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8 November 2018  •  By: Perry Robb

Problems fixed and problems created

I was in Fastlane Elstree recently sitting beside a lady who was collecting her car after it had been repaired. 

She had a bit of a sorry tail to tell. 

Her 6 month old C Class Mercedes – Benz had been damaged along the drivers side in a supermarket car park. Every panel had needed repaired and resprayed, and of course the person who caused the damage had driven away – ignorant of any responsibility.

Her insurance company suggested she take her car to ‘their’ recommended Bodyshop, that’s where her problems started all over again. 

Poor communication; constantly having to chase them for updates; unreliable information, and delayed delivery dates continued and elevated the incident in the supermarket car park to a nightmare!

To cap it all when she came to collect her car the panels on the drivers side appeared to be a different colour to the rest of the car. She was so disappointed that she refused to collect the car, and told me that at this point she almost had lost interest in the car and didn’t really want it back. 

She then contacted her insurance company in tears and demanded the car  be moved to Fastlane, who have full Mercedes – Benz Approval, and had been recommended by a friend at her gym in St.Albans. After a fair amount of argument the car was moved to Fastlane Elstree for further repairs to be carried out.

The difference she said was remarkable. She was immediately put into a Mercedes – Benz replacement car, her friendly and approachable Fastlane contact kept her updated all the way through to delivery, and the end product was perfect – it looked just like it had when she picked it up brand new, just a few months earlier. 

Her faith had been restored and she said her love affair with her car could start all over again.

I’ve pontificated a lot about customer service and the need for fast, early contact with the customer to ‘head problems off at the pass’. 

It’s simple :- customers make you money, so if you work seriously to give them great service they’ll come back, and they’ll also be great advocates for your business and send their friends to you as well.

My customer philosophy at Porsche had always been ‘to see the whites of their eyes’, based on my old Peugeot experiences back in Northern Ireland (see ‘Customer Service – the George Brick remedy’). 

It served us well and, despite the odd cock up, we consistently had great customer service at Porsche in Hatfield, and were the biggest dealer in the country.

 

This ladies experiences got me thinking about some of the more memorable  problem car and customer issues which we had at Porsche :- 

1. ‘Don’t make things too complicated!’

One of the first customers to take delivery of these new 911 / 964’s in 1990 was a great guy who was an existing customer and a leading light in the world of advertising. He took delivery of the new car on a Saturday morning and  told me that the following Tuesday he was to make a lunchtime presentation to about 300 industry executives in Birmingham, so he was really looking forward to the drive in the new car.

       At about 11am on said Tuesday morning he rang me in quite a stew stating that his car had broken down on the outskirts of Birmingham! Could I get it sorted a sap!

He managed to get to his presentation on time, and we got the car recovered quickly to the Centre, and I arranged for one of our senior technicians to stay behind that evening to see if he could quickly sort the problem. He was a quite computer buff, which was important as this new 964/911 was really the first new Porsche 911 to be packed with this new technology.

Unfortunately he found no faults that night, so we decided to come in early the following morning to revisit as I was worried that the customer may reject the car. Again we drew a blank. 

Our foreman Gordon (old school) was also involved. After several hours of getting nowhere he said “Before computers and the like came on the scene we just used to check the basics like, plugs, points, oil, petrol etc.etc, so let’s start over”.

So that’s what we did, and after five minutes we found out that the car was out of petrol! 

Not the customers fault. The fuel gauge had stuck at quarter full, so the gauge showed there was lots of petrol still in the tank. The sender in the tank was telling the cars computer that there was still fuel in the car, but because the fuel gauge was faulty the computer was getting wrong information! 

To cut a long story short, we informed Porsche about this problem and a recall was effected on all the early 964 models worldwide and the problem was quickly sorted.

The customer was very understanding throughout, and to this day still drives a Porsche.

2. ‘Sometimes things are not what they seem’:-

I love bankers. I always have. I look up to them. They are the pillars of society. This tale reflects my thoughts about them perfectly:

I received a call one day from a City banker who was literally screaming down the phone at me. He cursed and swore so much it took some time for me to work out that apparently his car had broken down. 

His car was a Porsche 911 Turbo which he had purchased from us several months earlier, and he screamed that the engine had ‘blown up’. 

It was now being recovered by an independent recovery company, and as far as he was concerned we could stick the car ‘where the sun doesn’t shine’. He didn’t want it back, and he was instructing his lawyers to reject the car today! 

