Saturday, September 09, 2006

Low Tech Wins

Yesterday I had one of those really annoying automotive experiences: one of the power windows in my car fell off of its track and into the door. Whoops!

Because my car is a Volkswagen, nothing like this is easy. My trusty neighborhood mechanic told me to take it to the dealer - VW windows are insanely complex. So I called the only VW dealer in the inner loop area of Houston, where I was told I could have a an appointment... next Thursday.

Remembering why I stopped taking the car to them in the first place, I asked, "Is there any way you can get me in sooner? It's a real problem not having a window!"

"No sir, I'm sorry."

This is the problem with that dealership: they are part of a group of dealers in the area, and when you call to make a service appointment, you don't seem to get anyone at the actual dealership; you get someone sitting at a computer who cannot do anything that computer won't permit her to do.

I made the appointment, pulled up the VW web site, and started checking who had service hours on Saturday, and making calls.

My car is now at another local VW dealer - not a terribly conveniently located one - but one who could actually help me.

When I called, I spoke to someone sitting there in the service department. I explained the situation and she said, "Hold on!" After a few minutes she came back and told me sure, they could do it for me today, as long as I got in first thing.

Because they are apparently less slick that the first dealer, she could walk over to the service area and ask, "Can we squeeze in this guy with a window problem tomorrow?"

Automating things and centralizing things is a great way to save money. Of course, if you do it in a way that makes your front-line staff unable to respond to customers helpfully, you'll probably lose whatever you've saved. Not every customer is going to have the standard needs. If you can't respond to something as simple as getting someone in faster than normal because they have a special problem, you're not going to have happy customers.

(A funny side note - whenever you use that first dealer's online service appointment form, you get a fast response - from the sales manager, eager to help you buy your new VW. I told them about this twice but they never fixed it. Duh.)

I have no intention of ever setting foot in the first dealership again (this was just the latest in a long line of annoyances with them). And while I might buy another Volkswagen, it certainly won't be from them. Hope that centralized appointment setting is saving you big bucks, guys.

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