silly and crazy.

sometimes there is no need to say thing is such a blunt way, he could have worded the complain in a more diplomatic way.

but it's not his fault, cos GM needs to look into every complain anyway. don't compare GM to Proton, one is just another car company, and the other one is the boleh-land car company. there is no comparison, just like comparing kia to merc.

Maverick SM said...


I honestly do not know as I was given this story by Dr Bayi.


This is more of learning in management and about creative thinking.


Thanks for your support and I hope it can be used for learning.

artchan said...

Must be a very old car, or a very old story. Nowadays vapor lock is practically unheard on newer engines.

Simple solution, if car cannot start and if vapor lock is identified as cause, pour water over the carburettor. Works 100%

Moo... said...

Looks like GM's customers' service is very good.

This is my experience of customer's service.....

I bought a cooking pot from a famous direct selling multinational company two years ago. Recently my wife decided to use the pot. After using one time, she notice a hairline crack at the lid.

So I brought the pot to a Business Center of the company. When I presented the pot to the staff, another staff(I believe a more senior one) came by. He started to make remarks like I have drop the pot and even accused me of using a knife to cut it causing the hairline crack.

I was pissed off and asked him whether he wanted to accept the pot and send the pot to the head office or not.

He just walk off and let the other staff attending me. I was told that it would take one month to know the result of the warranty claim.

After more than one and a half and countless telephone call, the Business center can not give me an answer.

So I email to the Head office for an answer. Three days later, I sent a reminder to them and still do not hear anything.

I was pissed off and sent a nasty letter to their customer service dept requesting them to sent the pot back to me so that I can use the pot(stainless steel) as flower pot.

I recieved a phone call that evening requesting me to collect the "pot" next week with not words of apology or explanation.

Just wonder my wife will get a replacement or my 'lucky' flower will be using it?

There goes the customers' service a multinational company in Malaysia.

Maverick SM said...


You have good solution. Thanks.


I like your story and I will use it for case study. Can I have the name of the company?

Moo... said...

Dear Mave,

Yes you can use the story? Can I give the company in the blog???

Maybe I should email the name of company to you??

moo_t said...


Every customer complain is a lesson to learn improve the product/services, and help the company stay on step ahead of competitor.

The customer complain take SECOND try to reach GM. And this is serious issue to GM when competitor Japanese car company will take the complain in the 1st try. Timing is a big issue for competitive market.

Because it might take weeks or even month for the customer to file 2nd complain. During the process, competitor that take every "funny" complain will found the solution weeks before the company start the fact finding.

sheriff said...

Recently my Toyota car CD player broke down after 3.5 years. Took it to a Toyota workshop and the service advisor said, sorry sir. Your car's player is a pioneer model. We have stop this arrangement with pioneer. It cost almost a s much as a new player to repair. Better if you change your CD player. Isaid, I want to see your supervisor. Supervisor said the same thing, no way Toyota can help. You cdan compain to the company if you like. The decision stays.

I complained to Toyota's hotline. They said both supervisor and advisor were wrong. Of course. I never chose the pioneer CD player! It was chosen by Toyota!

Two days later advisor called me to say he was wrong. Pioneer said could help me. Please bring the car back. Later they called me to say the player was fine. No repairs. There was a foreign object inside the player.

WTF! They told me earlier player could not be repaired as cost would be as much as a new player! So they didn't look at the player at all and bluffed me lah! Is this Toyota culture?

Anyway, I collected my car. No charge, the advisor said. This is their customer service. They charge me aldready for dismantling the player earlier. So I said thank you and took the car. I was happy, until a few days later. The bill from Toyota came by mail! WTF!

Maverick SM said...


You can give me the name of the company here; it is ok.


You have a good point.


You have a good experience and I think you should write to Toyota Japan.

moo_t said...

Bare in mind that MNC company customer services are "water down" in Malaysia. Malaysia bad culture are hard to die.

As Doc suggest, write to Toyota Japan.

sheriff said...

Mave & Moo_t

Thanks for your advice. Am thinking about it.

Moo... said...

It is Tupperware.

Maverick SM said...


Thanks. I will do research on it.