The list of companies servicing motorhomes at FMCA rallies and conventions is growing. Here’s a guide to making on-site service easier and more pleasant for everyone.
By Bill Hendrix, F761S
For many years, a number of leading industry suppliers and manufacturers have been offering some degree of repair service at FMCA’s major rallies and conventions. Initially, this service was incidental to displaying their equipment and talking with coach owners, and was usually offered for emergency situations only. Quite often, the company representative would be an area salesperson who may not have possessed the greatest aptitude for repairs.
Over the years, our motorhomes have become much more complex, equipped with an increasing number of features that make the RV lifestyle more comfortable and appealing. The equipment itself has become considerably more high-tech. In fact, the electronic controls and sophisticated applications of today’s motorhomes dissuade many owners from doing their own repairs. This has created a slow but definite trend of coach owners saving their repair problems for rallies and conventions. They hope to find a skilled technician capable of fixing the problem, and they also hope the repair will be done for a reasonable charge.
Some of this hope stems from the frustration of not being able to fix the problem themselves, the inconvenience of having to take the coach to a repair facility and perhaps leave it there for a time, or from unsuccessful attempts to have the repair accomplished at a dealer or service center network. Having repair work done at a rally or convention becomes attractive, because this could alleviate most of these concerns.
Industry suppliers and manufacturers understand the consumer’s position and truly want each product to be fully functional and the owner to be happy with the product. Offering on-site repairs at conventions is one way to monitor customer satisfaction. Moreover, companies can get early warnings of any product malfunctions, and have an opportunity to witness and correct them firsthand.
The cost-per-repair factor, believed by many to be more economical for the supplier at a rally, is in fact probably higher, for several reasons. When the costs of airfare, motel, rental cars, and meals for the service personnel are considered, expenses are very high compared to the revenue received. Other costs include freight on the parts and equipment, and handling charges by convention services.
In addition, at a rally, suppliers and manufacturers may have a more liberal attitude toward warranty repairs, simply because they don’t want to deal with extra paperwork or an upset owner “” especially if the problem can be handled in a few minutes.
Coach owners, in all fairness, should also realize that there are limitations to on-site repairs that can be performed in the middle of a coach parking area. For instance, logistics may affect the quantity and variety of parts and equipment that can economically be transported to and stored at the event location. Environmental problems may also arise, since many repairs involve the handling of gases, fuels, oils, and other potentially hazardous materials. Most suppliers will not attempt a repair that is too complex or that could possibly leave you in a worse situation. Many will not attempt an on-site repair that would normally take longer than one hour.
You should make a genuine effort to have the repair done at your home base. Putting up with a malfunctioning piece of equipment for months until you attend a rally or convention just isn’t prudent. If the problem involves a component on a piece of installed equipment, contact the supplier and go to an authorized service center. There, service bulletins will be available; in addition, technicians will be more familiar with the item and have access to repair parts. Service centers are normally under a legal contract with the supplier for performance, so if you’re not satisfied with the repair work, contact the warranty manager for assistance.
In FMCA convention programs, a short paragraph informs attendees how to obtain service. Naturally, these instructions have to be very generalized, because various companies have their own policies regarding the degree of service and the level of staffing they can or will provide.
Here are a few pointers to help you get the attention you need for your repair while at a convention or rally:
1. Know exactly where your coach is parked
Know the area, row number, space number “” whatever the rally organizers have provided to identify your coach’s location. Verify the location by looking at the sign at the end of the row. There should be some locator system developed by the layout and parking crews, which is a necessity in emergencies. I do not recommend attending a rally where there is no system for locating people in an emergency. Write your location on the back of your rally badges, as this may be helpful for some other purpose. Repair technicians are under a great deal of pressure to service as many customers’ coaches as possible during a rally, and they waste valuable time hunting for a coach when they are given incorrect information about its location. It’s helpful to have your license plate number handy when signing up for service, and most of all, be sure your FMCA membership number appears on the front and rear of your coach.
2. When signing up for service, know what you want fixed
Be prepared to give an accurate but brief description of the problem. Normally, you will be talking to the service writer and not the repair technician. Do not give a 20-minute dissertation of all the events leading up to the problem. If they need the history, they’ll ask. If there are several models of like equipment offered by this supplier, have the model number available. Different models may need different parts to repair similar problems and may also involve different diagnostic equipment or diagnostic techniques. A good description may eliminate the need for making an appointment to meet the technician at the coach, as some repairs can be done without accessing the coach interior.
