Tuesday, April 19, 2016

So Much for Good Will

One time, when Starbucks messed up my coffee order, not only did they make me a new coffee right away, they also gave me a coupon for a free beverage of any size for my next visit. Another time, when they made me wait a long time because my order somehow got lost in the crowd, I received a $10 certificate.

My original order was less than $4.

In San Diego, last month, my appetizer came only a couple of minutes before my main course. I didn't notice the delay, but my server apologized and didn't charge me.

In all of these cases, the customer service went above and beyond my expectations, and solidified my loyalty to the establishment.

Last week, my car suffered a major failure, which nearly resulted in a serious accident and could have cost me grave injury—possibly, my life. For my trouble, Ford said "sorry" and charged me $100 to fix the problem.

True, they followed their commitment  to the automobile and honoured my warranty. But as far as making me feel like they cared, they fell far short of the mark.

When I bought my 2012 Titanium Edition Focus, I was in love. It had a nice sport package: a peppy engine, premium suspension, touch screen and voice-activated control system for climate control and synchronization with my smartphone, plus it had a lovely black-and-white leather interior. In the past, I was reluctant to buy a North American car, let alone anything by Ford (my dad swore by them but any time I drove one of his vehicles or rented one, they drove like crap).

See? I even took my car to the beach!
About six months after I bought my car, I encountered my first problem. The transmission began to shudder when I started from a stopped position, or if I was negotiating a turn, when I would take my foot off the gas, brake, and then reapply the accelerator as I was finishing the turn. The shudder felt like the front wheels where spinning, trying to gain purchase on the road surface, even though they weren't spinning.

Do you know that sensation you experience when you start moving on a wet road, and your front wheels lose traction as you roll over a painted stop line? That's how my car felt every time I accelerated.

I took the car in for service and was told that the problem was with the car's software. Imagine: a computer was making the transmission cause the car to shudder. I told them that it certainly felt more mechanical, but I believed that the computer could be acting up, causing the working parts to misbehave. I let the dealership update the software (it's not a car: it's a computer on wheels) and went on my way. I was told that it might take a few days for things to settle down, as the car learned my driving habits and the program adjusted itself accordingly.

It never went back to the way it was before the problem started, but it did shake less severely. But only for a few months: the problem returned, and a definite noise accompanied the shudder.

When I reported the problem, I was told that they could replace the faulty part but that I'd have to wait while they ordered it in, because there was a back order. I endured the shudder and noise for a few more months before it was replaced.

This time, the repair seemed to fix the problem, and my Focus was running as smoothly as the day I bought it. The honeymoon resumed. I loved how the car hugged turns—not that I speed or drive aggressively, but I can push the rules of the road when it's safe to do so.

The problem returned about six months or so later, and it came full on, so much so that my wife didn't think that the car was safe to drive. We contacted the dealership and they told us that a new part had been made, which is dedicated to this problem. Another appointment, another wait, another fix.

We went almost a year before the problem returned.By this time, Ford had sent out a notice, acknowledging the problem and informing us that the warranty on the transmission was being extended. I brought the car in for the fourth time with this problem. When I picked it up, I told the service representative that I was becoming tired of this band-aid solution, and that this would hopefully be the last time that I would be coming in for this problem. Next time, I wanted a new transmission.

A few weeks later, the car was back in the shop. This time, the transmission wasn't the problem. This time, the problem seemed minor, seemed to be something that could be fixed in a couple of hours. Our Focus uses a keyless system. A fob allowed us to unlock the door without touching the fob. We have a push-button ignition. But what started happening was that the fob would sometimes fail to unlock the door, causing us to press a button on the fob to unlock the car. Also, the push button would fail, meaning that we would have to press the ignition a couple of times before it engaged, or we would have to hold the fob against the steering column for it to work. My wife had to remove the cap that covered where a conventional key would go and insert the entire fob to get the car to start.

We figured that the problem was simple: replace the fobs. Our dealership felt the same way, but the new fobs wouldn't work at all. When my wife returned to the dealership at the end of the day to pick up the Focus, she was told that they'd need to hang onto it overnight. The service manager gave her the keys to an Escape and told her she could use it, at no charge.

He knew the value of customer service, at least.

The next day, a solution to our fob problem still hadn't been solved. We were told that the problem didn't seem to be with the fobs (transmitters) but with the receiver inside the car. They had ordered new parts, but it could take a couple of days. We were allowed to keep the Escape until our Focus was ready.

The week came and went, then the next one. The new receiver didn't communicate with the new fobs. A new, dedicated receiver and transmitter were ordered, made together to guarantee they worked.

They didn't work.

After a couple of weeks with our car, DW visited because we had a few things that we needed and hadn't expected to be without our vehicle for so long. I needed my sunglasses and tripod: she needed a pass and some other personal items from the glove box. The service manager gave her warning before she saw the car—it wasn't going to look pretty.

DW later described the encounter with our car, comparing it to visiting a loved one in the hospital, someone who had been in a terrible accident and had suffered trauma. The manager, like a doctor, told her to brace herself for what she would see, but nothing could prepare her for what lay before her as she saw the interior pulled out, the dash removed and all the wires stretched out.

Don't worry, she was assured, we'll put it back together exactly like it was. You'll never notice the difference.

In truth, when I finally picked it up—four weeks after we dropped it off—the interior looked like new, had been cleaned and everything was in its place. We never received a full explanation of what the problem was and the description on the service record was full of codes and terms I didn't recognize, but the fobs worked.

The car came back to us in the second week of January and, again, it seemed to drive like a car is expected to drive. Smooth, responsive, and in the case of this car, fun.

And then last week happened.

