Aug 20, 2014

A Tale of Degrading Service

The AAA Minnesota/Iowa branch has been a non-stop disappointment since we moved here from Colorado in 1996. By that time, I’d been a AAA member for almost 20 years and had pretty much assumed I’d hang on to that membership until I quit driving and riding a motorcycle. My experience with our local branch finally severed that relationship. When we were on the last leg of our trip home from New Mexico this March, our RV “zippered” a rear tire and left us stranded about two miles north of Downtown Des Moines. Calling the AAA Minnesota/Iowa “hot line” for roadside service has never been a pleasant experience, but the disorganization topped previous letdowns substantially that day. We sat on the shoulder of I35 in heavy traffic for two hours while AAA’s grossly misnamed “customer service” characters promised a rescue that, eventually, they decided wouldn’t be available for another two hours. Because our location was considerably less than safe, we were initially promised some priority and service in no less than 20 minutes. That would have turned into an undetermined and extended period if an Iowa Highway Patrolman hadn’t stopped, called a well-known local tire service, and provided us with visibility until the repair truck arrived.

All that was bad enough, but when I submitted a complaint and a membership resignation, the following email conversations cemented my impression of an organization gone useless:

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ME: In November, I called New Mexico's AAA towing line to have my RV towed to an Albuquerque VW shop for repairs. I gave the dispatcher detailed information about our vehicle, including the model id, length, height, weight, and the fact that it needed to be carried not pulled in a flatbed truck and provided that person with an address and two return phone numbers. An hour later, a driver arrived with a tow truck and quickly realized that he would not be able to safely tow our vehicle. AAA had not given him any of the information I'd provided, except the RV model ID. He went back for the correct vehicle and I called AAA NM multiple times to verify that we'd still be getting delivery of the vehicle to Albuquerque in time for the VW shop to look at it and, possibly, make repairs.

After at least 5 calls, I got someone to stay on the line with me while they relayed all of the information to their dispatcher. About five minutes
later, I got a call from an irritated dispatcher telling me that they did not have a good phone number (!) for me and that the service truck was waiting outside and the RV was "locked." I ran around the house to find the driver in conversation with an other dispatcher who had just relayed our phone number to him. Finally, the vehicle arrived at the VW shop about 6 hours after my initial call and they were not able to fit it into the queue. That sequence of events cost me almost a week in obtaining competent service for the RV.

In late March, I called AAA for emergency roadside service when my RV blew a tire on I35 just north of Des Moines, IA. After being told, multiple times, service would arrive immediately (we were parked on the edge of the freeway near heavy traffic), I was eventually told service would not arrive in less than 2 1/2 hours. At that time, we had been waiting for service more nearly 2 hours. An Iowa highway patrolman stopped to help and called a service truck that showed up in 20 minutes, replaced the tire in 30 minutes, and got us on the road quickly and safely.

I'd like to express my disappointment with AAA and submit (attached) the $96 bill for that repair.

AAA: Thank you for your comments regarding your recent difficulty receiving roadside services.  AAA strives to provide the highest quality service and we regret when that goal is not achieved.

Briefly, AAA is a federation of independent club affiliates, each entity are held responsible for the provision of member service within its geographic region. I would like to discuss this matter further with you so I will be contact. My name is Kiesha and I'm a Product Specialist here in the Call Center.

ME: Seriously? That is your response? I was stranded in Albuquerque for two weeks because your service dumped me at a dealership too late for analysis after a 5 hour wait for service and another 5 hours on a busy freeway with a tire failure and all you have to say is "we're sorry?" For years, I've labored under the misunderstanding that we have some freedom to travel in our vehicles because we've been paying nearly $200/year for AAA travel insurance and now I discover when you screw up that insurance amounts to an apology. You have no idea how sorry I am at the moment.

AAA: I would like to discuss this matter further with you so I will be contact. My name is Kiesha and I'm a Product Specialist here in the Call Center. (The number she left for a call-back was only good for leaving messages that she never returned.)

ME:

Letter to:

Randy Williams - President
Customer Service
AAA Minnesota/Iowa
600 W. Travelers Trail
Burnsville, MN 55337-2518

This past winter, I had two critical occasions to use the AAA Roadside Emergency Service, once in New Mexico and once in Iowa. In both instances, the service failed to be useful. My wife and I have been members of AAA, non-stop, since 1983 and other than a brief period where I had a company car and business coverage for travel I have carried a AAA Plus RV membership since the early 1970s. Clearly, my patronage has been taken for granted and it’s time for me to look for other travel support options.

