Biker Lifestyle

CUSTOMER SERVICE – WAKE UP: Confused when it comes to Harley-Davidson/Indian/and RIP Victory.By Mark “Llama” Vickers

By Mark “Llama” Vickers

I just don’t get it.

Are these cultural issues here in Taiwan that are confusing me?  But then again the situation is different with my wife’s Ford Escape.  And in any case, actually I have heard not too dissimilar stories from many other friends around the world.

So let me do this in reverse and then I will get to my point.

In 2011 I decided to leave the British army after 33 years service.  I was stationed with the Gurkhas in Nepal and I decided that before I left I would volunteer for an operational tour in Afghanistan.  Bear with me. So off to Helmand Province I went and my wife moved back to her home country of Taiwan. Before I left for the war I tried to get everything in order including buying her a new Ford Escape.

Now the only reason I mention all this by means of introduction is that even now, nearly seven years later, the original sales-lady stays in touch, calls to remind that insurance is due, recommends which government inspection place to take the car – heck she even drove right across the city to meet us there the first time just to make sure there were no problems, and that was five years after purchase.

Now, I am not completely naive and of course she has worked up a great feeling of loyalty with us, and when it is time to buy a new car I won’t hesitate in sticking with Ford and going back to her.  I always take the car back to the main dealer for servicing, even minor things. Customer service has been amazingly good.

And that is my point, please read on:

That’s why I am so confused when it comes to Harley-Davidson/Indian/and RIP Victory.

About 18 months ago, as it seemed clear that I wouldn’t be leaving Taiwan any time soon, I decided I had to buy a motorcycle, despite the crazy prices here.  Initially I was shocked just at the expense, and I realized that my initial dreams of having a brand new Street Glide would have to be more realistically adjusted.

Then I found out that even though I have had a full motorcycle license for over 37 years the law here is such that I would have to take a local test, because UK doesn’t accept Taiwan driving licences – reciprocal thing.  Not only that but I would have to attend a week long compulsory instruction course, much in the classroom, which naturally enough will all be in Chinese – I mean REALLY?

Did I mention that the standard of driving here is generally atrocious?  Red lights seem optionally to mean anything from stop suddenly, or more frequently speed up and get through and sod the traffic crossing on green.  Or that the bigger vehicle you drive (or the more expensive) seems to give the right to pull out without looking, or to turn right across the road whether a bike (or car) will have to do an emergency halt to avoid an accident (daily occurrence), or that the majority of scooter riders never bother to take a test – everyone knows it, but little is done about it.  And so many seem to be using their mobile phones as they drive, even texting. Damn.

Oh yes, and we are not allowed to ride on the highways here.

We have four Harley dealers now around the island and two Indian dealerships, the 2nd one opening just last weekend – congratulations!

To give some idea of prices:  a basic Indian Scout costs about $27,700 US; Chief Dark Horse (which would be my choice if I could afford it, which I can’t) is about $39,100, but I would wish to add quite a few extras.  And a Chief Classic $47,000! Harley: a basic 750 Street is about $13,000 US, a more attractive Fat Boy $41,100, and a Road Glide Ultra a whopping $59,100.

My point is that if you really want a big bike here, especially an American bike, you need to accept the crazy road conditions, the expense, and the questionable laws, which only idiots like me seem to take notice of in any case.  So if you were trying to sell these “products” would you not be bending over backwards to make the experience as good as can be, given the circumstances?

When I was starting to look for a cruiser most people told me the only sensible thing was to look Japanese.  There are certainly more Jap second-hand bikes available, and I admit that I came close to buying one – easier and cheaper servicing, more dealers, more choice.  And nearly all the other foreigners here I know are riding BMW Adventure style bikes. But in my heart I knew that I would always feel that I didn’t have what I really wanted if I went down those options.  I might have been ok with a Triumph, but I still have that old fashioned (crazy?) idea of wanting a bike from the Allied countries (which really means US, UK) and not German or Jap, no offence meant to anyone from those fine countries.  And actually in today’s world it seems that the US is sidling up with other countries rather than UK (my home country), its oldest and proven best Ally, so maybe I should think again and forget such loyalties, but let’s avoid politics.

