In his weekly Ward's World column, John Ward recalls a trip taken for work...
I was assured the other day that a company I was hopefully going to buy something from ‘went that extra mile’ in customer care, help or assistance and was ‘merely a phone call away’ as they pride themselves on customer satisfaction.
A similar philosophy was also the ‘backbone’ of a privately owned tyre company that I worked for some years ago who operated on the idea that we went the ‘extra mile’ - quite literally in some cases - in looking after our customers.
It was a quiet morning when the phone rang and once the clunk of the coins being pushed in finished, it was Mrs Wotknott calling on behalf of her husband at Wotever Farm as she was asking if we could take a battery out to them for their tractor as it was not working anymore - the battery, as the tractor would if it could start she said.
Not a problem but could she tell me what the tractor and model number was, if it had one, to which this was greeted with total silence as then after a few seconds said she would go and check with her husband.
I then heard the cluck, clunk as she put more coins into the phone - they didn’t have a phone as she was calling from their village phone box - as she put the phone down off the hook which in turn, in those days, effectively cut us off from receiving any incoming calls so I hoped she wouldn’t be long getting back.
A few minutes later a voice was heard: “Are you tyre people still there?” – yes I assured her but did she have the tractor details so we can get it sorted as I sat there with pen poised ready to put the details down: “Well, I wouldn’t bother my husband so I had a look in the shed myself – it’s a little blue one.”
Reassuringly she said the steering wheel was in the middle, near the two big wheels at the back end, although she had never driven it as “her husband did all the driving on the land” so this narrowed it down to a dozen or so possible models but she told me it had FORDSON on the front end, possibly near the two little wheels.
So based on our battery compatibility reference guide, it could be any one of five different basic batteries in supply but anything else would have to be ordered in as being specialised and not an ‘off the shelf’ type we kept in stock.
I loaded one of each type battery that might fit into the company pickup as I headed off to Wotever Farm - as a long standing customer, all we had ever done for them over many years was repairing punctures etc in assorted wheels that they had dropped off as none of us had ever been to the farm itself.
However, it had been noticed that each time a punctured wheel was dropped off, it was never the same person or vehicle that came as the nearest we got to knowing who it was for was when we were told to “charge it to the Wotever Farm account” when picked up later, but they did pay regular as clockwork when invoiced so to our minds they were good, reliable customers.
As I was to find out, the reason we hardly saw the same person twice dropping stuff off was because they didn’t own a vehicle capable of getting a farm implement wheel into, so neighbours coming into town did the honours for them as it was literally a ‘one man band’ farm but as a village they had a real community spirit.
I arrived at the gateway to the farm - the sign was barely readable - then parked up as Mrs Wotknott came across the yard to greet me and hoped she was not ‘messing us about too much’ as I pointed out this was what we did but all I wanted to see, and check, was the tractor itself - her husband was nowhere to be seen.
She took me into the shed where it was kept and to be fair it was a safe bet that the shed itself was as good as the day it was built in, say, the early sixteen hundreds give or take a century or two plus the original cobwebs as well by the looks of them.
I looked at the tractor and saw it was a basic battery requirement, nothing remotely specialised, as I went back to get one from the pickup to replace it but she said the original battery had been very good to them as it ‘had lasted well over 20 years’ - so ‘Guinness Book of Records’ stuff then.
Next, could I fit it on as her husband was now in bed with a bad case of ‘overbending’ (yes, really) which was a new one on me, so I went to the pickup to find the toolkit but the last person who used it had not returned it - drat.
I asked if I could borrow their tool kit, just a spanner or whatever would do as she nipped off, then returned with a screwdriver come-chisel, can opener and pair of nutcrackers – handy for the fruit type nuts but not tractor nuts or bolts – and that was it.
While trying to fathom a way around it without going miles back to the depot and returning, help came from their next door neighbour who was taking his dog for a walk through their yard as he stopped to ask if there was a problem - I didn’t mention the recent case of overbending.
On explaining everything, or nearly, he obligingly popped home and brought his tool box back plus he also helped me secure the battery once installed with the ‘retaining bracket’ or what’s known in some circles as ‘a bit of baling twine’ as he put his thumb on it as I tied the knot tightly.
A pull on the starter as it burst into life, Mrs Wotknott thanked me and gave me some sticks of rhubarb to take home - was this to guard against catching overbending? - but ever since I have eaten rhubarb whenever possible and I have not caught overbending but as not knowing the symptoms, I still can’t really be sure.