November 26, 2014

Turkey Dealer

I'm on the road and see a VW dealer. There's snow in the forecast. I'm feeling generous toward my conveyance, so I decide to replace a wiper that has a loose patch of blade with a genuine VW part, from the VW dealer. So I pull into the dealership.

Photo by Ilya Plekhanov

I ask the way to the parts window - this is not the dealership near by me where I usually get my dealer business done - and wait a while. They have to page the clerk twice before he appears. I apologise for cutting into his lunch (it's 1.30pm) and he's gracious about it.

"What can I do for you, ma'am?"

"I just need a replacement wiper blade for my Golf."

"OK. Can I have your name and phone number?"

I blink.

Look, I know the lay of the land: people don't ask me for my phone number because I'm stunningly good looking. So why should the parts guy ask for my phone number?

"I'm sorry, I don't like to give that out. I'm paying cash. Can we do this without the phone number?"

"Sure. Do you get your car serviced here?"

"No." This is not my dealership: I'm just passing through. But I don't say that. Now they've woken up by stubborn streak.

"Um, OK. Can I have your VIN number?"

I nearly break out laughing. Unsuccessful at asking for my phone number, now he's asking for the vehicle identification number of my car? This is like the cashier at the grocery store asking for my social security number as I'm trying to pay for a jar of peanut butter. In my younger days I would have given the poor guy an earful. Now I'm much mellowed, and I just say,

"Oh come. You can sell me a common part without going through all that. I'm just looking for the left wiper for a 2012 Golf. You can do this."

"It's Volkswagen. They make us enter your data for every sale."

OK. What this guy doesn't know, and I'm not about to tell him: I'm a second generation Volkswagen owner. I've been in many VW dealerships, and I've stood at the window of many a parts department asking for anything from an air filter to the 24mm bolt that holds together the two halves of an engine (don't ask: that was a project of my dad's). But I have never been asked for my phone number or the VIN of my car, until now.

I shrug, and wait for this nice clerk to wrangle the system into selling me a wiper blade without me divulging my private information. I've even got him to sell me only the left wiper instead of the pair which he also claims Volkswagen makes them bundle. It comes to about $32.

("You were going to pay thirty-two dollars for one wiper blade?" CelloDad exclaimed when I told him the story. He knows me so well).

Then the parts guy surprises me by going around the desk that has so far separated us.

"We need to see the cashier", he says.

We go around to the swankier parts of the dealerships where the offices are and such. He puts my wiper blade on the counter, and I thank him. The cashier turns to me:

"Could you please sign the invoice?"

Whoa. What?

"Why do I have to sign the invoice?"

"Oh it's Volkswagen. They makes us do the paperwork."

I lean forward, lower my voice and I say, "Okay, this is just crazy, right? You guys ask me for my phone number, for my VIN, and now you want my signature. You know what? If I go to an auto parts store, I can get a wiper blade off the shelf and pay cash and nobody would ask me for my phone number or my VIN."

"Oh if you went to an auto parts store you'd have to give the VIN too. Otherwise how would they know what blade to give you? That's why we ask for it: to make sure you get the right one."

Wow. So now the carmaker hires such bad personnel they can't be trusted to get the right part from knowing the year and model of their cars? And this lady knows better than me what happens when you buy a part at an auto parts store? Like I've done a thousand times before?

She's fumbling around with envelopes and such. I can't see a proper cash register: so far it's been my part and that invoice.

"I'm sorry ma'am; I don't seem to have the change."

Who knew it was going to be this difficult? This was going to be a quick stop for a common part.

I push the wiper blade and its invoice in her direction. Still keeping my voice quite low, but speaking rather slowly, I say,

"Guess what: it's okay. I don't really need this wiper right now. You don't have the change, that's fine. Here. You bring this back to that nice man who helped me, and please tell Volkswagen that this customer is not going to buy a wiper this way."

And I walk out.

When I got home, I called my own dealer. My buddy at the parts department quoted $35 for two wiper blades, and yes, they are in stock, come in any time before 6pm. I had to ask:

"If I come in, are you going to ask me for my phone number?"

There was a nonplussed silence. My poor buddy was probably trying to figure out where I was going with this.

"Um, no: this is a regular part, you pick it up here, pay for it and that's it."

"That's why I LOVE you guys! You don't give me the runaround." I get effusive in my praise, and I tell him the story. He tells me that some dealers do that so they can put you on their mailing list and send you "offers".

Aha. Like I said, nobody asks me for my phone number on account of my outstanding beauty. So okay, I also played a game with that other dealer by not telling them that I'm just passing through (and so their offers are not interesting to me). But what a rigmarole for, in the end, no sale.

CelloMom's 2014 Turkey Award goes to all car dealerships that play stupid games with their customers. Wake up: this is the internet age. Ever heard of Yelp? Yeah, that Yelp. So don't play games, and don't lie to your customers. You can't get away with that kind of stuff, without everybody hearing about it.



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