My Odyssey with Honda

March 8th, 201111:08 pm @ Jay Palter

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It’s our third in a row. We got our first silver one just before the twins arrived in 2003. We moved into the gunmetal grey one in 2007. And just last week, we entered into another lease for a 2011 Honda Odyssey. A black one.

Long rated the best mini-van in the market, we’ve never been disappointed with the vehicle, it’s features and performance. According to some reviewers, this year’s Toyota Sienna is now the top mini-van. But, we’ve been so happy with our Odysseys over the years that we didn’t even look at anything else. (Honda, this is a very important fact to note in this story.)

The mini-van is the perfect vehicle for a family. Frankly, I have no idea what my friends are talking about when they complain about not wanting to drive a van. Today’s Odyssey is more like a crossover SUV than a van. It’s an inch wider and three inches closer to the ground that previous models. It drives like a sedan. The sight-lines are great. And it comes loaded with cool new car tech.

Most of my current joy in driving the new Odyssey comes from the technology. We opted for the rear entertainment system again and it’s basically the same, with some minor improvements in terms of the controls. The overall entertainment system is very cool – integrated XM satellite radio, USB port for you iPod or thumbdrive full of MP3s, and an 18-CD disk changer (I know, 18!?). There’s a bluetooth connection for my iPhone and I’ve finally figured out how to program the internal buttons to open my garage. The tech in this vehicle rocks!

Oh, and it drives pretty nice too. I’ve grown accustomed to the Odyssey’s excellent on-road performance and that hasn’t changed much.

So, the big surprise this time around was just how poor Honda is with client relationships. I mean, we currently lease or own 2 Honda vehicles. We’ve been customers for over a decade. We generally are happy with the products. You’d think they’d want to get to know us, try to make us customers for life or something along those lines.

Now, I shouldn’t cast aspersions on all of the Honda family. The Honda Finance head office people seemed to try to communicate with me as a person. And our friend Dirk, currently of Sisley Honda in Toronto, was very helpful in arranging this deal. And when it comes to service, the dealerships are pretty good.

But our experience with the dealerships, in making a new lease decision, was not impressive. We’d been servicing our previous Odyssey at the massive, brand new Pointe West Honda in West Edmonton and I frankly expected something more from them. They have the biggest new dealership in Edmonton (and rumour has it, they are now one of the largest or the largest Honda dealer in Canada) and I’ve been servicing an almost off-lease vehicle with them. Doesn’t it make sense for them to be talking to me 6 months before the lease is up to see if they can leverage the service relationship and get me into a new lease? Don’t they know I’ve been a customer for 8 years? Shouldn’t a sophisticated sales person call me up and ask if I want to come in and test drive the new Odyssey? Or better yet, offer me a demo for the day that my old van was in for service – instead of making me take the shuttle?

To be clear, late last fall I did get a mailing from Pointe West. They were offering a “deal” to try and get me into a new vehicle so they could get the off-lease Odysseys into market because they are such hot sellers. So they were contacting existing leasing customers. Problem was, the sales guy they put on this task was the most junior guy they could get. This guy was so clueless, he started asking me about my mobile phone during our meeting because his “other job”  was working at a mobile phone kiosk in the mall. Not too impressive. I mean, here I was almost a decade-long customer and I was being treated like a stranger by a mobile phone salesman. (Does a mobile phone salesman rank above or below a used car salesman?) Even with the financial incentive being offered, this dealership gave me no reason to want to move into a new vehicle at that time. I concluded that they must not want my business that badly.

So, when we hit the 2 month window before the old lease expired, we moved into action – this time with another dealer in town Alberta Honda. Unfortunately, these guys were not much better. Not that everyone didn’t try to be nice and do their best – they did and we appreciated that. But it was just like pulling teeth to get them to take care of me like the 3rd time returning customer that I am. At virtually every step of the way, I had to suggest how they could handle the transaction so it was more convenient for ME – rather than for them. For instance, we had to convince them that they wanted our 4 year old van with 62,000 kms on it (that’s 34,000 less than the lease allows) on their lot for resale. Once we moved onto the transaction, I had to ask them if they could fax me the credit app so that we wouldn’t have to come in to the dealership just to fill in a form. When the deal was done, we had to suggest that they might consider coming to our home to exchange vehicles rather than requiring us to come in to the dealership. It never occurred to them.

I know I’m pushing the envelope here, but I actually do expect a large multinational car manufacturer, and it’s local dealer representatives, to go out of their way to know who their best and loyal customers are and to try and make the acquisition of a new product as easy and as pleasant as possible for me. What comes to mind is the Apple retail experience. It is friendly, professional and convenient for me the customer. I don’t even need to walk up to the check out and pay – I can do all of that standing next to the product in the store that I want to buy.

Hey, Honda. Next time my car lease comes up, my kids will be older and our family needs may be different. You’ve got four years to figure out how to treat this loyal customer properly so you can keep him for life. Or at least turn him into a brand ambassador.

The world is changing – and fast.

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