BOSTON-Emergency roadside assistance programs can cover a lot of territory-not all of it just to get a disabled vehicle back on the road.
A couple driving in Phoenix hit a pothole and flattened a tire on their late-model Dodge Intrepid. To make matters worse, the man had taken an insulin shot before leaving the house and needed to eat to balance his blood sugar.
When he called the toll-free number for roadside assistance, he was connected to a Cross Country Automotive Services dispatcher. He explained the problem.
The dispatcher asked the tow driver to purchase a candy bar and can of soda for the man and bring it along with a tire jack.
Customer service is what keeps Cross Country and companies like it in business. Auto manufacturers, such as American Honda Motor Co. Inc., BMW of North America Inc. and DaimlerChrysler, use the Boston company to run their roadside assistance programs.
One of a handful of companies serving automakers, Cross Country has contracts with about 30,000 towing services and locksmiths. Similar companies include US Auto Club, which services owners of Ford Motor Co. vehicles, and AAA-EDS, which responds to General Motors Corp. customers.
Quality is a must
Cross Country uses a Web-assisted tracking system that monitors each transaction, evaluates quality and speeds claim checks in half the time it takes using a fax system. Cross Country says the Internet will raise standards for the roadside assistance providers in its network because it allows for better feedback about customer response time, the courtesy of the provider and the quality of experience for the customer.
``The right road service experience could make or break a customer's impression of their vehicle manufacturer,'' said Steve Rubin, vice president of service network and process improvement for Cross Country. ``They can equate the quality of the tow driver with the quality of the vehicle.''
Dave Rolleri, assistant vice president of the Vehicle Service Contract Division for American Honda Finance Corp. Inc., noted that ``it's very important for road service providers to monitor quality because customer expectations are high. Whoever dispatches that service must deliver on that promise of quality.''
Honda's customer surveys have found that vehicle owners who are satisfied with the factory warranty and road service in the first three years are more likely to purchase another of the same make.
Mickey Ollis, general manager of Sunnyvale Acura in Sunnyvale, Calif., agreed. If the driver has a filthy truck, it detracts from the image of Acura as an upscale brand, he said.
The Sunnyvale car dealership is a member of Cross Country's provider network. If the tow truck driver is excessively late or rude, or handles the vehicle improperly, it disturbs the customer.
Also, the driver dispatched by the road service must know where a disabled vehicle should be placed at a car dealership, remember to fill out a form and drop off the key in an envelope if the dealership is closed.
``Our dealership managers were insistent that tow drivers fill out the proper information when they drop off a car,'' said Tom Wdowik, manager of General Motors Roadside Assistance, a service offered to owners of GM vehicles.
Linda Thompson, president of Sunnyvale Towing, said the company gets ``75 to 100 calls a day from roadside assistance customers.''
The most common types of calls that are received? To unlock cars.