Customer service? Who cares!
Perennial kicking-post, Austin Rover. Years after their slow-motion demise – still fresh in many motorists minds, an incorrigibly persistent bad taste joke. And the material just keeps on rolling; we all know how the story ends but remain enthralled as there’s often a fresh nail awaiting the coffin’s hammer.
But it’s not all bad. Austin Rover attempted a turnaround, a stoic final stand against the enemy by dropping in the parachute regiment. A cynic might have called this project Operation Market Garden, as in the rather doomed Allied attempt at hastening the end of the Second World War by capturing bridges at Arnhem and Nijmegen. Praise the wag who chose to keep the parachuting theme but with a modern twist – that of the (at the time) clandestine 22nd Special Air Service. Who Cares Wins, the fight to keep the customer happy. Step up to the green light and jump.
Selling, servicing and repairing the motor car is a problem with dimensions as large and as old as the industry it is there to support. Countless the tales of disgruntled customers never darkening that particular dealership’s door again, bursting to tell anyone within earshot of the horror show that awaits the next poor sap. Woe betide the casual bar visitor saddled with a grumpy grease monkey on a Friday afternoon. Same problems, different perspective.
Austin Rover didn’t cure this disease (has anyone, satisfactorily?), but attempted a remedy using the medium of four videos, all around forty five minutes in length, which date from the late 1980s. Intended to be shown at dealer premises, one’s imagination runs riot to the thoughts of their viewers; initial salvos consisting of acrid cigarette smoke blended with colourful language. The budget for such a strategic operation probably the next topic of conversation. Not just anyone got the chance to drolly re-educate the workforce of their roles – bring in the big guns.
Possibly better known to you as DI Regan, Chief Inspector Morse or even Peter Mayle, but pulling no punches is the late John Thaw, the video’s commander in chief. His script underlines the woeful state that Austin Rover customer care was in. Thaw argues that the product is just as good as the opposition, research revealing many customers merely walk away after an awful experience bij de dealer.
Casually dressed, purposefully bestriding the set, he makes participation a key part of the endeavour with exercises at key stages. What vitriol Thaw’s ears never heard probably didn’t hurt him. But to Thaw the Austin Rover employee must adhere, right until the remaining protagonists venture on set.
The whole point of the operation being to assist the customer in whatever situation finds them at the dealership. The customer in question is Mr Howard – none other than Private Pike from equally perennial repeats of sitcom, Dad’s Army, played by Ian Lavender. Thin, gaunt and presumably just what the director was seeking – a customer appearing mild mannered yet capable of turning the tables to that obstreperous, anecdotal enemy. Best get the first aid kits ready, casualties maybe high.
“Personal attitude, teamwork, communication, job craft, procedures, learning from experience – that’s real customer care!” states Mr. Thaw as a dozen or more actors play out fictitious, yet wholly realistic scenarios. Episode one, we see Mr. Howard having his first free service on his Montego whilst having a tow bar fitted – with several story twists. Please trust your author in believing these programmes are far more entertaining than much of today’s transmitted tosh.
As a step back in time, we see not only Austin Rover products placed in period. Factor in posters, uniforms and customs of the average dealership; cigarettes, power dressing, sparse computers but lots of paperwork. Of their time indeed but over thirty years on, quite the revelation to watch. One feels almost rooting for several of the characters.
The scriptwriter, Geoffrey Parsons must have been told in no uncertain terms just how hostile these environments could be; maybe he was on the receiving end when taking his Metro in? Your author is a little too young to fully recollect, yet memories of visiting the local Austin Rover garage with my parents seemed fraught with danger. Suited men attempting to extract money from my father – never a good thing.
Our visit – a Marina that my mother liked the colour of – navy blue from memory. We didn’t buy it, thank goodness – the gold Vauxhall Viva from another garage seldom bothered the reliability league tables, either – my father remarked that the scene was something of a charade. Maybe we’d been watching another 1980s British TV hit, Give Us A Clue? Actors acting out actions.
Ordinary folk in a dealership, acting? Not everyone can be the belligerent, burly detective or the hapless, loveable youngster – roles defined for the accountant, parts boss, cleaner. The reason – to get those points across. CTV productions of London produced Who Cares Wins, but did anyone take notice? Oh for an ex-Austin Rover employee to divulge their (possible) misgivings. Having to endure several hours of this, presumably in your own time but still on premises must have had many searching for the rip cord and a way out.
Parts two, three and four deal with in depth such issues as “fag ends in the flowers,” Supercare – AR’s take on aftercare – proof positive of their standards, getting the right signage, a more austere and difficult customer arrives in Simpson Brothers, new car sales generating a free road atlas, alongside the catchiest of jingles to wriggle into your ears, just as the balloon goes up.
Despite Messrs Thaw, Lavender, et al’s attempts to jolly up the operation, the outcome was inevitable. Due to superior forces (rival products) along with ill-at-ease planning (the hopeless situation of the dealers these videos tried to iron out), the paratroopers were out-manoeuvred, out-gunned, then sent home until their next assignment.
And so the battle continues to this day – different players, same story.
The four videos are from the ROVR YouTube channel.
 From TV flop, “A Year In Provence.”
 Dutch for ‘in the dealer’.