When I look at AAA’s salary distribution on GlassDoor.com, it’s pretty obvious why the customer service people I spoke with were uninterested in providing much help. Likewise, finding the name of our area “club’s” CEO is incredibly difficult. As anyone who has worked in a large organization knows, when the business leadership is functional and active they are easy to find. When management is overpaid and useless, or an obstruction, they hide behind a wall of anonymity. If I had learned that AAA’s customer service agents were paid $50,000 a year and they had provided such half-hearted service, I’d have been surprised and disappointed. At $9-12/hour, it’s a somewhat impressive that they bother to pick up the phone and it is completely understandable that they do as little as possible to earn that pittance.

From a customer standpoint, it doesn’t matter where the resources are wasted. The first service failure came when our RV broke down in New Mexico and it took a full six hours for AAA to deliver the right truck to haul our vehicle 30 miles into Albuquerque, costing us an entire lost weekend without our motor home and resulting in my having to travel by rental car to Albuquerque on Monday to re-organize our vehicle’s service. When I called and wrote to complain about the delay, the Minnesota/Iowa response was to blame the New Mexico AAA. I received a promise that someone from my club would look into the response, but nothing happened and even after a couple of inquiries on the AAA Minnesota/Iowa website, this failure was abandoned.

Months later, we had a tire blow-out on the north side of Des Moines on I35. We were able to get off of the freeway, but our vehicle was dangerously close to fast moving traffic. After promising an emergency response due to the precariousness of our location, the AAA Minnesota/Iowa customer service people failed to deliver a service truck. Two hours later, I was told a repair truck might show up in 1½ hours. Luckily, an Iowa Highway Patrol officer came to our rescue and found a service truck that responded in 20 minutes from when he called them.

After the New Mexico experience, I backed up our AAA membership with a Good Sam’s Club membership. It’s hard to imagine that Good Sam could do much worse than AAA, so I feel no need to continue my 20 year relationship with AAA.

AAA: Email from: Jason Ward

From: Ward, Jason [mailto:JCWard@aaamichigan.com]
Sent: Thursday, July 17, 2014 2:57 PM
To: '
twday60@comcast.net'
Subject: Thank you for reaching out to me

Thomas,

Thank you for you correspondence.  On behalf of AAA please accept my apology for the breakdown in service you have experienced.  I understand this was a tremendously frustrating experience for you and your family.   Joanne Rhiger our Director of MN/IA Roadside Assistance has researched the two incidents that you mentioned and what caused the failures.  For what it is worth, we are using these examples to strengthen our process and provide additional staff training.  Clearly that won’t change the experience you had and I am sorry for that.   Joanne has made a few attempts to reach out to you as well.

It won’t minimize what you have experienced but we will provide a complementary PLUS RV membership at your next renewal.  As a long tenured AAA member we appreciate your loyalty and hope to win back your trust.  Feel free to contact me if you ever have any other service issues.

Best regards,

Jason
Jason Ward
President AAA MN/IA

ME: Email to Jason Ward 7/17/2014:

Mr Ward,

Thanks for your response. I believe my membership expired in June. Someone called from AAA in late June, but didn't leave a valid phone number and I haven't heard from anyone from AAA since, either by phone or email.

AAA: Email from Jason Ward: 7/18/2014

Joanne,

Can you try to reach out to Mr. Day again and make sure you have his right contact information to get a hold of him?

Thank you
Jason

ME: Email to Jason Ward 8/1/2014:

Mr. Ward,

As of today, I have still not heard from anyone in your office or AAA Minnesota/Iowa. My membership has expired, which is obviously no inconvenience, and the general disconnect between your office and the rest of AAA Minnesota/Iowa appears to be as obvious as I suspected when I wrote my original letter.

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All this silliness inspired me to check out a couple of alternatives to the overpriced “service” I’d been paying for from AAA, but not receiving. The Good Sam Roadside Assistance, for example, “Whether it's a car, motorcycle, RV or boat, Good Sam Roadside Assistance covers everything that moves you.” Their coverage extends to Mexico and Canada, too. I was in the process of my first call to Good Sam when the Iowa HP came to our rescue. Unlike the crabby AAA clerk, the Good Sam customer service tech really seemed anxious to help us and was disappointed when I told her we had it handled. GEICO’s Emergency Road Service is a cheap add-on to an auto policy ($21), but I have yet to try it out. I don’t think we are going to miss AAA.

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