Within half an hour I had received an email from him confirming a censored version of our telephone conversation, and within an hour received a heavy duty note from his lawyers rejecting the car – in no uncertain terms.

They also notified us that ‘other charges’ would be coming our way for unexpected costs incurred as a result of the breakdown, including ‘the stress and anxiety’ caused to their client.

Within another 24 hours we had received about 6 phone calls and a similar number of emails demanding action, and of course he had copied in Porsche HQ at the same time. So needless to say they were nervous and feeling the pressure as well.

We offered him a loan car but he rejected it because he didn’t want anything more to do with us.

He vigorously hounded us demanding his money back and to be paid what he felt he was owed, demanding something happen immediately, if not sooner.

While all this was going on my headache was not improving one bit. However, our technical guys were diligently looking over the car and late in the same  day, Gary our senior technician came up to see me and asked me to go back down to the workshop with him. He then asked to me to look over the car closely.

I looked it over and thought that for a nearly new car it seemed to have had a hard life. On closer inspection the 4 tyres looked almost worn out and unusually were worn heavily on the side walls. Also there was an inordinate amount of black brake dust on the 4 wheels, the brake pads well worn, and furthermore there were a surprising number of stone chips all over the front of the car.

‘What do you think?’ Gary said.

‘If I didn’t know any better’ I said, ‘I would say this car was being used on a track, judging by the tyre wear and brake dust’.

‘My thoughts exactly’ he said.

The next day another note arrived from the bankers lawyers, and he himself later seemed to enjoy telling me that he was about to get in touch with ‘Top Gear’ and the Daily Mail to explain his woes, suggesting that I would be kept busy by the media interest.

However, within 24 hours the bold Gary had also discovered that the cars ECU (brain) had been tampered with and the vehicles engine had been ‘chipped’. This non Porsche chip apparently allowed the engine to rev higher and gave another 40-50 brake horse power to the engine.

Needless to say, the engine was not designed to cope with this formatting, and as a consequence of his high speed track activities our banker pal had well and truly blown his engine up. 

No manufacturers warranty permits non manufacturers modifications to its engines, and therefore the vehicles warranty was null and void!

I contacted Porsche and they dispatched some senior people to Hatfield to confirm our findings, and they in turn double checked their own findings with their colleagues in Germany. 

We were correct.

I invited the banker the Hatfield to tell him the ‘news’, but he refused to come anywhere near us, and insisted if I had anything to tell him to tell it over the phone, so I did.

I honestly thought that would be the end of it, but I was wrong.

He immediately blustered that I was lying and accused us of planting these parts on the car, replacing his tyres with used ones, and went off in another tirade, saying he would ‘finish us off’ for good.

And so it dragged on for another couple of weeks:- letters back and forward from his lawyers and ourselves. Very time consuming and worrying all around.

Then the pigeon came home to roost. 

A popular monthly motoring magazine landed on our doorstep and one of our sales guys asked me if I had read it yet, which I hadn’t. He handed me the magazine and suggested I look at the centre pages.

They comprised of action pictures taken on a Silverstone race circuit ‘track day’. And guess which car was pictured several times in various states of sideways action? 

You are correct!

A few days later his lawyers threw in the towel, but not before they had agreed to pay for all our time investigating his ‘engine blow up’, plus all our legal fees. 

I also banned him from coming back into our business.

Bankers – don’t you just love them?

 

3. 200 mph speedo problem!   

A great customer rang me one day as he was driving down to Monte Carlo. He was driving a 911 / 993 Turbo S and said that at high speed there was a rattle from the sun roof, plus there also was a problem with the speedometer.

The background noise on his phone was considerable, but I thought I could hear the sun roof rattling, so asked him about his speedo problem. 

“Well, at the moment speedo reads 200 mph, I’m sure I feel the car is still accelerating, but the speedo won’t move to above 200”.

“Can you get it (the speedo) replaced when I get home please?”

A couple of weeks later he called in to see me and have a chat.

I had investigated his speedo problem with Porsche and discovered that on his car the speedometer was only calibrated to 200 mph. So no matter how hard he drove, no matter how long the straight he drove along, the speedo would never have moved on beyond the magic number!

Disappointment all around!

However, he did give me a photograph which his wife had taken to record the event for posterity, and it appears at the top of this article.

And as my old man said when I told him this story…..

“If all you have to worry about is your speedo ‘sticking’ at 200 mph, then you don’t have to much to worry about!”