Wednesday, February 01, 2012

When Small Things Matter (or should they?)

Last week, we purchased a new car for hubby. Well, new to us. It had 15,000 miles on it, which put the make, model and year we at long last narrowed our choices down to, in a range we could afford. We felt good about the deal. 

Today, I'll spare you most of the sordid shopping details, aside from the One Thing I really want to talk about, which I shall do later. Suffice it to say that on numerous occasions, our (hubby and I together, to use the word loosely) car buying experiences have been so horrendous, and so funny (in hindsight), that I've sold several stories about the hysterics and drama, the wars and compromises, the song that might best be titled I Left My Spouse at the Car Dealer Blues. If one of us likes it, the other doesn't. Exasperating is the word that comes to mind. I'm told couples can relate.

Having said all of that, we drove happily home in a 2011 Toyota Avalon Limited. (Factoid: the average age buyer for the Avalon is 64.) For two people who qualify for all senior discounts, not just some, we found the Sizzling Crimson Mica color quite exotic. It goes well with our cement driveway and the earrings I wore the day we signed the papers. Su-weet!

We traded in George's 2001 Buick LeSabre with 122,000+ miles. He loved that car; it served us well. My car, a 2003 Lexus RX300, has nearly 120,000 miles on it. We bought it used in 2003 with 5000 miles. I'm still in a love affair with my black comfy beauty. Both the LeSabre and the Lexus ran well, but we decided it was just time to up one, especially since we have a couple long trips in front of us, so we picked the oldest vehicle for our farewells.

I'm sure the Avalon's tricked out Navigation System will come in handy since we love to travel back roads. We adore the hands'-free functions, as well as the bazillion other fancy things the car offers, including reclining back seats and a back-up camera. It's HUGELY roomy. Whatever you need, we have a button for that. As soon as we figure them out and stop turning on our windshield wipers instead, life will be grand. The Avalon's ride is amazing. Street noise is missing. (Nice!) The same day we picked it up, we drove to Minnesota and averaged nearly 31 miles per gallon. YES!

But none of that is what I really want to talk about today. When we were signing the papers—literally—something struck in my craw, and I can't seem to get over it. Perhaps it's because I'm a seasoned traveler. But before I deliver the craw-sticker, let us recap: we dropped a bucketload of money on a new-to-us car, purchased at a Toyota dealer so large, it has access to a test track. (Yes, we used it. Perhaps I'll post about that another time.) Their service department waiting area is pleasant and well lit; the ladies' room is regal. The ginormous overall facility is spotless. But when we went to sign the papers, back in the secret bowels of the building, the gentleman handed us each a very familiar ballpoint pen with Hilton HHonors  printed on it. One was slightly chewed and missing the cap clip.

"Seriously? These are the pens you give people to sign contracts?" I said this out loud, volume slightly up, without a trace of humor in my voice because I felt none. I didn't sound angry, mind you, but … serious.

"Hey, they were free," the guy said with a smile, thinking this was all in good fun.

"This is pretty tacky." Again, no smile from me. "It's just wrong to hand these to your Toyota buying customers."

"What kind of pen do you want?" he asked, now sounding confused, perhaps slightly offended himself, which I'm sure I sounded by now.

"One that doesn't say Hilton HHnors™  on it. Maybe one that says Toyota and includes your dealer name?" I refrained from adding, One that hasn't been chewed.

"Those disappear," the guy said.

"You mean the same way these pens disappeared from your hotel room? They're advertising. They're supposed to disappear."

By now, the guy figured out I was not kidding, about any of this. He commandeered the Hilton pens and swapped them out for what he called the "plain Bic pens with no character."

"Good," I said. "That's much better." At last, I smiled.

For the record, I am a proud Hilton HHonors™  member, and likely already have a bunch of said pens here and there and everywhere in my travel bags. And my husband and I didn't keep the plain Bic pens, which we weren't offered to keep anyway. To be honest, I don't need another pen and likely wouldn't have taken it unless the person handing us the pens would have said, "By the way, keep the pen, maybe in your car. It has our phone number on it in case you ever need to call."

Since this episode, my husband has brought up the topic with every friend we've visited. "And she didn't have a trace of humor in her voice," he says. "She wasn't kidding." I can never decide whether he's more amazed by the Hilton pens, or my strong objection to them.

(Pause two minutes here while I ask. I can't believe I haven't asked before this!)

