Customer care

This week, it’s not about the driving but what happens when it’s time to take the car to the dealer, an experience that can make or break a brand.

Being given access to a lot of cars from various brands and getting to know the people inside the organisations may sometimes make motoring journalists lose sight of reality.

When you are driving a BMW around a circuit with a professional racing driver by your side giving you tips on how to go faster, it’s easier to think BMW is the greatest car maker in the world.

Same goes when five-time DTM champion Bernd Schneider gives you a ride on a Mercedes AMG GT and does things with the car you thought were physically impossible. That day, Mercedes was the greatest.

Truth is, every brand has amazing things going for it and some faults against it as well. The secret is in finding a balance that makes the end result positive for the client. The cars we journalists actually buy provide a much more realistic insight into the real world of car ownership than just talking about how they are to drive. And, since I just found the best after-sales service I have ever seen, I thought it made sense to write about that.

Looking back, I have owned cars from 17 different constructors in the last 18 years, meaning I have lived through 17 different experiences when it comes to servicing a car.

Now, obviously, the quality of the service has as much to do with the people involved as it has with the general guidelines the brand tries to implement in every dealer around the globe.

I don’t think Volkswagen was to blame when a workshop manager told my grandmother she should park her Polo in the shade every time she parked it to prevent the passenger window lift from breaking down. Surely, Volkswagen did not develop a car that cannot be parked in the sun.

I once drove my Opel Astra on the highway with the dealer’s head mechanic next to me. It was showing loss of almost all power and couldn’t top 100km/h, but he still said the problem laid with me and my driving style. I thanked him for his time and went to another Opel dealer. They found a faulty turbo valve in under 30 minutes

The day after I left my M3 CSL at BMW for the annual service, a tow truck hit it unloading another car. The person who decided to put one of only two CSLs in existence in Portugal somewhere around the tow trucks area must have missed a few BMW brand-awareness workshops.
I have many more stories. Some are positive, of course. That second Opel dealer. Porsche, in my experience, tends to work really well. I never had any complaints about Honda while I drove an HR-V during my university years. And the guy from the parts department at Fiat is so nice they should make him CEO of the bloody thing.

Now, as you may remember, I wrote in these pages in April that I loved driving the new Toyota GR Yaris so much I was buying one. I did. I picked it up on the last day of July and just did my 4,000th kilometre last week. You may disagree, but I think it looks fabulous in this pearly white colour.

I have been using it as my daily driver. I took it with me on the holidays and I drove it around some of the best roads in the country. The GR is a masterpiece and a real modern-day icon.

But the GR qualities are not this text’s focus. At close to 3000km, I started to feel a strange vibration every time I hit the brake pedal. This could mean one of two things: a warped brake disc or a problem with one of the pads, as it is not unusual for the pad material, when it suffers from hot-spotting at very high temperatures, to become uneven.

If it was the pad, it would be on me; if it was the brake disc, it would be on Toyota. So, I called the dealer where I bought the car and they told me to bring it to them two days later.

When I arrived, I was informed the workshop manager would like to drive the car with me to see if he could spot the problem.

We took the car out and the first time he hit the brakes above 60km/h, he said something like: “Vibrations are pretty obvious. Would you mind leaving the car so we can analyse it and understand where they come from? Would you like a replacement vehicle?”

Twenty-four hours later, I was informed it was the brake disc and that the GR, being a rare car, there was sadly no stock. The guy even apologised for the four days I would have to wait. When I picked up the car, I had to sign a document saying the service was done within the scope of the car’s warranty and that was it. Driving it home, it felt like new.

Toyota made it look easy, but I know that this excellent customer service – the best I have ever experienced and that prompted me to write these lines – was a result of a team wanting to make things right and a brand that makes sure clients feel appreciated.

So, if anyone asks me, in my view, what is the best customer service out there, I will answer without thinking twice: Toyota.

Hope that is helpful information.

By Guilherme Marques