So I started to seriously do my research and look around.  I contacted the (then) nearest Harley dealership which was at least a two hour round-trip from home.  They had one second hand bike which I could afford so I made an appointment, at a fixed time, to go see it.  In excited anticipation I even arranged money to be transferred from my UK bank account to Taiwan and literally went with money in my pocket.  It wasn’t my ideal bike, but I could afford it, and at least it was a Harley-Davidson.

OK, so it was second hand, and yes it was one of the cheaper models, but damn, for me it was still a considerable sum of money, about $13,000 US.  I arrived bang on time (army habit) and was given a coffee (nice) and told to wait in a waiting area slightly off the side of the showroom (hmm). No one made any effort to invite me to see the showroom, nor to talk to me.  20 minutes later I started to make it clear that I was getting impatient. To my surprise, as I had an appointment don’t forget, the saleslady took me unapologetically to their dimly lit, overly hot, underground car park. There were lines of customers’ bikes.  The one that I had an APPOINTMENT to see was in a second row and I literally could not even walk around it, not that it would have done me much good because of the poor lighting.

I asked a few questions, yes I was interested, but the “experience” was not going well.  OK, so I didn’t show her my bulging wallet, ready to be emptied into her hand, but darn, I had made some effort to be there, and I clearly knew what it was I was looking at – not just some tire kicking dreamer.  She didn’t even offer to get the bike out of the line, let alone into the daylight. Before any of us passed out in the heat we went back to the boutiquey showroom.

Now, ok I am not a salesman and never have been anything but a soldier, and now artist and writer, but surely, surely, if I had someone there, clearly seriously interested in buying a Harley, having made an appointment, having a 2 hour journey to see me and my motorsikles, I am darned sure that I would offer to show them around the showroom, to enter a discussion about the products, make them feel good, SOMETHING.  But no, nothing, thanks for coming. Sod that. If that were the customer service BEFORE I handed over my hard earned money, what would it be like AFTER? Goodbye.

Still trying to hand over some money to Milwaukee, although any logical analysis “why” after that experience would question my sanity, I then sent an email to one of the other Harley dealerships – no reply.  A second email – no reply. Weeks were going by. Completely illogically I was STILL trying to buy a Harley, or should that by that stage be called Hardly. I emailed H-D Asia who promptly replied, apologized that I was having a disappointing experience, and giving me an email address to write to at dealership number 2.  I did so, and for the third time repeated what I was looking for and what sort of budget I had. Then I got a reply: “do you want to buy a Harley-Davidson?”. No, I want a friggin ice cream!

Come on guys.  Should it be THIS hard for me to hand over $12-20K for one of your bikes?

So then I decided to visit Indian/Victory.  Yes, a great reception, friendly and enthusiastic staff who gave me all the time I wanted, showing me around, even into the workshop area, and yes they had a second-hand, low mileage, High-Ball which belonged to one of their investors.  I loved it. I made an offer and within 24 hours the offer and delivery date agreed.

If that Harley salesperson had given me a better experience I would be riding a Harley now, and then I would have been, inevitably, in that Harley “trap” of looking at another, better, model by now for sure.  I am not regretting my choice – I think Victory made awesome bikes.

All seemed good and I love the bike and have became very involved with the Victory (international) scene.  I am even writing a book about Victory owners’ tales from around the world. But I have retained a close interest in what Harley and Indian are doing however.  I am not one of those who are totally exclusive about other brands, but my American criteria remains, for sure.

I’ve had a couple of niggles with the bike, and sorry to say that the feeling I had of this relationship with the dealer being something more than simply customer/dealer has been somewhat tarnished.  I am not saying they have done anything “wrong”, no, they have not. But I can now wait for days, sometimes weeks, before I get replies to messages. Certainly it isn’t like my experience with the Ford dealership.  Maybe it is the whole “Polaris/Indian….who the heck is Victory, and who cares?” thing. But let me come back to this in a minute.

