‘Service’ or ‘Care’

Recently, both our cars have been in the garage for some paint repairs. The circumstances surrounding each have been different, but ultimately the goal was the same.  Both companies (Ford and Porsche) agreed to undertake the work and both outsourced the work to a 3rd party. The only difference being that we were paying Ford to do the work, whereas Porsche were doing complementary. Additionally Ford are two miles from our house whereas Porsche is a hundred.

The Fiesta had a slight chip in the door which had scraped the paint off, caused by some mindless moron banging their door against ours in a car park. The Cayman had a fault with the lacquer on the front bumper and required re-spraying.

After calling the Porsche centre from whom I’d purchased the Cayman, they agreed to do the work without question. I informed them I could only get to the dealership on weekends – they said they would arrange a courtesy car for the week, no problem. After calling on the morning before I set off, we headed up the motorway. We entered the showroom – immaculate, looking more like a high tech business office with very expensive toys than an oil shop. Greeting us was the smartly dressed receptionist, not a hair out of place. After I informed her of our business, she contacted the sales manager. He arrived momentarily, just as another member of staff came over to offer us a drink.

Mark, the sales manager, came out with me to inspect the problem. He was surprised at problem and said it would be rectified without question. After some general chatter, Mark showed me to my courtesy car – outside the front door. A brand new Cayman S, PDK. “We’ve filled the tank up for you to use and we will fill up your car on your return for the inconvenience. I think you’ll really enjoy this car.”. Nice!!!

We finished our drinks and after a couple of obligatory signatures, we left in the showroom in what is without question the best sports car I have ever driven. A few days later, Mark called again to say that my car was ready. It had been fully valeted and was now in the showroom to keep it looking good as new until I could pick it up. I said this would be at the weekend. “No problem”. On our return the following week, I was shown to my car, gleaming in the lights of the showroom – immaculately presented. We swapped keys and I went on my way completely satisfied, in both the work and the service I had received. Cost to me? £zero.

Next up, was the turn of the Fiesta. We arranged a courtesy car for this as well, as my lady needed it for work. After numerous calls to the dealership and always explaining the situation at length to whoever was on service desk, to avoid being incorrectly directed to some bizarre call centre, our car was booked in. We also got to the dealership as soon as it opened so that we could be away quickly for work. On arrival, we queued at the reception. For about 20 minutes. No matter, this is a busy dealership and Ford sell a lot of cars so they are bound to have a lot of people. Plus I can look at the cars in the showroom – regardless of the Marque, I like showrooms and Fords Kuga and Focus ST are particular favourites of mine.

Eventually it was our turn. The receptionist, dressed in a Ford jumper akin to the coat of a shaggy dog was something of a contrast to Porsche. “Go on, crack a smile” – the words repeatedly swimming through my brain – but I held my vocal chords back on account of moral decency. I couldn’t help but grin though.

“We’ve got a courtesy car booked”. Insurance forms were promptly displayed for the courtesy car – which we had to pay for. After waiting several minutes for them to find the keys, “its over in that direction” was our informed location. “Just put in the amount of fuel you think you’ll use”. Oh dear, an empty tank then. Why can’t dealers leave them fully fuelled, and instruct to bring them back full on return?

We found the car eventually, a boggo standard Ford Fiesta. But it was in a different colour, so my girlfriend was happy. Until we got inside. Squeezing the driver door into the narrow space between the huge Transit parked next to it we encountered another problem. On that frosty morning the screen was completely iced over. And being a cheap-as-chips model it had no quick-clear front screen. Or air con. Or a scraper. Or de-icer. So, there we sat, with a car with such little fuel that I thought it might not even make it out of the forecourt, much less get us to a petrol station, waiting for the screen to clear.

After a few minutes I headed over to my car to get my scraper. We were now 30 minutes into the experience of simply dropping a car off. “I’m going to be late, I’ll have to take your car” my girlie said to me. I didn’t mind, but knew she was looking forward to driving a ‘different’ model. Being late, and the fact that it was simply the same car but much lower in the range took the tinge of the dream. A few minutes more and one of the employees came out with de-icer. A bit late now as my lady was on her way in my car. Eventually the screen was cleared and I limped to the nearest petrol station and finally set off for work.

After several chase-calls and an extra day, my car was ready. After payment I went to pick it up. It was “somewhere in the car park”. Its a big car park. I scoured the whole place several times and after 10 minutes, I went back in. “Oh, it might be in the compound then”. They took me to the rear of the building in a lockup area, and there it was. Hurrah! Unfortunately I couldn’t tell how good the paint job was as it was dark and there was no lighting. Left to my own devices I squeezed into the car – again parked dangerously close to the van next to it and went home….

Both companies had completed the work perfectly, both cars have been expertly finished and you can’t tell that any work has been done. We are very happy with the end result but the two journeys couldn’t have been more different. With Ford it felt like a chore taking the car in and a relief when we got it back. Contrast this to Porsche who provided an event and an experience – and made me seriously consider trading up to buy the courtesy car.

An there-in lies what I believe to be the difference between an after-sales service and exemplary customer care.

Jan 28th 2010