Friday, November 1, 2013

Fine for me - São Paulo

Honda service center--NOT mine. Tampa, Florida photo credit:

I have had a couple of cars in my lifetime that have been "important" to me. One was my very first car, a Toyota Corolla hatchback, bought used and given to me by my parents. Eliot, as his name became, was my trusty car from 1987-1995, traveling with me from Wellesley College to San Francisco to Chicago, where the spectacular winters caused his retirement.  My second important car was a very fun red BMW 3-series that my husband and I drove in Miami, like true Miamians (as a friend said, they are the stray dogs of that region. You see them everywhere). Because of my experiences with this Toyota and this BMW, I am likely to look at them first for a new car. Well, not BMW in Brazil which is extremely expensive.

When I bought a new car here two years ago, I went to Toyota first. The dealer in my neighborhood would not let me test drive a car. Yes, true story. She said that they sold so well that they didn't need to do test drives. I said sell it to someone else, chickie. I walked down the street to Honda. My family had two Hondas when I was in high school and we liked them a lot. I bought a Honda. And, frankly, I love it. I haven't named it, but I love it. 

What I do not love is going to the dealer which I will call Honda F. The dealer is trying to wreck my tight relationship with my car. First up was a seatbelt that would lock tight at any bump in the road or even when pulling it across my lap. It started the very first day I took my new car home. I went back and complained. The service person told me I was pulling too hard on the strap and maybe hitting bumps too strongly. What? I asked to see the manager. The manager drove around the block in the car carefully avoiding any bumps and it did not lock. I took the car home; the seatbelt locked. I took the car back. The dealer man himself, president of Honda F. showed up to check it out. He told me I was pulling too hard on the seatbelt. He showed me how to pull it slowly. It locked on him. They fixed the seatbelt.

Why does everything have to be such a struggle? Brazilian husband, now known in the blog as BF, says I have to write shorter posts so I cannot go into some further interactions with Honda F. but I will talk about this week's joy. On Wednesday I brought in my car for its 20,000 km service. It was only at 17,000 km but I wanted to make sure I didn't fall afoul of the law of service here. You must bring it in on the 1 year or 10K mark or suffer the loss of your guarantee. They are not kidding.

So, after my service rep writes up whatever they write up, he says "okay, the 20K service is $640 reais (US$285) -- give me credit here, I did not faint-- and then on top of that you have the R$230 (US$102) "multa" (fine) for being late. I said "huh?" And he said that I was supposed to bring in the car in August, the anniversary of its birth, but I was two months late so I had to pay a fine.  And I said, "wait, so I get my car serviced here at the dealership for x billion more than it costs anywhere else, and for that privilege I have to pay a fine?" I might have been a little more forceful than that. And then I did the American Ugly. Yep, haven't done it in a while, but when pushed into a corner....

I said "Excuse me for saying so, but in the US, this would never happen. You don't get fined for loyalty. What exactly are you Brazilians (yes, sorry, I am cringing now too) thinking?" I might have raised my voice a bit. I might have mentioned the value of customer loyalty and the fact that I buy from LL Bean even when I have other choices because they treat me well. They might have said "who exactly is this LL Bean?" but you get my point.

So, after listening to me blow up for about 5 minutes, my service guy says "let me talk to the manager and see what we can do." And of course the next day when I pick up my car, they have taken off the "fine" from the value. And I say "thank you."  Here is my lesson learned: Fight. All the time. Be cranky. Be Ugly American. 

Frankly, I am tired of fighting. I'm not talking about negotiating like at the farmer's market. It is fighting with the chic store on Oscar Freire because my R$250 vase broke. And they ask if I put water in it, and I say yes, and they say you can't put water in that vase. And I raise my voice and speak in English and I get a free vase. Why can't you start out nice, you shopkeepers and dealers? What is the deal? Also if a vase is not supposed to have water in it, you might want to mention that.

I read an article about customer service in the American Chamber of Commerce-Brazil newsletter here . And the point of it is that "indifference" (read here as bad customer service) is the cause of 67% of customer attrition. That's huge! Not the exorbitant prices, not unhappiness with a product, but the result of bad customer service. Sit up and pay attention, Honda F.

And 95% of those people who get bad service don't complain about it but rather just leave the place forever. I am part of the 5% who complain. Honda F. resolved it and I'm happy about that, but the main reason I will go back there is because they hold the guarantee. And they are four blocks from my house. And I am a black belt in service center fights.


  1. I think you should name your new car Rhonda. Get it?

    1. Okay, that is very cute! I think it could work--I'll talk with "her" about it later ;)

  2. Way to go!!! Tell them you know president Obama and next time he will drone their sorry asses.

    1. Hmmm. I don't and not sure what would be the point.