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So back to Harley.  I do a fair amount of writing and wish I could do more motorcycle related articles, and believe me, I would not malign H-D or Indian if they welcomed me in to report on their events and motorcycles.  I would be honest, yes, but negative – no. There are ways of saying things. And actually I sincerely believe that today all these are great bikes. There is nothing much wrong with the product. Ok, some hard-core experts better than me can find some minor issue or criticize some detailed aspect of handling, but that is what they are paid to do in road tests, find things to write about.  But I honestly think that none of these are bad products. My take on today’s bikes (and cars) is that truly bad ones are truly the exception. In the real world does it REALLY matter if 0-60 is 3.9 or 4.2, or top speed is 140 or 120? Different bikes may appeal to different riders, but it is, in my humble opinion, more a question of fitting the bike to the rider, rather than any of them being bad machines.  They are not. The progress in the last 20 years is amazing. So the problem is NOT the product, Indian or Harley.

Anyhow, back to my rant:  recently one of the dealerships had an event and I kind of invited myself to attend.  I contacted them and they said they would be delighted to welcome me, and equally delighted if I could write an article about the event.  My intention was to aim for one of the national newspapers here and one of the international magazines. I had warned them off in advance to expect an article from me – and they said they would happily consider it.  Hey, I don’t get paid for any of this. If I was the dealer I would have been delighted to get some free publicity.

We discussed things and I said that I could turn up and just write about the event, but it would be a much better and more interesting article if I could speak to some of the staff and get THEIR message, and so as not to bother them on the day I offered to ride over a few days prior, at any time of their convenience. They said it was a great idea and agreed which morning I should visit.  I wrote a list of questions and emailed them a couple of days in advance so they had time to discuss them if necessary. Heck, I even said “please just ignore any questions that you don’t like, or would prefer not to answer. My intention is to write something positive for you guys. No problem.”

So I rode over on the agreed morning.   All the staff were busy. Now don’t get me wrong, the couple of staff who knew me welcomed me nicely and offered me a coffee and asked me to wait.  Then they went back to cleaning the windows as I sat there waiting….and waiting….and waiting.

The boss swaggered in, completely ignored me, didn’t even look, smile or say hello and sat down to drink his coffee.  Great! I just thought “what a jackass” but clearly he thought he was mega important and I was something less important than a poxy coffee bean.   I nearly walked out there and then.

Believe me, this is not about ego … but show some respect dude.  I greet everyone, no matter who they are, sweeping the streets, collecting the trash, or the local Mayor – I don’t care who you are.  RESPECT. POLITENESS. COURTESY, even just a smile goes a long way. After 40 minutes I had had enough. F’ this.

I told the guy who I knew that I wasn’t hanging around all morning, that I had come at a time they had suggested, that I was trying to do this for their benefit not mine, and that I was not good when I was kept waiting like this, that clearly their boss was more interested in his damned coffee than in me, that I was trying to help them and their brand, and I was doing this unpaid.  I asked “give me one reason why should I sit around here like this?”

Poor guy was embarrassed and some hurried phone-calls were made and before too long the genuinely charming, friendly and extremely apologetic lady I was scheduled to meet turned up.  But, she said everyone was busy and would it be ok if they emailed the replies to my questions. I agreed – I had had enough and had another appointment in any case. Another wasted journey.  This was a couple of days before the event.

The day before the event I still had heard nothing.  I sent a message. No reply. On the morning of the event I sent another message. No reply.  For frig’s sake, should it be this hard to help you people? So I sent a clearly expressed message that I was not prepared to waste my time where clearly my efforts were deemed to be worthless and I would therefore not be attending their event.

Oh, I should mention that previously I had told them that I might be looking to buy another motorbike this year.  That kind of makes it even more extraordinary.

So my point is, when we hear about “challenges” in the industry, is this really the best we should expect?  If I wasn’t so stubbornly sticking to my “American or Brit” only policy, why would I bother? Why wouldn’t I just go and buy a Jap bike?

