Opinion: Thank you to group of gentlemen who helped stranded family and restored faith in customer service


In today's world, I have often thought that if customer service is not dead, it's on life support. Few companies, especially in the service industry, instill any level of confidence that they will do even the least that is expected of them or stand behind their work. Fewer still go the extra mile.

That theory was bashed for me recently.

My wife and sons were spending a few days at Edisto Island a week or so ago and while driving, an error message, a blood red thermometer, appeared on our dash. Since the truck had only been driven a couple of miles, I knew it could not possibly be running hot, but since the air conditioner had not blown cold at one point the day before, I thought something might be wrong. We were pulling our boat out of the water when the error message occurred, so I turned the truck off, parked and secured the boat and resumed my ride back to where we were staying, just a few miles away.

On the ride back, the error message appeared again. I reached out to my brother, who is a retired automotive expert, and he told me it was probably a sensor. After double-checking water levels, he was convinced that it was indeed a sensor. I pondered what we needed to do for the ride back to Sumter the next day: There are no dealerships in Edisto, and the truck seemed to be running fine.

I reached out to Jamie Bilton at Bilton Lincoln-Mercury, which services my truck, to ask if he knew anyone at Walterboro Ford. He said he did, and he'd be glad to contact them for us the next morning to see if they could squeeze us in since we were risking being stranded. He called them first thing the next morning, and they said they would see us between 10:30 and 11.

The unspeakable happened on the way there: Several miles into the ride, the truck lost power at the foot of a bridge that was under repair, meaning we were blocking traffic with nowhere to go. We turned the truck off for about a minute, and when we cranked it back up, it seemed to be OK enough to at least get out of traffic. So we started, and it chugged and chugged and chugged us up to the top of the short bridge and we rolled down the other side, barely getting out of traffic. The tail of the boat, though, was still sitting in the road. A crew from the state Department of Transportation came along, helped us by trying an old trick of disconnecting the battery before actually hooking the boat to their truck and dragging it out of harm's way. (Thank you to those fine human beings).

But we were still stranded, so we reached back out to Jamie Bilton, who advised us to call Ford roadside assistance since the truck is still under warranty. The frustration continued when we were told it could be as long as three hours before anyone arrived because the tow truck would be coming from Ridgeland. And to compound the situation, only one person could ride with them. So Jamie called his friends at Walterboro Ford, who immediately tracked down Mr. Franklin to drive the 30-plus miles to pick us up.

Our truck arrived in Walterboro on the flatbed a bit later, and I asked Jeff Ament at Walterboro Ford how late they would be open (by now it was like 4 p.m.). He said we are going to be open until "we get you on the road. Jamie is a good friend of ours, and we are going to get you fixed." He and Andy Chase confirmed, too, that it was a sensor. So while senior master technician Ryan Leese was fixing the truck, my brother drove from the Paxville/Pinewood area in his truck to go get the boat still left on the roadside near Edisto. When we arrived back in Walterboro with boat in tow, my truck was ready to go.

I want to say a huge thank you to him, Ryan, Andy, Vince Fargnoli and Jeff, not to mention Jamie at Bilton. Without their dedication to customer service and compassion in general, we might all still be sitting on S.C. 174.

So to those gentlemen, I want to say not only thank you, but also congratulations! You have restored at least one cynic's faith in customer service and the auto industry in general.

And I would tell anyone in need of a vehicle, stop by and see Jamie at Bilton or the guys at Walterboro Ford: I can say without hesitation that I'm sure their dedication to customer service and to their customers is not isolated to a crazed old man and his family, his truck and his boat.


Director, FTC Public Relations