By Jennifer Volz and Joe Colacurcio
On the eve of General Motor’s bankruptcy, New York Times blog writer, James G. Cobb, asked consumers to share their experiences with GM vehicles. His personal contribution relates to family vehicles, from deep pride in his parents’ first new Chevy to a later Biscayne exhibiting various quality issues that would ultimately be cited as a reason neither he nor his family have owned GM products since.
This experiential theme resonates among consumers responding to the blog post. Within the 57 percent of consumers expressing mixed to negative experiences, many speak to excitement in their new GM family car tempered or soured by various vehicle problems.Others speak to watching vehicle quality decline over a series of GM vehicles they, family, or friends once owned.
Sentiment breakout from NYT Wheels blog post (May 31 – June 2, 2009)
With nearly half of the stories relating to childhood and family-related experiences, the power of first and early impressions appear to play a large role in shaping the current buying behavior of consumers. Seeing family members disappointed with a GM vehicle or experiencing their own frustrations with a GM model make very powerful impressions on potential buyers.
- 18 percent of memories contain first new car experiences.
- More than twice as many consumers state that they no longer buy GM products (36 percent) than those who mention currently owning or a willingness to consider owning one (16 percent).
While consumers state various reasons why they no longer buy GM – including lack of models that interest them or fit their needs – past experiences with poor quality factor heavily into this decision. Two in five experiences contain some type of quality issue, often including frequent or sometimes expensive maintenance. While these quality problems ranged in severity, several consumers also mention the dealer service experience did little to mitigate the irritation of taking the car to the shop – and sometimes made it worse.
Perceptions extend beyond experiences, and the GM bankruptcy generates significant levels of discussion outside of personal vehicle experiences. Peripheral buzz from the broader spectrum of GM bankruptcy reactions also indicates how closely consumers are monitoring the situation and if they might be more susceptible to brand advocates or detractors.
- 13 percent express hope that GM will emerge stronger and have success in the future, which speaks to opportunities for connecting with advocates as GM moves into “Chapter 1” of its new beginning.
- 10 percent discuss dealership/plant closures and other aspects of bankruptcy that impact current and former employees. Some mention knowing employees or retirees whose income or benefits have been affected.
- 19 percent state opinions about what factors were driving GM to bankruptcy.
Both personal experiences and overall perceptions shape the entire customer experience. Understanding both aspects via listening to online buzz and acting on those findings can help brands toward the goal of improving consumer perceptions.