On Friday the 13th of February, my husband and I were on I-5, traveling from San Francisco for a weekend of birding in Klamath Falls, Oregon. It was the weekend of the big snowstorm of the season that eventually closed this main north-south artery.
And on this day, the California State Automobile Association shamed itself when one of its customer service agents refused to send a tow truck to pull my car from a deep snow bank -- we'd skidded on an icy freeway off-ramp into a 5-foot high pile of snow.
After the car came to its snow-engulfed stop, I called the emergency roadside number. When I asked the customer service person whether we should leave the car running or turn it off, she said she'd need to ask someone. She put me on hold and didn't come back to the phone.
I waited on hold five minutes before I hung up and redialed the emergency roadside number.
The next service rep told me that CSAA doesn't tow out of snow. When I asked what my options were, she told me that I'd need to "wait until the snow melts."
You can't make this stuff up.
moreAfter this Orwellian-like brush-off, I called 911. They told me that a passing car had already called them, that they had called the local police, and the local police had contacted the local CSAA technician, and that all of them were on their way to us on the exit ramp.
The CSAA technician was dumbfounded when I relayed to him the service person's claim that his organization doesn't tow out of snow. "I've been towing cars out of snow for triple A for 20 years," he declared.
And of course he had our car towed within a few minutes.
The final insult came when he called in to report the service: The CSAA agent told him that I had cancelled the service request call.
Right: I was going to sit in my car and wait until the snow melted.
I sent three letters by FedEx to each of the three top people at CSAA, to let them know what happened. A member relations person called, and offered me one year's membership for the inconvenience.
When the check arrived, it was accompanied by a letter that called the check a "token."
I called the member relations person to express my disappointment -- did she think that being abandoned in extreme conditions, in my car, in a snow bank, in a snowstorm warranted a "token," I protested?
To my surprise, she agreed that the "token" was inadequate, and asked what would make me happy. Three years membership I said with conviction. She promised to put in the request.
About four weeks later I received another check from CSAA -- this time for almost 3 years' worth of membership.
I give this organization top marks for recognizing that it had a potential customer relations disaster on its hands. They ultimately treated me like I mattered.
Best of all, I was assured that some serious training would be instituted. They had audio recordings of my two calls; as such they were able to locate the two agents who so badly misrepresented their employer and wronged this customer.
Roberta Guise works with experts, small business owners and professionals who want to be extraordinarily visible and sharpen their marketing edge. A small business marketing consultant and speaker, she is the founder of San Francisco-based Guise Marketing & PR. If you'd like to know how to apply these concepts to your situation, call for a free 1/2 hour consultation. 415-979-0611. www.guisemarketing.com