THE driver of an Iveco Daily HPI suffers a mechanical breakdown at the roadside in Hull. He calls the freefone number on the inside of the vehicle's windscreen and gives details of the problem and his location to the operator.
An hour later, a fitter arrives with the appropriate spare parts and within a few minutes the driver is on his way again. Simple, eh?
Well, not quite. It may be an easy matter from the customer's point of view but behind it all is a highly-organised operation which, Iveco claims, puts the manufacturer way ahead of the pack in terms of customer care.
The driver probably thinks he is being put through to the nearest Iveco garage – or possibly a centralised base in Britain – but in fact that freefone number gets our man straight through to Iveco's customer service centre in Turin in Italy.
The centre is manned 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, by an 80-strong team, most of whom are university graduates who speak at least three languages fluently. Once through to the centre, the stricken driver gives his location and a brief rundown of what the problem might be.
The operator then contacts the driver's nearest Iveco dealer, who will dispatch a mechanic with the relevant parts if the van can be fixed at the roadside, or a breakdown truck if it can't.
The centre was opened in Europe in 1999 and deals with 85,000 'dossiers' – as it calls cases – a year. Some 74% of these dossiers are 'solved' – or sorted – within three hours.
Britain joined the scheme in 2001 and since then there has been a huge leap in the number of calls. In fact some 35% are now from Britain.
Apparently, British drivers expect a better service than their European counterparts. Whereas Juan in Valencia is prepared to change a light bulb himself, Fred from Droitwich would rather sit by the side of the road for an hour waiting for someone else to do it. Some 10% of all calls are made by drivers with flat batteries.
Iveco has also reorganised its parts distribution service to provide what it calls a more responsive, flexible, cost-effective quality service.
Parts are housed in five warehouses across Europe – Britain's is at Winsford – and the demand for items is controlled through the Turin centre. If a part is not available at the dealer for a stricken vehicle, the operators can channel the relevant piece straight from the production line to the vehicle through a system of couriers, ensuring downtime is kept to a minimum.
But the breakdown and parts centres are only two facets of this facility, which is housed in a large glass-fronted building on the outskirts of the northern Italian city. Down on the ground floor lurks a cutting-edge technological department that would astound the average driver – remote diagnostics.
It works like this. Some smaller dealers may not have the equipment or the expertise to diagnose all a vehicle's faults. After all, with the huge advances in electronics now taking place, many faults will be found in this area.
For a fee, the dealer can plug the van – via a connector under the dashboard – into a modem and straight to the diagnostic centre in Turin.
Here, a team of experts can delve right into the heart of the vehicle and highlight where the fault lies. The technician can rev the engine, parp the horn or make the electric windows rise and fall while the mechanics at the dealership stand back and watch.
Any parts which need ordering can then be dispatched through the aforementioned system.
Last but not least, the centre houses a training facility for Iveco technicians. Forget the oily rags, stained overalls and grubby workshops – these men and women do their work via a bank of computer screens.
By clicking with a mouse on each part of the picture of a van, the technician can get right to the centre of any part of a vehicle and experiment with various pieces of diagnostic equipment until a fault – which has been pre-programmed by the lecturer – has been found. It saves hours of preparation and of course each trainee has his or her own 'vehicle' to work on, instead of a single one shared between them.
Some 20 million euros have been invested in the customer service client centre and from my visit, it seems money well spent. Iveco now not only boasts rock-solid product, but a first-class aftersales operation too.