I called a quick kitchen-table meeting and made my query. George's response, "I was surprised this bothered you so much. I mean, I'll admit it was strange to be handed Hilton pens, and you could have mentioned it. But maybe you didn't need to sound so … demeaning about it."

In all honesty, since he said that, I feel a little embarrassed. It was surely not my intent to demean the guy! Talk about tacky and disrespectful, Charlene! But I did want to make a point: in business, small things matter. Toyota makes a good product. The sales' team (and of course their managers) had worked hard to give us a quality experience and seal the deal. Why ruin it with a final tacky action? Come to think of it, I guess it felt kind of demeaning, to use George's word of the day, to be handed some guy's chewed pen from one of his hotel rooms, a feeling which is perhaps what set me off. I mean, go ahead, collect the hotel room pens, dude. Just don't hand them to your Toyota customers.

But now, I'm curious: am I the odd one here? Barring my apparently insensitive response to the guy's tacky chewed pen offering (okay, it still grinds me), what do you think? Should this kind of traveling business detail matter? Say if American Airlines handed you a pen with Fairfield Inn and Suites printed on it to sign your credit card purchase for first-class tickets, would you even take notice?

Please weigh in with a comment. Help save a marriage. (Just kidding. Seriously.)



David Rowell said...

Hi, Charlene

I don't agree with you here. I think the hotels expect and are happy for 'their' pens to be taken. That's why they are generally such cheap pens.

Here's an example : I was at a conference in Vegas at the Sands Expo Center/Venetian a couple of weeks ago. The phone booths outside the conference rooms were filled with tiny pads of paper with Venetian logos on them, and a dozen or so Venetian pens alongside each.

Clearly - surely - by providing a stack of pads and a dozen pens, rather than a single pad of paper and a pen chained to the phone booth - the Venetian were both expecting and encouraging people to take both pens and paper with them.

I'll readily conceded that towels and bathrobes are a different story. But throwaway pens that probably cost the hotel 5c each and which are emblazoned with free advertising for the hotel? Go for it, take as many as they leave out.

Always very best wishes


Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

Hey David,
Sounds like I didn't explain my position well, for I totally agree with you. There is nothing wrong with taking the pens/paper from the Hilton & others because they expect that. It's inexpensive, good-sense advertising. That's the point.

What I thought was wonky was that the Toyota dealer was presenting Hilton pens for signatures on a Toyota product. When I asked why he didn't have Toyota pens, he said because they walk. My response to that was Of course! They're advertising! As proven by the Hilton pen in his possession.

Reverse the case: it would be odd to find Toyota pens on your Hilton desk--unless there was a synergistic PR effort of some kind, one that was explained.

So, I am in complete agreement with you. What I found objectionable:

1) Chewed.

2) Hilton and not Toyota or plain.

3) *His lack of understanding that, of COURSE pens walk, which makes them good advertising.

4) My entire experience with this dealer was good, right up until the pen.

Glad to be on your side,

VegasJEC said...

Charlene, I am totally with you! I love my faux Mont Blank pens that I found in my room at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, and I use it proudly. But that's because it was supposed to be used as a marketing tool, as well as the pen your toyota dealer gave you. When you buy a car, the least they can do is give you a nice pen to sign with, and keep, by the way. Volvo gave me another faux Mont Blanc when I bought my new Volvo a couple years back. So Shame on your Toyota dealer!

Kevin M said...

You are 100% correct, Charlene. It's somewhat akin to, say, a McDonald's manager taking napkins from a Wendy's restaurant and then dispensing them for meals.

And the chewed-on part is disgusting.

Rvtraveler said...

I agree with you 1000%. They should have given you each a free pen with their name on it. Tacky, tacky, tacky, to hand you a pen with their spit on it. We get a free pen from our dentist, in Winona, when we fill out the card for our next appointment. It is the little things that makes a person go back to a dealer or business. We deal in Eau Claire for our vehciles, rather than Winona, as they pay attention to the small details and treat the customer right,

Dana Jensen said...

Charlene, I agree with you! In the business world, image is so very important and using those Hilton pens certainly doesn't present the correct image of that Toyota dealer. I'm sure they can buy that exact pen with their own logo every bit as cheaply as the Toyota dealer buys theirs. The image I'm left with from your purchase from that dealer (other than you and George getting a new ride - YAY!) is not the same as when I first started reading the post. I bet the general manager and owner would be chagrined - if not mortified - if they knew.

Yes, the small things do matter!