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Dear Tom and Ray:



Do you remember the 1980s? GM's reputation for customer service and trust
were low. Well, now we're in the 1990s, and GM seems to have made great
strides in these areas. The Mr. Goodwrench commercials had finally
convinced me to take a chance on a GM car and GM service. And so far, my
1994 Geo Prizm runs great.

Recently, I had to take my car in to be serviced at my local Chevy/Geo
dealership because it was recalled for an air-bag-related problem. While I
was there, I decided to take advantage of the Mr. Goodwrench Oil Change
Special for $24. When they called me to tell me my car was done, they also
told me they topped off my windshield-wiper fluid. I thought, "Great! The
good guys at GM are really taking care of me. I didn't even ask them to
check the windshield-washer fluid. What a great service!"

When I picked up the car, I had the shock of my life. It seems that Mr.
Goodwrench's buddies decided that I should be billed $6.36 for the wiper
fluid. With tax, this brought my bill to over $33. That's a 25 percent
premium over the price I had expected to pay. What was I supposed to do?
Ask them to drain it out? The last time I bought windshield-washer fluid,
it cost 99 cents a gallon, and I still have half of it left over in my
garage! Has anything changed at GM? -- Daniel

RAY: We hate hearing stories like this, Daniel. Just when we think auto
mechanics are within striking distance of joining the human race, their
primordial instincts creep up and ... wham! They charge you six bucks for
25 cents worth of soap and alcohol.

TOM: I'll tell you what I would have done had I been you. I would have said
to the service manager very nicely, "Excuse me, I'm sure this is just a
mistake. My car was in for an oil change, and there's a charge here for six
bucks worth of windshield-washer fluid. I don't even think my car HOLDS six
gallons of windshield washer fluid. Would you be a dear and take this off
my bill?"

RAY: And with any luck, he'd be so embarrassed that he'd simply make the
adjustment and apologize profusely for the error.

TOM: The worst thing about this is that they managed to turn you from a
delighted customer ("What a great service!") into a guy who writes a nasty
letter that the whole country is going to read. And all over what? Twenty-
five cents worth of soapy water! Had they topped up the fluid as a
courtesy, you would have been back there every three months for an oil
change, and whenever your car needed anything else. Plus, you would have
told all of your friends how exceptional the service was. But now, you're
so wary of them, you probably won't go back there at all. Am I right?

RAY: So how do we get dealerships to understand that six bucks is not worth
losing a customer over? Here's my plan. Everybody reading this column today
should clip it out of the paper and save it. And next time you take your
car in for repair, leave it conspicuously lying on the passenger seat.

TOM: Then, hopefully, when your mechanic is scrounging around your car
looking for loose change and partially eaten food, he'll find this letter
and show it to his service manager, who'll show it to the dealership's
owner. Maybe the owner will have an epiphany: "Hey," he'll say. "Why am I
jeopardizing this customer's loyalty to make a lousy six extra bucks? If
I'm patient, I can take him for a transmission rebuild in a year or two!"
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