I have visited the new Indian dealership and I couldn’t fault the customer service, and I must say that the customer service where I bought my Victory had also been perfect (ok, past tense), and even this second Harley dealership had previously given me a great welcome and really made me start to think about Harley ownership, especially as I have lost some confidence in the support I am getting for my Victory.  (I hasten to add that I still love the High-Ball and am really not convinced that anything that I could afford would even begin to approach this bike or the passion I feel for it, but I feel shafted by you know who.)

I had told both the Indian and Harley dealers that once I had sold an apartment I had bought in India (long story, big mistake, changed plans and dreams) I would be in a better financial position to buy a brand new motorcycle.  And recently I have indeed sold the apartment and have the money in the bank. But now I no longer feel any urge to spend this hard-earned money on an American motorcycle.

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Can I really trust Polaris, especially when my own experience and the experience of many, many other Victory owners has been so bad since they pulled the plug?  Do I feel wanted or looked after by Polaris? Err…doesn’t need an answer. But why oh why does Polaris think that how they have treated Victory owners will make us think of buying an Indian now?  Just look at any of the Vic forums? I really don’t get that, AT ALL.

Honestly, if I had felt that, ok they made a business decision to axe Victory, but still they made Victory owners feel looked after and valued, I would be in the Indian dealership right now with serious intent to purchase.  I attended the island’s annual Indian (and supposedly Victory) rally last year. It was fantastically well organized, and there were some figures from Polaris flown over to make speeches. There was not a single banner saying “Victory”, not a mention.  I managed to speak to one of the guys before the speeches, and I said very politely how nice it would be for the Victory owners present, some of who had even flown in from Hong Kong specially, to at least be acknowledged. Not a damned word. Zilch.

There were plenty of “nice to see so many Indian riders here” – would it have been THAT difficult to add the word “Victory”?  Maybe in the translation to the local Victory guys this was lost, but I heard some of the English speaking Hong Kong Vic guys also commenting that they shouldn’t have damned well bothered to go to the expense of coming. I wonder how many of them will buy an Indian next rather than a Harley ….. or Honda.

Surely this is basics. isn’t it?  Make the customer feel valued, and not only before he hands over his money.  Honestly, I have never been in business, thankfully, but I just don’t get the rationale behind this attitude.  I just don’t get how this can help their business.

Or how about Harley, when I have sometimes had such a nice experience, and other times been left feeling like they are doing me a favour for allowing me to show an interest in their products.  I can’t forget the experience when I was first looking, literally with $ notes in my wallet, and then this recent disappointment, and seeing that manager not even giving me the respect of a “hello”.  It doesn’t matter that I was there to write an article, which I had promised them would be positive PR for them, actually I was also a potential customer.

And isn’t every single person who walks into the showroom exactly that – a potential customer?

Wake up!

My experience with Ford here has been fantastic and I would immediately return to them when I next buy a new car.  But do I feel the same about Polaris or Hardly….I am repeating myself, but even having friggin’ $ notes in my wallet, ready to lay down a deposit that very day, and instead I walked out of the glitzy showroom feeling very disappointed and disillusioned.  And Polaris makes me feel that they wish we Victory owners would just disappear, so why would I want to buy an Indian from them if that is their attitude? Why would I trust them?I genuinely, really very sincerely, wish both Indian and Harley-Davidson great success here, and indeed everywhere because from what I hear my experiences are not unique to this little island.  I have had some great experiences with both, but not consistently so. The motorcycles are great.

I feel zero passion for my wife’s Ford, and conversely I am very passionate about American motorcycles.  But which company has given me a good and lasting feeling and a feeling of brand loyalty and a definite probability of being a returning customer?   Ford. Do I feel any brand loyalty towards Polaris – absolutely zero, why would I? And towards H-D when they can greet me warmly one day and make me feel completely unwelcome another – err, no.  Respect – is that so hard?

C’mon guys.  Both companies have great products, and isn’t that the difficult part?  The customer service bit should be basic.

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