Woog’s World: The customer is always right, and spoiled, Westport-style
After 15 years, my Toyota Camry was on its last legs. I spent years doing only routine maintenance. Camrys are built to last, and last mine sure did. I bought it a few days after the turn of the century. Bill Clinton was president, Donald Trump was about to switch his registration from Republican to Democrat (before switching back again), and Barack Obama still lived in his birth village in Kenya.
I offer this trip down memory lane to show that the local Toyota dealer did not make a lot of money off me. Whether it was called Crabtree (then) or New Country (now), I brought my car in faithfully for oil changes, very occasionally for belt tightening. They faithfully gave me discount coupons for the next servicing. In the waiting room — always in and out in the promised time — I was surrounded by other folks whose cars were also undergoing basic, bare-bones service.
But — like hips and knees — eventually even my well-built Camry wore out. When the cost of repairs surpassed the value of the car, I decided it was time for a new vehicle.
If a 2015 Camry was half as reliable — and fuel-efficient, smooth-riding and not ugly as its turn-of-the-millennium ancestor — I was happy to buy a new one. I went online (something I may or may not have done in 2000, but definitely did not do a decade earlier, when I bought my very first Camry). I found that the current models still rank near the top; researched manufacturer’s suggested retail prices and what actual human beings are expected to pay, and walked in to New Country to buy a new car.
Comedians have built careers with car-buying schticks. Politicians have won re-elections by sponsoring lemon laws. I worried that my two previous purchases — quick, easy, economical — had been anomalies.
I should have worried about something real, like climate change or President Obama’s plan to confiscate my guns. The process this time was even smoother than the first two. It was even (dare I say) fun. My salesman (Billy Winn, if you want a reference) did not try to upsell me. (I did not hear the word “undercoating” even once.)
I had one request. The car on the lot I liked had cloth seats; I wanted leather. The switch could be made in Fairfield, Billy said on Monday. The car would be ready on Wednesday.
I had it the next day — 24 hours ahead of schedule. Billy set up my Bluetooth, laughed when I asked if I needed servicing after the first 1,000 miles (“No, and you can drive over 55 too” he said), and I was on my way.
I’m not telling this tale to suck up to New Country Toyota. My servicing is set for the next three years, and if all goes according to plan I will buy my next new car in 2030.
I’m telling it because it demonstrates that customer service is alive and well in Westport. And New Country Toyota is not the only place to find it.
Mitchells of Westport is the gold standard when it comes to going above and so far beyond, they’re in the stratosphere. If you haven’t read “Hug Your Customers” — Jack Mitchell’s very entertaining account of how to treat every person who walks through the door — from the million-dollar regulars to the schlump who wants you to tie his tuxedo tie, even though he didn’t buy it there — you should. It’s on sale at the customer service desk — right next to the free bagels, coffee and M&Ms.
Crossroads Hardware is another place where the customer is not only always right; he’s treated as if he is, even if he just demolished half his home on an ill-advised do-it-yourself project. Jimmy Izzo, his dad AJ and the rest of the crew know just the right tool, gadget or thingamabob for every situation. They tell you why the cheaper version is better; they explain how to use it, and you get the impression they’ll come on over and do it for you, if you just ask.
Arrezzo is not the only restaurant to send over complimentary food or wine if there is a problem with the kitchen, the service or even (I’m making this up, but who knows?) the weather — but it’s the one I’ve had the most recent experience with.
Elvira’s, Christie’s and Calise’s — among others — have earned the love of their customers by being not just neighborhood stores, but community centers. No request is too small, no favor too outlandish for Stacey, John, Carmen and their crews.
It’s a pleasure to patronize all these places, and call their owners my friends. Plus, now I’ve got a nice new car to visit them.