My not so Jiffy experience

Funny thing happened to me last week on my way to an oil change - my car’s engine was destroyed.

It all happened in a blink: I stopped by Jiffy Lube on my way to the bakery and swung up to the garage entrance, first in line. If you’ve ever had an oil change, you’ve probably experienced the old "preventative maintenance" up-sell: a technician pulls you out of the waiting room, gives you a grim, disappointed look, then explains the various parts of your car that are in severe need of service. In the past, I’ve been good at standing up to these automotive authority figures. I’d mumble "no thanks, maybe next time," not daring to look into the eyes which so clearly said: Don’t you care about your own safety? This time, however, I broke down and gave the go ahead for an engine flush. I was assured that any sane car owner would have this procedure done every 15k miles; here I am at 80k without my first flush.

I knew something was wrong when I saw them pushing my car out of the garage half an hour later. I was assured it was no problem; they just needed to dry off my spark plugs. Two hours later I was calling for a ride.

All of which would have been a small inconvenience if I hadn’t gotten a call the next morning letting me know they would need to replace my engine. Clearly something had gone terribly wrong with that engine flush.

I should say: I have little reason to gripe about Jiffy Lube. They are covering the engine replacement and a rental car. That said, there are a few lessons Jiffy Lube management might take from this situation:

  • The edge cases matter. A while back we wrote (here and here) about analysis of anomalies and the opportunity for learning. One point that applies in this case: Collectively, outlier customers provide a service: they stress test the product and highlight unrealized strengths or weaknesses. In its desire to relentlessly upsell, Jiffy Lube has extended its service outside its comfort zone to a point of weakness.
  • Data can make you smarter. I had an interesting conversation with the outside mechanic that is installing the replacement engine. He said I was lucky. My engine has a known problem with high levels of sludge build-up. He has seen other instances where an engine can be so full of sludge that an engine flush is incapable of breaking through the muck (like clogged arteries, I imagined) and the result is ruin. I get a refurbished engine with 80% new parts in place of an engine that was like the heart of an overweight cholesteral-holic. Maybe Jiffy Lube shouldn’t be indiscriminantly upselling every customer. It wouldn’t be difficult to build some filters into their system for high risk maintenance.
  • Communicate with unhappy customers. Most companies would benefit from a simple alarm system for catching and responding to customers with particularly bad experiences. Something to appease them before they tell all their friends, family, and co-workers about their crappy experience (heck, they might even blog about it). All I ask as a customer is: a) recognize that you have created an inconvenience for me; b) convey that this isn’t a status quo situation; and c) assure me that you will make me whole. Jiffy Lube wasn’t effective in communicating any of these. They had an odd nonchalance that suggested this happens all the time, no single point of contact to speak to, and no apology for the inconvenience.