Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Trip To Sensible

Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done. - Harriet Beecher Stowe

My 1997 Oldsmobile Achieva has been the subject of a recall for some time now. Apparently there is a chance the ignition switch can catch fire. Every few months, for the past year or two, I've received a notice from Oldsmobile reminding me of the threat of fire, and asking if I've gotten the switch replaced, sold the car, or been incinerated. Every few months I look at the notice and toss it in the trash.

I don't want my Achieva to burst into flames - although if you saw my car you might say that suggestion merits some debate - but I haven't had the work done because the folks at Oldsmobile insist that the recall be performed at a dealership in a little town more than 30 miles away. There are no Oldsmobile dealerships in San Antonio any longer - for some reason when the company announced they were going to stop making cars, the dealerships here closed. So now apparently the entire storehouse of Oldsmobile ignition switch expertise in South Texas is housed exclusively in the tiny community of Seguin, Texas. That's big news, since heretofore Seguin was famous only as home to the world's largest pecan.

Anyway, Sunday afternoon I gave in - I sent an email to Oldsmobile's customer service folks explaining that I had already seen the world's largest pecan, which by the way is made of concrete, and really could see no reason to go to Seguin ever again. I asked if perhaps there was someone in the 9th largest city in the United States capable of performing this task instead.

To Oldsmobile's credit I received an almost immediate response: "No." Actually this was the exact quote : "I apologize but according to the dealership locator tool on the closet Oldsmobile dealership to you is located in Seguin, Texas. An Oldsmobile dealership must perform recalls"

I assumed that they meant "closest" although I did momentarily toy with the idea that in addition to hosting the world's largest pecan Seguin might also be the proud home of a closet Oldsmobile dealership. In any case, we then exchanged a flurry of emails which included insightful statements from the company like: "unfortunately there is no way that I can make a closer dealership for you" and "There is no Oldsmobile dealership that is nearer to you. This is not something that we can change for you." They also suggested I call random car dealers in San Antonio and ask if they might perform the work and then tagged out that brainstorm with "Best of luck to you in this endeavor".

It was obvious to me that I was dealing with people who were trained to give polite programmed responses, but not to think. They had their "dealership locator tool" but nothing else in their tool chest.

I decided there was little more I could do except have some fun at their I did.

I must have exchanged 8 or 9 emails with 4 or 5 different customer service people and their supervisors, all of which were marked by a fine balance of polite vapidness indicating everyone had memorized the same handbook on customer relations, or at least the first chapter.

Finally I decided it was bordering on cruelty to play it out any further so I ended the silliness with a gentle reply that I figured would let them off the hook.

Dear -----,

I've decided to simply take the risk that the car will burst into flames.
Thank you for the many emails, I only wish the customer service department had spent half the time trying to locate a dealership in the 9th largest city in the nation capable of doing this one hour repair job as it did corresponding with me.

Yours in cremation,

Michael Main

An hour or so later my phone rang at home. In a matter of seconds the woman calling told me she was from Oldsmobile and, suppressing a laugh, informed me that, "Any G.M. car dealer in San Antonio can perform this repair." She added, "I've read all these silly emails and I have no idea why our customer service department didn't suggest that in the first place."

She then told me she had contacted a dealership less than 2 miles from my home and would arrange to have the ignition switch replaced at my convenience.

It was that easy.

We shared a few more giggles over the absurdity of the situation. She apologized for the confusion and I thanked her profusely for being able to look away from the customer service handbook and the dealership locator tool long enough to see common sense.

I'm having the ignition switch replaced tomorrow.

To get to sensible, sometimes you have to take the scenic route.