I had noticed that, while the shudder hadn't returned, the gears didn't always seem to be as responsive, especially when turning corners. When I would take my foot off the gas and apply the brakes to negotiate a corner, and then reapply the gas pedal, I would see the RPMs registering a little high for the speed at which I was travelling, and it would take a second or two for them to come back down, after I pressed on the accelerator. I prepared myself for an upcoming return to the dealership.

Last Tuesday, on my lunch break, I decided to return some ski equipment that we had rented for our kids, and so I made the short drive to the sport store. As I approached the parking lot, which was on my left, I signalled, pulled into the left-turn lane, and applied the brakes, not only to slow for the turn but also to let the oncoming cars to get past me. There was a gap between these cars and two other oncoming cars, and I judged that I had plenty of time to make my left turn. I took my foot off the brake and applied the gas as I pulled into the oncoming lane.

Nothing happened.

I mean, I was still rolling but I didn't accelerate and the tachometer didn't change from its near-idling revs. I also noticed that one of the two oncoming cars was going far above the posted speed limit and had passed the other car that was also heading toward me. I pressed further on the gas, now judging that at my current speed, I didn't have enough time to get through safely.

Putting the pedal to the floor did nothing to hasten the car.

Much to the credit of the driver of the speeding car, he was paying attention. Realizing the imminent collision, he slammed on his brakes. I could hear the squealing tires and I squinted, anticipating the impact. This was going to hurt.

But the collision never came. By sheer luck, my car managed to roll across the lane before that driver intersected. I took my foot off the gas and tried it again, and this time it responded as though there was nothing wrong. The speeding driver leaned on his horn and continued on his way: the other car, which had been travelling at the speed limit, may have slowed, but my mind wasn't on him or her. My brain was trying to piece together what had gone wrong, why my car had failed me, and how close I had come to causing an accident.

Correction: how close my Focus had come to causing an accident. I pulled into a parking space and sat there for a minute or two, shaking. I continued to shake, my heart pounded inside my chest, as I returned the equipment. I trembled as I pulled out of the parking lot and returned to work. For more than two-and-a-half hours after the near collision, my body felt as though I had just chugged a pot of coffee.

The adrenaline coursed through my veins until the evening, helped move me through a tough spin class, after which I collapsed into bed and a deep, exhausted sleep.

I returned the car to the dealership on my way home from work, having called when I returned to the office and explained what happened. My wife picked me up in her vehicle (which isn't a Ford) and drove me home. I complained to Ford Canada through social media, and they had someone chat to me through Twitter. 

The next day, a service rep at the dealership said that they adjusted the transmission and that the diagnostic had found a problem with the shift-control module, and that they had ordered a new one. It would take another day to receive the part and install it, but that it would be ready by noon the next day.

"This isn't going to cost me anything, is it?" I asked.

I was told that it was all covered under warranty, so there would be no cost.

Shortly after, a customer-service representative from Ford Canada called me to follow up. She listened to my story of what had happened and my frustration with the constant issues with this car. "What can I do for you?" she asked.

I told her that I'd like Ford to replace the entire transmission, but she said that because there was also a non-transmission related problem in this case, that we'd put a pin in the new transmission idea. Was there anything else she could do?

"Not right now," I said. "This is covered under warranty, so I'm okay. But I have to tell you: this is the first Ford that I've ever bought, and it's probably going to be my last."

She told me that she hoped that Ford could earn my trust and confidence, and that this would not be my last car from them.

We'll see, I said.

I was called the next day, told that my car was ready and that everything was fixed. I informed the dealership that my wife, who works nearby, would be picking it up. And when she dropped in during her lunch break, she called me to tell me that there was a $100 charge for the work in replacing the shift-control module.

"No," I said, "I was told that there was no charge."

Apparently, there was. Because this faulty part was outside of the basic warranty period (which expired last October), my extended warranty covered the part but there was a $100 deductible.

"That's not what I was told on the phone, yesterday," I said. I told my wife to leave the car at the dealership, that I would contact the Ford Canada customer service manager, and that she would make it right. After all, she had asked me if there was anything she could do for me and she wanted to restore my faith in Ford.

It took until the next day to get through to her. We were still without our car. And what she told me did the opposite of what she said she wanted to do only two days prior. She had read the terms of my warranty and, after talking with the service manager at the dealership, had agreed that the module replacement fell within the bounds of my extended warranty and that if I wanted my car back, I had to pay the $100.

In all the years that I've been a loyal Starbucks customer, I have easily received more than $100 in coupons, gift certificates, free coffees, cold beverages, and food items. And not once has any of their products come close to causing me bodily harm, or possibly killing me.

I paid the $100, collected my car, and drove home, not knowing if I trusted this vehicle. My wife now refuses to get in it, doesn't like me driving it. In another year, my eldest daughter will be old enough to start learning how to drive: she won't be doing it in the Focus.

If we didn't still owe money on the car, if we wouldn't take such a big hit on trying to sell it, we'd unload it. The 2012 Ford Focus is the worst car I have ever owned, is the most unreliable car I have ever driven (and I've driven a lot of cars).

Never. Buy. One.

The customer service manager was good at sounding sympathetic to my concerns, was apologetic when she learned that this car came close to causing an accident. Indeed, had that driver plowed into me, the problems with the car would have gone away. Possibly, taking me away with them.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" the customer service manager asked.

Yes, there is. Buy back my car. Admit that there is a serious problem with this automobile (there are plenty of forums that can back me up, including some petitions to sign), and say you want to start over. I've heard that there are some pretty satisfied owners of newer Ford vehicles.

If Starbucks is able to make amends for minor errors, at several times the cost of the original sale, what can you do, Ford?

Giving me back my $100 is the very least you can do.

1 comment:

  1. And guess what? Ford decided to do the least -- offering to cover the $100 (tax not included). So we're only out $13 for the pleasure of fixing a problem that came close to causing a serious, potentially fatal, collision.