Got a car crisis? Better call Paul
24-hour hotline wins friends for Audi stores
No matter how bizarre the problem, Paul Jensen is just a phone call away.
Jensen, 59, is the operations director of Audi Coral Springs and Audi Lighthouse Point, two dealerships in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area owned by Qvale Automotive Group. He's also the voice on the other end of the phone when customers call a special 24-hour crisis hotline set up by the dealerships.
No matter the time, every call to the hotline automatically redirects to his cell phone.
Jensen's phone rings 60 or 70 times a month, in most cases during business hours, but he has helped customers with plenty of late-night car crises.
"The people who call me in the middle of the night are really in trouble," Jensen says.
Both of the Florida dealerships use Audi's roadside assistance program, which is run by Allstate. But to set up their own special hotline they went to a vendor, Who's Calling, that offers dedicated 800 numbers.
Victoria Brown, an account executive at Who's Calling, which has about 200 dealer clients in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, says Qvale Automotive Group is the only customer that answers the phone 24 hours a day.
Jensen says the idea came to him in 2010 during a business trip in Germany. Audi was launching the latest version of the A8, its top-of-the-line sedan, and challenged U.S. dealers to do something special for the car's high-rolling customers.
Jensen took the idea of offering a 24-hour concierge service to his boss, Bruce Qvale, son of the late Kjell Qvale, an import-brand distributor turned racing mogul and dealer.
"I went into [Qvale's] office and said: 'I'd like to run this program,'" Jensen recalled. "And he said: 'That isn't gonna last.'"
It's not hard to imagine why Qvale, 56, was skeptical.
"I've never met a service manager who would be willing to take a call anytime, even at 2:30 in the morning, seven days a week," Qvale said. "I know I wouldn't. So I'm lucky to have a guy like him."
Jensen not only was willing, but proved capable enough that the company extended its offer to all customers of the two Audi stores, part of a dealership group that includes 17 rooftops, most of them in California.
When the phone rings, Jensen must be ready for anything.
One Saturday evening a customer called from the local ice rink, where he had been playing hockey. Sometime during the game, thieves had ransacked the parking lot. Several cars had broken windows. The customer's A7 was up on blocks, its tires and wheels gone.
The car couldn't be towed, or even placed onto a flatbed truck without causing extensive damage to its undercarriage. So Jensen called the dealership, found a service technician who was still working and asked him to remove the wheels and tires from the only A7 remaining on the lot.
Within an hour, Jensen says, the technician had driven to the rink, transplanted the wheels and tires to the customer's A7, brought the car back to the dealership for repairs and set the customer up with a loaner.
Another time, a customer came to Audi Coral Springs to pick up his car from the garage.
The customer dropped off his loaner car, hopped into his own car and left.
Later that night, Jensen got a phone call.
"'My tax return and computer are in the trunk,'" Jensen recalls the customer lamenting.
It was 9 p.m. The tax return needed to be postmarked by midnight. Jensen rushed down to the dealership, collected the customer's belongings and delivered them in time for him to beat the IRS filing deadline.
Bruce Qvale says he would like to run a 24-hour hotline at all his Audi stores, which include two in California. When a company goes the extra mile, Qvale says, it usually leads to good customer relations.
But he says the Tax Day crisis shows why the company would have a hard time rolling out the program widely. Jensen gets paid more for being willing to work around the clock, but not everyone would do it.
"We need to clone the guy," Qvale said. "That's the problem."
You can reach Gabe Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.