Municipal Contracts are a part of our business, let's face it.  Here in Portland we have a Towing Coordinator whose name is Marian Gaylord, and Marian has been running the show here for at least 20 years.  She has completely revamped the system, including ushering in a new Municipal Contract for City Towers that many think is the bane of their existence.  Hopefully they realize that it keeps unprofessional, fly-by-night outfits from qualifying for a spot on the tow rotation.

I recently went to a company meeting for one of our sister companies, and the subject of Marian Gaylord came up, because one of the Tow Company Managers deals directly with her on formal complaints she issues on behalf of the Agencies or citizens.  There was some discussion about why there were so many complaints, and what to do about them.  This Manager told the GM, his boss, "I'm not trying to be condescending, but you don't have a clue."

I thought, that's pretty good for not trying.

It was funny.  That's partly why I mention it.  But I also mention it because there are probably many of you out there who are frustrated at dealing with Municipal Agencies who "don't have a clue" about the towing industry and, whether they are trying to or not, are making your business life difficult.  At a company where I managed and dealt directly with Marian, we had 3 Municipal Contracts and also had a good market share of Private Property Impounds, which were also regulated to an extent.  When I received a formal complaint from Marian, I usually followed this procedure:
1. Investigate the complaint internally to get all of the facts.
2. Send back a written response within the given timeframe (we usually had a few weeks to respond, I think), either agreeing to the terms requested (usually payment of a fine or reimbursement to the vehicle owner), or requesting a different resolution.
3. Institute or revisit an internal procedure with our staff to attempt to prevent another similar complaint.

My written responses all had a very similar format.  In fact, they were basically form letters that I changed the particulars for each time.  I'm sure Marian caught onto this early on, but she never seemed bugged by it, and I think that was partly because the standard introduction and conclusion were overly polite.  In the introduction, I always included the statement, "We have reviewed this complaint and all applicable policies and procedures with our staff."  This told her we were taking it seriously, and you know what?  It was true.  We DID always review complaints and all applicable policies and procedures with our staff.  The intro also always included this statement, "Thank you for the opportunity to resolve this in an informal manner."  This showed Marian that we were actually grateful to get the complaint.  And it was also genuine and true.  A complaint letter and maybe payment of a small fine was better than a lawsuit, or interruption or cancellation of our Contract, and it was certainly a more informal resolution.

The middle of the letter included information that I felt was pertinent to the complaint, so that was the part I had to actually write every time.  I dealt only in facts, not in emotions or speculation.  I didn't write anything that I "thought" was true and claim it was true.  If it was a "he said/she said" situation, I would write that "the driver reports that..." or "the dispatcher reports that...."  I would leave it to Marian to interpret which account was most accurate.

The conclusion was either acceptance of the terms of the complaint or a request for a different resolution.  Acceptance was, "Enclosed is a check for $xx.xx for penalty payment.  We apologize for any inconvenience caused to the vehicle owner and/or the Agency, and we are taking steps to prevent this problem from recurring."  A request was simply asking for the penalty to be waived or reduced.  Her complaint letters always left that option open, and if she still felt a penalty was warranted, there would be a follow-up final resolution letter.

If I thought that the penalty or reimbursement was at all warranted, I almost always accepted the resolution, no questions asked.  You know what I found as a result?  If I did ask for a waiver or reduction, I almost always received it, or at least a partial reduction.

Then there was the most important part of the whole procedure, making sure we didn't screw up again.  We would go over the complaint with our staff--drivers, dispatchers, whoever was affected--and we would either figure out a new procedure to prevent the problem from happening again, or we would review the old procedure already in place that should have prevented the problem from happening in the first place.  Here's the deal: you can't prevent everything bad from happening.  Supposedly you have to tell a kid something 30 times before they completely understand it.  With an adult, it's probably twice that.  Why do you think they're called Drill Sergeants?  You have to drill things into your employees.  Don't fight it.  Just accept it, and do it.

If I saw Marian in person, I always tried to make her laugh--tell a joke or comment on something that I thought was funny.  I enjoyed working with her, and if I disagreed with her decisions, I was respectful.  In fact, I was somewhat mystified by some of the negative reports I heard from other tow companies about dealing with Marian.  Now, you might call all of this "buttering up" or "greasing the wheel."  Whatever.  I thought this was the most productive way to deal with a Municipal Agency, and I think the results bore that out.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper

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