I haven't heard the expression 'eaten bread soon forgotten' in quite a while (it was a real favourite of my brother's when I was growing up) but I was reminded of it as I stood on the forecourt of my Saab dealer earlier in the week.
Four years ago, I bought my first new car there and was so thrilled with the experience of driving away in my brand new Saab (Imagine! My very own car, ordered in especially for me!) that I had thoughts of little else. Earlier this year, I bought there again. My experience of the brand had been very good and habit as much as anything else brought me back to the same dealership where I swapped my three-year old for another new one. Again, I only had eyes for my latest purchase and paid little attention to anything else as I sat behind the wheel and soaked up that new-car feeling.
Earlier this month, I received my notification that the car was due its first service and I duly brought it along to the same people who had sold it to me almost twelve months earlier. All went well until I asked the attendant to let me know how much it would cost to repair or replace a door-handle that had been slightly scored in a close encounter with a car-park wall. I was told that I could have an estimate but would have to pay €100, which was deductible against the final cost should I choose to have the repair or replacement made.
I couldn't believe my ears. The same people who had previously sold me two cars worth tens of thousands of euros each were charging me €100 for an estimate on the repair of my more recent purchase. For an estimate? What were they thinking?
It's not often I'm lost for words. At the same time, I'm not confrontational by nature and can be slow to speak up when an unpleasant exchange is in the offing. So I said nothing.
At least until now.
As it turned out, the mechanic who prepares the estimate was unavailable so the dealer was unable to give an estimate. I drove away in my newly-serviced car feeling newly-fleeced. No-one stood on the forecourt to wave me off but they should have done for they're unlikely to see me again.
What are Saab doing, allowing a local dealer to dent the brand in this way?
Car-makers and car-dealers who sat back and took orders in the boom times are going to have to do a little more than learn how to upsell or cross-sell (or whatever they're calling this estimate-charge) now that customers are no longer queuing up to buy.
It's a buyer's market out there and this buyer is taking his business elsewhere.