James May on: customer service
I've always enjoyed visiting my local Porsche dealership. Who wouldn't, unless their soul is barren?
It's full of lovely cars artfully arranged on polished concrete and carpet, a sofa to sit on, tea and coffee-making facilities, a well-thumbed copy of Top Gear magazine and the week's unmolested Autocar.
If you want to buy a Porsche, I recommend it. The women on the reception desk are beautiful, and the sales staff straight-talking. The one I met was jovial and even better than me at Man Maths. In fact, he had a special type of Porsche calculator that made everything affordable. That's why I ended up with a 911.
But here's a ‘however'. With age, I am becoming impatient with the customer service experience.
The other week, I left my car with them to have a small scuff polished out of the wing. When I went to collect it, I was in a hurry. The woman who greeted me was as lovely as ever, and would I like to have a seat and maybe a cup of tea while she found someone to see me? Not really. I just wanted my car. It was, after all, mine.
What a miserable git I am. Maybe it was a one-off.
But then we come to BMW on Park Lane in London. I should point out that I don't own a BMW car, but I do have a BMW motorcycle, a GS, which I bought from them. The tax disc for this bike is cleverly attached to the inside of the small screen with a tamper-proof holder, which is a good idea. You attempt to nick the tax disc (people do with bikes), the holder disintegrates and the disc is torn to pieces.
After one year of ownership - amazingly - the tax disc ran out. So I got a new one, and would now need a new tamper-proof tax-disc holder, for reasons even Jeremy would grasp. For two weeks, I'd been riding around with the tax disc displayed in my jacket pocket. So off I went, on the bike, to BMW Motorrad Park Lane.
This has always been the poshest bike dealership in Britain. It's on Park Lane, which is an expensive bit in Monopoly, and it's where I imagine the Queen will go when she decides to replace her Vincent.
When I bought the bike, it was a nice place: a few desks, a handful of knowledgeable blokes, one or two bikes parked about the place and some smashing boots. Buying a flat-twin BMW motorcycle is the final act of admission to middle-class middle age, the automotive equivalent of joining a residents' association. It made me feel happy and relevant.
Most of society sees a man in full bike gear as someone who has either come to collect a package or is about to smash the place up
But something had happened since then. BMW Park Lane was now a glittering lubyanka that dealt in cars and bikes, filled with interactive displays and sofas. I arrived on a wet, dark afternoon.
So I was ignored, because most of society sees a man in full bike gear as someone who has either come to collect a package or is about to smash the place up, this being a strain of racism that has as yet gone unchallenged. Eventually, I made it clear to someone that I wanted a tax-disc holder, and was directed to reception. Tax-disc-holder reception? "Is this your first enquiry?" asked the woman behind the counter.
I bloody well hoped it would be my first and only, as I just wanted a tax-disc holder and they almost certainly lived in the top drawer of someone's desk. "I think you'll need to go to our service centre in Battersea." Battersea is chuffing miles away.
I pointed out that it was for a bike, and that when new bikes were sold, tax discs would be put on them, so someone would have a pile of tax-disc holders. The news that BMW made motorcycles as well seemed to come as a horrible shock.
Someone else was asked to talk to me. A tax-disc holder? I wondered if I'd thought "tax-disc holder" but said "Large Hadron Collider". There was some telephoning, some bafflement, and then silence.
Where were all the bikes anyway? Where were the blokes? And the boots? I touched an interactive screen. It didn't like my damp gloves but eventually gave me the price of a 3-Series. I stood there like a dripping pillock for so long I began to wonder if I should start thinking about a whole new bike.
Eventually, a normal, cheerful bloke emerged from the bike department, presumably now banished to the basement. He offered me two tax-disc holders. "You'll need another one next year," he pointed out, cleverly.
Customer service? It's a great idea. If you fight your way past it, you might get some. Bah.