This is a story about empathy – the “ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what
it would be like to be in that person’s situation”.
Recently, my car was due for a service and, as my local dealer lacks an online booking system, I decided to ring.
I didn’t get through to the retailer, but was instead redirected to the central call centre, where I gave my details. They said they would book me in on the agreed day for “a service and MOT”. I thanked them for their efficiency, but pointed out that the MOT was not due for another year.
I was then told I could drop my car off on the day, but not until 8am, when the aftersales department opened. Even for a university employee, this is a little late in the day, but I turned up promptly and became the head of a queue of four people standing in the freezing cold.
Eventually, the staff, who could be seen inside, opened the doors and invited us to sit down while they got on with switching on computers and getting themselves coffee. The car was booked in and I left the dealership.
Half-way through the morning, I got an unexpected email containing a video clip pointing out to me that my car had four tyres and four brakes and that one of the tyres had been classed as ‘amber’ while the others were ‘green’. I understand the thinking behind this approach, and I am sure some customers greatly appreciate the chance to see the underside of their car and have their wheels counted. But I had more immediate questions: Why is one tyre more worn than the other three? Is it the way I was driving? Is there a problem with the balance or alignment? Is there a problem with the suspension? Am I safe?
The video informed me that the rest of the underside of the car was fine, but they had had to put oil in the engine. Previously, I had assumed this was what happened at a service. Maybe I need to lower my expectations.
Two hours later, I got a chirpy call from aftersales reception, who said that despite problems with their power washer the previous day, my car had been cleaned and was ready for collection.
I dutifully turned up to find that my car had not been cleaned. One of the staff disappeared to find it, returning the dirty-but-serviced vehicle at a speed reminiscent of a Scandinavian car rally.
At this point, I was given a card saying I could book the car in for a free ‘service wash’. As a fellow customer in the queue observed, this was not much of an offer as you had to book in advance, bring the car, wait around and hope their pressure washer was working.
I am anticipating a text from the dealership in the next couple of days asking me whether I feel I received a ‘10-out-of-10’ service.
It shouldn’t take much empathy to understand this customer’s response.