3. Approach the service writer with a good attitude
Being hostile or rude is only going to work against you. It’s likely that service writers have been given briefings prior to the rally or convention, in which service limitations and objectives have been addressed. Dealing with irate owners is not one of their objectives.
4. Do not send a messenger to the service sign-up desk
They will not be able to respond to detailed questions from service personnel. A brief note that says “Fix my gizmo” is worthless, yet this seems to occur at every convention. If you want it fixed, go to the service center yourself and be prepared to sign an authorization form if requested. Frequently, a service appointment may be necessary. Keep in mind that your appointment time is approximate, as prior jobs may slide the time line up or back. Be available before and after the stated time.
Most companies do not permit their employees to enter a coach without the owner present. If anything turns up missing in the future, that could bring suspicion upon the repair person and company. If a tour, seminar, or golf game is more important than the requested repair, have the repair done at your local dealer or service center.
5. Go to the service desk early in the rally
Trying to get your problem handled at the last moment is usually unsuccessful. The first hour or two of the first morning is the most hectic. If you see a crowd at the service desk when you arrive, return a couple of hours later. There will be fewer distractions, and you’ll receive better attention.
Some people may fear that service will be totally booked if they don’t get there first. Let me assure you that service from a responsible company will never be totally booked during the first day of a rally. If you need only a minor part, give these folks a break and avoid the first hours. If you need a major part, make prior arrangements and consider having it sent to your home or home service dealer.
6. If you have a warranty dispute with a company, it’s not appropriate to address it at the rally
If your coach is out of warranty and something is broken, service personnel will help you if possible, and will do so willingly and cheerfully. Technicians’ compensation is not determined by rally revenue, and they do not set company policy or have a company checkbook, so taking the matter up with them is futile. If you feel you deserve warranty consideration, write a documented, businesslike letter to the warranty manager, who makes the decisions and has access to the company checkbook.
7. Refrain from asking for service that is petty or falls in the category of owner maintenance
Even if you are successful in obtaining a written service order, the scheduler or the technician will definitely let that order slide if confronted with a stack of real problems. If you do feel compelled to ask for such service, check with them on the morning of the final day of the convention. Do not exaggerate the situation; acknowledge that the repair is not critical and ask if they have time in their schedule. Be honest with them, and they will be honest with you.
8. If you must leave the rally prior to a scheduled service appointment, have the courtesy to cancel the service order.
Do so either in person or through a note delivered by a friend. If you don’t, you may be depriving another person of a repair time.
9. A word about pets
We know you love them and are proud to show them off, but a service call during a convention or rally isn’t the proper time or place for pets to be underfoot. A curious, barking, or overprotective pet has the potential to cause problems. Confine them in the car, bathroom, or wherever, but take them out of the picture when a service technician is working on your coach.
10. Remember your objective
People come to a rally to have fun. Refrain from getting upset or angry about things you can’t control. Stay calm and think rationally. Everything will come to pass. Chances are you can’t even remember why you became angry the last time. We do not live in a perfect world. Things break. Equipment fails . . . but it will get fixed. We have a wonderful industry, and it is providing us with an incomparable lifestyle. Be flexible, leave your attitude in the previous state, and enjoy the camaraderie.
Tips For Rally Planners
1. Have the layout and parking crews devise a simple system for designating the location of the rally coaches.
2. Place the location number tag on the coach so it may be read from several feet away.
3. Tell each attendee their coach location by color, row, number, etc.
4. Advise attendees to write their location on the back of their rally badge.
5. Designate one or two specific service days when most attendees are not participating in off-premises activities.
6. Tell all vendors in advance the service days and the days of off-premises activities.
7. Designate a convenient, out-of-the-weather area with tables for service sign-up.
8. Designate an area adjacent to the sign-up location for service vehicle parking only.
9. Provide the service vendors with maps showing the coach location plat.
10. Remember that most of the factory service personnel have volunteered to attend your event and have sacrificed time at home with their families so that you may have service available. Following these tips will make them more efficient, and the service process more pleasant for everyone.
About the author: Bill Hendrix has been on both sides of the rally service issue. He is a motorhome owner and member of FMCA, and he also has been involved in providing rally service for more than 20 years.