The $17.20 customer service fiasco

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The $17.20 customer service fiasco

The lease on my little A3 ran out last month and I was excited to go pick up my new car—a car I had purchased online without ever going to a dealer or interacting with another human being other than via email. A new experience. And, I love new experiences.

This particular car company makes only electric vehicles. They are said to have the greatest customer service in the world—a familiar premise since PS Audio prides itself on offering the same in our industry. A match made in heaven.

On the appointed day Terri and I traveled to downtown Denver. It was hot, the mercury soared to 94. But the dealer had an air-conditioned delivery room and we were ushered inside the cool of the room with a smile and a handshake. And there she was, my new ride, along with four others awaiting their new owners. Business must be good. She glistened under the fluorescents: dark, metallic gray on the outside, cream, and oak on the inside.

Our rep walked us through the vehicle's operation, spending a good hour answering questions and being helpful. It was time to sign the papers: title, loan docs—a hundred pages I would never read nor care what they said—mere formalities as just that morning we had emailed each other confirming everything was in order: insurance docs, down payment wired to their bank, credit approval stamped and certified.

"All we need is you," said the friendly email, and we came.

Near the end of the paper signing, just as we were wrapping up, the kindly rep vanished and in walks Jeffrey, the manager that I had been emailing with. Seems there was a problem.

"Did you bring a check with you?" Jefferey asked and "no" we hadn't.

"Seems Colorado surprised us just this morning with a new documents fee. $17.20, to be exact," said Jeffrey, "and this will need to be paid before we can give you the vehicle."

Surely this was a joke. "I am guessing the dealership can simply cover this?" I said. "Considering what we just paid…"

"No," said Jeffrey, "we don't discount the vehicles. Company policy."

But, I wasn't asking for a discount. Merely asking them to cover a pittance payment on a surprise expense they incurred on my behalf. Not wanting to spoil the euphoria of the moment and somewhat in disbelief, I reached into my wallet and flipped him a twenty. "Keep the change," I said with a half-hearted smile.

"We don't take cash," said the internet savvy manager, "I'll need a check or a wire transfer."

Have you ever wanted to lunge across the table and put your hands around someone's neck? Get angry like you dreamed of doing to the schoolyard bully but never had the cajones to actually do it?

It was finally Terri to the rescue. She had been digging through her purse the entire time we two banty roosters were squaring off and finally found an emergency check.

"You know this has ruined this experience for me," I let him know, but the empathy that could have helped had been lost somewhere in the rules he pleaded he had no control over. Lost in his lack of creativity to accept the $20 and write his own check, or trust me to wire transfer the paltry sum upon my return, or better still, have the dealership absorb it.

The $17.20 was inconsequential to both me and the car company. It's lunch for two at a fast food joint. What they seemed to misunderstand is the real cost of treating a customer so poorly. This car company relies on the referrals of happy owners. And, while the vehicle itself is a dream, I would never subject anyone I cared about to this kind of customer service.

Do I matter to them? No. But treating customers with respect matters a great deal to all of us. Or, at least it should.

It's a shame when companies get too big to care, to empower the managers through training or relaxed rules to do what's right in these odd situations.

That $17.20 won't go far to helping their bottom line, but it just might cost a lot more than they anticipated.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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