Thanks so much to Christina Bentley for the guest post (@CBentelyTXGirl)
One rainy Saturday afternoon about two weeks ago, my sister takes my oldest niece into San Francisco to shop for school clothes. Somewhere along the 101 North just inside the San Francisco city limits, one of the tires on her Nissan Murano blows out. Somehow, in the sleep-deprived haze of 6 years of motherhood, she managed to get the car into the left shoulder of the freeway.
Her first call is to California AAA for assistance. The customer service rep advises the membership has expired, even though her card clearly states the membership is valid through February 2010. It Seems CAA delivers updated membership cards about 45 days in advance of the membership expiring, assuming the member will send in a renewal; my brother-in-law must have forgotten.
Vowing to throttle her husband later, my sister asks if she can pay the membership fee over the phone and get assistance. No, CAA doesn't do that. The best they can do is contact California Highway Patrol (CHiPs!) on her behalf.
At lease this was only a flat tire, not a disastrous accident on the freeway. Thank whatever higher power you choose, sister and the kiddo were safe. But what the hell kind of service model is AAA implementing these days when it seems riddled with every possible obstacle or reason to NOT provide service during one of the most universally stressful situations: car trouble. I don't doubt that a lot of people will contact AAA with car trouble, and expect to start a new membership to get service. But no options for a current member with a recently lapsed membership to renew immediately? I don't get it ...
Fast-forward through one incredibly nice California Highway Patrol officer and one incredibly overpriced and scammy tow-truck driver to the local Nissan dealership in Mountain View. My sister phoned ahead to let them know her car with flat tire (and possibly damaged wheel) will be arriving sometime in the next couple of hours, and would they be around? "Of course, when will you be here, do you need us to contact a tow-truck for you, I'm sure your daughter is really upset can we prepare anything for her?"
Total 180 from CAA. The Nissan dealer gets it: anticipated her needs, set expectations, empathetic to her situation, and went above and beyond what most of us expect as typical service from a car dealership. When they arrived, the folks at the dealership were waiting with a snack for my niece, coffee for my sister, took the car in immediately to change the tire and had them on their way home in less than an hour.
Two very different service models for one very common problem: who do you call when your car breaks down or you blow a tire in the middle of the 101 North?