Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Customer Service Experience: Alliance Auto Transport

   These days, customer service is of the utmost importance. People have very little extra spending money and infinite ways to dispose of it. Therefore, when a customer goes to purchase a good or service, they are not just looking for high quality, they are also looking to be treated as if they were part of high society. The feeling is one that has been bred into us through the years. However, no matter how the feeling came to be, the fact remains that customer service is a part of purchasing products and services.
   For some of us, customer service comes naturally. We aim to please. However, for most of the rest of us; myself included, customer service just is not our thing. This does not mean we get a free-pass or that it is an excuse. Frankly, we should always be looking for ways to improve our relations with other people. Recognizing you are not good at something should not be an excuse for avoiding that thing. Rather, it should be an opportunity to improve ourselves. Everybody will find themselves in positions where they must deal with people they would rather not deal with regularly. Every such situation should be looked at as a training program: handled the best you can, evaluated afterward, and have thought given to how the next such situation can be improved.
   All of this said, I would like to share a recent customer service situation I was involved in. This time, I was the customer. My family and I are in the process of moving across the state. I needed to have my car transported on a carrier as cheaply as possible. I went to one of the many websites that offer to give away your information to every company in the phonebook and let them bid on the job. I went with the cheapest, but best peer-rated, company to bid, Alliance Auto Transport.
   The people there were very easy to work with. The job happened much more quickly than I thought it would have. It also cost exactly what the quote was, which was very important to me. Everything was excellent, except for the driver of the truck. After dealing with this guy for the whole day the day of pickup, the only reason I let him carry my car was because he seemed to handle his rig expertly. I cannot really explain the situation better than I did in the letter that I sent to the person at Alliance Auto Transport that handled my job. Therefore, following is the letter, then a conclusion.

