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You keep me hanging on: how the AA failed in the basics of customer service

A central London breakdown becomes an epic journey

It’s been a while since I’ve written about customer experience since there’s not a lot you can say about home delivery shopping and other pandemic-related services other than it’s been, well, OK. So it’s taken an almost entirely dreadful experience with AA’s breakdown service to get my customer experience mojo working again. Needs must, so here we go…

Thursday evening and my wife is on her way to a choir rehearsal on the other side of town. At 6.30pm and without warning the car engine cuts out in central London. Luckily she’s able to park up in a Holborn side street opposite a branch of Nando’s. Things could have been worse but then she calls the AA…

At 6.40pm she is told a recovery vehicle will be with you at 8.30pm, possibly earlier.

The confirming text quotes 8.50pm.

At 7.30pm I arrive in Nando’s for what turns out to be a leisurely meal.

At 9pm no message from the AA and no breakdown vehicle so I call. I’m quoted another 25 minutes.

By 9.40pm it’s no show, so I call back.

I’m told that it will be another 25 minutes and that “there are a lot of breakdowns this evening across the country”. I tell the agent that I’m in central London and that it’s three hours since the breakdown was logged. She apologises.

At 10.05pm the recovery vehicle arrives. It’s a “recovery partner” and the mechanic sagely informs me that the battery is flat (no sh*t Sherlock! I think we’d worked that one out) and as it wasn’t charging it was probably the alternator.

He then phoned in for a recovery vehicle. By this time I was too tired to argue why he couldn’t recover me back home but presumably it was only part of his contract to tell me what I already knew or had guessed at. He told me the AA would be in touch to give me an arrival time.

At 11pm no contact from the AA so I call yet again. I’m given an 11.40 arrival time and make sure they are now using my number as by this time my wife is on her way home in a taxi.

At 11.45pm a text arrives. Words (or at least polite ones) are beginning to fail me…

At almost exactly the predicted time the AA patrolman arrives. I am almost pathetically grateful. He’s much more proactive and puts a fresh battery in to allow me to drive home, follows me back with my dead battery charging in the van, swaps the batteries back and job done.

It is now 1.20am…

Now here’s the thing. I’ve been a loyal customer since 2008 (and various times before then) and although I balk at the annual fee it provides a degree of reassurance and, on the previous times that I’ve had to use them, they have turned up in reasonable time and solved the problem or at least got me to a place where the problem can be solved.

And I realise that sometimes things don’t go according to plan and customers are kept waiting but in an organisation of the size and experience that the AA has, you’d think that they would be able to deliver on two of the basic principles of good customer experience:



I think it’s fairly obvious how the AA’s systems and processes up to the point of delivery failed on those two points.

The following morning I receive an email entitled Your Breakdown Report and “how we helped”. To be fair the patrolman did a great job but my attention is drawn to the following paragraph:

We want to hear from you
If you feel that our service has fallen below the standard you expect and would like to complain, please call us on 0344 209 0556 or alternatively, you can email us on customer.solutions@theaa.com   Or, tell us what was great about your breakdown experience visit your patrols website here or call 0344 209 0556.

Oh, and did I mention that my cover is up for renewal. I think the AA and I need to talk. How that pans out will be the subject of my next post…

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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