I didn't know Jonnie Wright when I first introduced myself to him.
Somehow I came across his blog and then added him as a friend on Facebook from there. I enjoyed reading his customer service reviews at the (Un) Secret Shopper and found his wiry sense of humor to my liking. His smile was contagious, as was his attitude. I felt drawn to him like a moth before a flame. Ok, maybe not in that dramatic sense, but we did share a common bond, the knowledge that customer service is the most important attribute a business has, and it's seemingly strange disappearance in today's society. Having worked in the restaurant business for several years I learned this knowledge first hand. A customer was only as happy as the person who waited on him/her... And a smile or a frown has the power to make or break that person's day.
I asked Jonnie about doing some secret shopping. I envisioned eating in a nice restaurant perhaps cutting into a giant and juicy steak... Keeping notes as I reached for the A-1 sauce, paying particular detail to the service and attitude that was being attended upon me... So I got excited when Jonnie called and said he had a gig for me. As it turned out, it was a far cry from the experience I had envisioned.
My assignment: Infiltrate and secret shop a popular auto dealership in Des Moines, Iowa.
I was a bit apprehensive about the gig to be honest with you. I mean come on... Why did my first secret shopper trip have to be at a car dealership and not something a bit easier... If not a steak restaurant, say a Quick Trip or something?
Car dealerships were like foreign lands to me... Bright lights, pushy salesmen, the smell of burnt popcorn and day old coffee in the lobby... Enough weirdness to drive me way out of my comfort zone. Every car I have ever bought came from the discount section on the advertising page in the newspaper, or often from somebody I knew who needed to upgrade and found it convenient to push their old rust box off on me for a handful of pocket change.
Car dealerships hold that stigma of being over-priced and over-staffed with con artists who's job it is to screw you out of every penny they can to fatten their own wallets, while flattening yours. Aside from the high pressure salesmen, there are the hidden costs in the contract, the high interest rates, the inflated warranties, and the knowledge that if you need them, the men in the repair shop are trained to break off your radiator hose in order to sell you a new one... I was apprehensive.
But nonetheless, I took the job. After all, Napoleon didn't become a great leader by invading Rhode Island. He pummeled tough British and Spanish forces at the Siege of Toulon to start his military career.
With my right hand in the breast of my shirt, and upon my white steed, I ventured in to conquer... (Mostly my fears).
Now, my white steed is a 1994 Geo Metro that has over 240,000 miles on it. I picked it up last fall when the desperate owner needed to sell it cheaply in order to get himself (and his newer pick-up truck) to Arizona for his annual winter hibernation. He didn't have a means to take both vehicles, and sensing that time was running short, he pushed it off to me for just a couple of hundred dollars. It was a good buy... I have since travelled in it worry free. In the glove box is every receipt that details any purchases that have been made towards the car. The tires are generally new... Have a receipt to prove it, and the motor was rebuilt in 2008. A little notebook details every oil change since 1996, and there are also lists of gas prices with dates along with the itemized MPG from the car's previous tankful. (Did you know that gas cost just over 2 bucks a gallon in 1996?) It was a good buy then, and it is still an excellent car. Aware of the fact that the last thing I need is a car payment, I drove it into the bright lighted foreign land and found a parking spot right up next to the main building.