Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oh VW - What's Your Beef With Semantics?

I drive a 2006 Volkswagen Jetta. After what happened to my friend Joe, I am seriously considering getting rid of it.

If you will, Joe's most recent blog entry:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


There walks a little man among us (in the metaphoric sense). He works for Volkswagen. Below is a letter (written and registered) that I just sent to the head of customer care for Volkswagen Canada. I can't remember ever being this angry (at something other than iTunes, that is):

Note: names have been changed.

Mr. John Doe,

Unfortunately, I am writing this letter in response to a negative and generally unacceptable experience that befell me while dealing with a Volkswagen dealership recently. I do not often take the time to offer any praise or criticism of services that I receive; I am a very busy person (as I am sure you are as well), so I am usually able to shrug off sub-par customer service and usually chalk up any negative experience to anomalous behaviour. The same can be said for the occasional times that I receive exceptional service - I never take the time to acknowledge the efforts being expended on my behalf. This is something that I am trying to change about myself. It is with the former in mind that I am writing to you today. It would be remiss of me to allow the events of November 30, 2009 to go undocumented and I am hoping that my exposure of this problem will prevent any further Volkswagen customers from feeling as slighted and disgusted as I did after dealing with one of your representatives.

On November 30, 2009, I dropped my 2004 Passat GLS 1.8T off at Volkswagen Centre Ville, Montreal, Quebec for a routine 64,000km service. In addition to the check-up, I instructed the service representative that my passenger-side seat heater was no longer functional. (I should add that I had dropped my car off at this very dealership a few months earlier to have this very same problem repaired. Upon delivery, the service representative told me that it was repaired. It was not. And has not functioned since). I also alerted the service representative that the car made an unusual sound when the car turned to the extreme left. When asked to replicate this sound, I rapped my fist lightly on the counter and said that the front left of the car made a rhythmic clicking or banging sound. He assured me that he would have the mechanic investigate. He took my keys and told me he would call me. I never asked for his name.

At 3:52PM that afternoon, my cell phone rings and I answer. I hear a gentleman on the other end announce that 'Adam' is calling. I ask him to repeat himself. 'Adam', he blurts out, increasingly frustrated. Thinking that this is a wrong number, I ask him to further identify himself. He then tells me that he is calling from Volkswagen Centre Ville. Despite his unconventional phone etiquette, I am happy to hear from him. I ask if my car is ready. He says it is but there are a couple of issues. Firstly, he needs to order a part to repair the seat heater, which should arrive within 3-4 business days. No problem. He then mentions that his mechanic was unable to reproduce the clicking sound that the front of my car makes when turning to the extreme left. He claims that his mechanic performed a thorough road test and he did not experience anything abnormal. Strange, I thought to myself. The noise is persistent, loud and unmistakable, I proffer. Adam became defensive and told me that if I was unhappy with this, that I could come down to the service center and show him how to reproduce the sound. However, he continues, I would need to arrive before 4pm. It was now 3:58PM. This felt like an unreasonable and decidedly convenient deadline for him. When I told him this would be impossible given that I do not work less than 100 feet from the dealership, he said that there was nothing he could do. Fine.

I arrived at the service center at about 5:15PM. I approached the gentleman who had helped me in the morning. This was indeed the very same Adam with whom I had spoken on the telephone. He proceeded to explain the work that was performed and how it was invoiced. (I should mention that the warranty on my car is valid until December 28, 2009 - the car was purchased new from Volkswagen in December 2005. I assume that this is not insignificant). When I asked him again about the clicking sound, he again confirmed that the mechanic had not heard a clicking sound and that this was stated in the report. He then looked up and said that the mechanic had, however, heard a fairly loud knocking sound coming from the front of the car when turned to the extreme left. Yes, exactly! That is the sound that I was complaining about. He confirmed again that his mechanic heard a rhythmic knocking sound that emanated from the exact same area while performing the very same task that I was describing. When I asked him if he had fixed the issue, he looked at me like I had grown an arm out of my forehead. He said no. He told me that I had mentioned nothing about a knocking sound but rather had been explicit that the sound was of a clicking nature. I stared at him in stunned disbelief. I thought he was joking. I laughed and asked him again. Again, he stood firm. I then asked him if it was possible that the knocking sound that he was hearing was the very same sound that I was referring to. Impossible, he said. I told him that I had arbitrarily selected the word 'clicking' when pressed to describe the sound; I again pointed out that I had banged my knuckles on the counter to mimic the beat and volume of the sound. Not being an expert in phonetics or the seemingly invaluable role that they play in automotive mechanical diagnosis, I told him that it was strange to me that the inference of a rhythmic clicking sound could not be reconciled upon hearing a rhythmic knocking sound. Especially when the sounds emanate from the same place at the same time! He said that this was not possible. I protested his incredibly literal interpretation of the symptoms and told him that I was shocked that he could not admit that my description matched the symptom. He decided to talk over me.