Hi there Scott,
   I just want to let you know that my Chevy Malibu was successfully transported and give a little feedback.
   First off, you guys in the office are awesome. I really appreciate being able to get the car carried up there for as cheaply as I did. I know the cost of this job was next to nothing profit-wise. Towing the car behind a moving truck would have cost about the same with trailer rental and extra gas to pull it. Moving is always stressful, so to have that taken care of is one of the weights off the shoulders. Your customer service is excellent. You and Phil were on the ball.
   The web-based system works great. I cannot remember which site I went to for the quotes, but you guys get the response within minutes it seems, so good choice for advertising. I just saw the order form though. I never did fill it out and send it back to you. If you need it for your records, let me know and I will send it to you.
   The carry itself went off without any damage to the car as far as I can tell from pictures sent from the receiving end.
   I had a few issues with the driver though. He was very rude on both sides of the carry. He did not want to answer basic questions. He did not want to drop the car at the house on the receiving end.
   I was told he would be here between 9 and 10 AM on Friday. At 10:30 AM, I called him to find out what his estimated time of arrival was. He said he was in the shop having an unknown problem diagnosed/repaired on the rig. I was fine with that and just let him know to give me a call when he knew. He called me about 2 hours later and asked me for directions, but still said he was not sure what time he would be there. I gave him directions, but I was concerned that a person that drives a truck for a living doesn't have a GPS or at least a map, he seemed to have the time at the shop to look at one. I let him know he could come any time except between 2:30 PM and 3:30 PM. He asked to meet him at a shopping complex near my apartment when he did come so he would not have to worry about driving the rig through the complex. That was fine, but I reminded him of the time constraint. He said even if he did arrive at that time, he would wait. At that time he did not sound like he had a problem with it.
   So about 2:40 PM, the guy calls. He wants me to meet him elsewhere with the car about 4 miles from my apartment. I reminded him that I was picking up my kids and would not be able to meet until 3:30. I told him I could not take the car to where he was, because I did not have a ride back home and did not plan on walking the 4 miles with my kids. Everything was still fine at this point, he was irritated that I was not able to come that moment, but he agreed that he should meet me somewhere closer to my complex (the shopping center we initially agreed upon is literally across the street from the complex).
   I rush my kids home, I drive over there, park the car perfectly behind the truck ready for him to drive up the ramp, it's 3:29 PM. I walk up and introduce myself. He was eating a sandwich and said "I was eating my lunch, but I guess I'll put it away." I kind of just thought were you not expecting me here? Anyway, so he looked over the car briefly and told me older than 10 years shipped as is. I am fine with that, but I still wanted to mark down the damage I have on the fender and stuff, just to establish the base condition of the car. He did not like that very much, I am not sure why. He loaded the car, and I was trying to get some basic information out of him while doing it. I ask him if he were driving up to Sacramento that night or the next day. He just kind of snorted something about his truck being empty. When he was done, he did not even say anything, just started heading back to the cab. I asked if there was a copy of the paper for me and he acted like I was ludicrous for asking. I told him I definitely wanted something stating that somebody else is in possession of my car for the purpose of transporting it upstate. I verified the cost of transport, he asked what I was quoted. When I told him, he did not contradict it, but he was definitely not happy about the price. Really, not a big deal, just kind of rude. I asked if he would call me when he knew an estimated window for delivery. He told me he would call the recipient when he arrived.
   I was told by Phil the drop would be Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. I knew loading the car Friday afternoon meant it would arrive either Saturday morning or Saturday afternoon. By about 12:30 Saturday afternoon I had not heard anything from the guy. I called and asked what the estimated time for delivery would be. He told me he was still filling his truck. I told him that was fine, but insisted he could have shared this information the day before. He was very rude about it and just said that it would be arriving sometime on Sunday. I told him that was fine, but asked if he thought it might be before noon or after noon. He said definitely before noon. He then asked if the recipient would be able to meet him elsewhere for pickup. I told him no. I was paying him to deliver it to their door, which is a house in a neighborhood that circles around. I understand not coming in the apartment complex, but he had no reason to not drop the car at the house. He said he would, but then asked for directions. It's not really a big deal, but this guy drives a truck for a living. How does he not know where he was going?
   Anyway, so I guess he gets to Sacramento at about 11 Sunday morning. He calls my friend. He insists my friend meet him elsewhere to get the car. She told him no. Eventually he took it over there, but only after asking again for directions and having a frustrated conversation with them. I am told he was rude during the whole drop and did not want to give a receipt for the cash he was given.
   I don't know what the guy was mad about, but some people might not want to deal with you if all the drivers are like this. It is too bad too, because besides him being so rude, half a day late on my side, and a full day late on the other side, he actually did a really good job. He definitely seemed as if he knew what he was doing while handling the loading of the truck.
   Anyway, I'll let you know, and you should let him know, I had sent an extra $50 for my friend to give him as a tip, because I knew he did the job for dirt cheap. However, since he was such a PRICK, he did not get a dime.
   Again, thank you for your service.

   Now, Alliance Auto Transport is a contractor that subcontracts the carry out to trucking companies. This was the first time they had ever worked with this particular trucking company. Scott at Alliance was none to pleased to see the direction this letter took. He did straighten things out on both ends. The trucking company did give me a phone call with a formal apology as well. Even though I did not like the truck driver, the way Alliance Auto Transport handled the response to this email was of the highest quality in customer service. Due to this, I give Alliance a 5-star rating. The truck driver? Well, perhaps he was having a bad day. His day certainly did not get any better after speaking to his manager about this carry, but hopefully he got a talking to and is now doing better with his customers.
   Look, part of the service you offer when you offer any service is customer service. Do not think your customer will sit down quietly while you act inappropriately? If you are in an industry that requires you to deal directly with customers, always be on your best behavior. Again, I understand I also have improvements to make in this area. However, I hope this guy has learned his lesson.
   Alliance, thanks for the carry. Double thanks for making sure the truck driver was informed of his bad behavior and attempting to have it corrected. I truly appreciate the gesture and would highly recommend anybody looking for a carry to call Scott and Phil at Alliance Auto Transport.

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