When You Spend Nearly $900, You Expect a Little Service – WHEELS.ca


This column today is about customer service. Nothing more.

When I was a teen in Niagara Falls, I sold men’s and boys’ clothing in summer at the long-gone Rosberg’s Dept. Store. The pay was good for a high school kid and I learned a lot of life lessons in that place.

I’ve mentioned him before, but a man who had a profound influence on my life was my manager, Morris (Mo) Feinberg. He’s the guy who said to me: “Remember, the customer comes first, even before your mother. And the customer is always right.”

I never forgot that.

When the pandemic struck, my local Ford store called and cancelled an appointment I’d made to have them give my truck the once-over and to change my tires from winter to summer. “We’ll be in touch when we’re open again,” the woman who’d called me said.

Two or three weeks ago, while driving past, I’d noticed they’d reopened. “They’ll call me and book an appointment,” I thought. “That’s what they’d said they’d do.”

About a week after that, I got a text: “Hey Norris, if you haven’t booked your vehicle in for service yet, this is just a friendly reminder to get in touch with us.”

“Gee,” I thought, “they called me to cancel and said they’d be in touch when they were back in business. They opened up and didn’t call me and now I have to call them.”

I called and made an appointment.

Now, pre-pandemic, if you took your vehicle in for servicing, you had a choice: you could wait or they would shuttle you home and pick you up when the job was done. Good customer service. But it’s a different world now. Nobody wants to get sick with COVID-19. When I arrived at my dealer’s, I had to park the truck, lock it and put the keys in an envelope that went through a slot. That was it. I was then on my own.

I don’t live dozens of kilometres away from that Ford store, but it’s a long walk. It’s a pain to take public transit because I would have to wait for a bus and then change to another to get to the street where I live. So I called a cab. (I always carry a mask, rubber gloves and sanitizer with me when I go out, so I felt safe.) And I had to call a cab to go back. And the tab for servicing, plus tire storage, an alignment and some brake work, plus labour and tax, came to just under $900.

When I saw the bill, I said to myself that for $900, they should have provided me with transportation, at the very least.

By coincidence, the very next day I got a call from a friend of mine who owns several auto dealerships in the GTA. He is suffering from serious Formula One withdrawal and wanted to talk about his addiction. Without telling him about my personal experience, I asked him what he did for customers coming in for service.

“We’ve cleared out our showrooms and put up some cubicles because social distancing is very important,” he said. “If someone can wait for their car, they can sit in there and read a book, or something. When they leave, we disinfect for the next guest. Meantime, if the work is going to take longer than a couple of hours, we call an Uber and send them home and then we Uber them back when their car is ready.”

“Ah, the difference in customer service,” I thought. “My friend owns dealerships and has concern; my Ford store is owned by a corporation, which doesn’t.”

If Mo Feinberg was still around, he’d have words with them.

There is another way, of course. What if you could have your car serviced at home? In your driveway, or parking place at your apartment or condo? The service people could come to you. And that’s where LubeVan Mobile Auto Services Inc. (lubevan.ca) came in. I had a fascinating chat this week with Ryan Dach, who founded the business, and Matthew Bingley, the president of the company that services vehicles in the GTA and Hamilton.

They — and there are other similar services out there, although not many — do everything that dealerships do so far as servicing your vehicle is concerned — oil, filters, latch lubrication, check all fluids, rotate your tires and so on. They will change your summer tires to winter and back again and will store the tires for you.

The big jobs — brakes, milky coolant that has to be drained — they don’t touch but will refer you to a proper shop if you don’t know of one. “Nobody should be doing anything surrounding coolant or antifreeze out in the street; it’s a very dangerous thing for the environment,” Dach said. “We want to be responsible in everything we do.”

And while their prices are slightly higher (example: oil and filter = $65 plus tax), they are not out of line and are worth it for the extra convenience.

Most important: I don’t have to worry about getting home because I never left.

Norris McDonald is a retired Star editor who continues to write for Wheels under contract. He reviews the weekend’s auto racing every Monday at wheels.ca.

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