I immediately realised that I was in the midst of an impossibly ridiculous conversation with this gentleman. I was trying to get him to accept that a click and a knock could be synonymous to a person who knows nothing of car mechanics. He refused to accept this notion, continuing on his escalating rant of 'a click is not a knock'. I realised that this conversation was going nowhere so I tried to change the tack. He refused to let me speak, continuing with his mantra. Flabbergasted by this childish behaviour, I tried to complete my transaction. Again, he would not let me speak by continuing to remind me that a clicking sound is not the same as a knocking sound. When he finally paused long enough to let me speak, I asked him what it would take to fix this so-called knocking sound. He said it would require the replacing of a ball bearing and would take a matter of minutes to complete and was fully covered by my warranty. When I asked him why he hadn't performed this upon hearing (and diagnosing) the knocking/clicking sound (seeing that my car is still under warranty and he is in the business of repairing cars, supposedly) he told me that I had not reported a knocking sound but rather had told him that I had heard a clicking sound. Again, I am stunned. When I asked him why he had not fixed the problem regardless of the hilarious inaccuracy of my complaint, he told me that he was not in the business of fixing all of my car's problems. Admittedly, I know nothing of cars but I know enough to understand that a service centre at a Volkswagen dealership is, in fact, very much in the business of fixing cars - especially those manufactured by Volkswagen.

Aghast, I calmly told him that he was not representing himself or Volkswagen Centre Ville very well. He now raised his voice to an interrupting level and had the attention of all the employees and clients in the service center. I told him that it appeared to me that he was providing me with sub-par customer service and this whole ‘click vs knock’ argument appeared to be a ruse to avoid fixing my car. With my warranty set to expire in 4 weeks, it seems a little convenient that he was unwilling to perform any work.

Suddenly and before he would allow me to finish my sentence, he told me to take my business elsewhere. Let me repeat: after he so rudely refused to assist me with repairs that he is contractually obligated to perform and after insulting me to my face and embarrassing me in front of a full room, he tells me to leave and to never come back again.

I have to admit that I was stunned. In all my years of being a functioning member of a consumer society, I have never been asked to take my business elsewhere. He threw down my report and turned his back to me. This silenced me permanently. I will not be told twice. I paid my bill and left the property. I waited for half an hour before calling back and asking to speak to the service manager. I was redirected to a voice mailbox and left a detailed message. I am still waiting for a callback.

It is very important to note that I informed Adam that morning of the pending sale of the Passat to a private buyer (this transaction will be completed on December 1, 2009). I can only assume that I received this poor level of service due to the fact that Adam perceived me as a departing client, a person who has ended his Volkswagen ownership career, as it were. I also believe that Adam was trying to deflect responsibility of fixing this issue by hoping that the new owner would service the car elsewhere. Or better yet, hoping that the new owner would return once the warranty had expired so that he could charge for the repair. I find this type of behavior inexcusable and deplorable.

A happy 4-year relationship with Volkswagen Canada was irrevocably poisoned by the behaviour of a single representative. After having spent in excess of $40,000 on my Passat over the last 4 years, I find it unacceptable to be told to take my business elsewhere by an incompetent and decidedly rude service representative. So yes, I will be taking my business elsewhere. And, hopefully, the business of all my friends will follow.

I would like to be kept informed as to how Volkswagen Canada intends to address this matter. I have been driven into a state of unbelievable irritation and total remorse at having to deal with such an individual. It reflects very poorly on both Centre Ville Volkswagen and Volkswagen Canada.

A disgusted, dissatisfied and wholly unimpressed former customer,

1 comment:

Kate said...

Wow Hil! Please keep us up to date on what happens next!