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Old 10-08-2012, 05:42 PM   #121
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Chumley,

Sounds like you're heading back home.
Glad you are making the best of the trip and having some fun. that's what it's all about.
great pics too. thanks for sharing.
really like that onboard security system you have.
I was thinking about asking you how you like the ride so was glad you posted about that.
that's the most important part of the whole rig so you've got a good foundation.
Have you given your rig a proper name yet?
I know yesterday it would have been "this $100K POS" but we're not going to accept that since it was a temporary setback.

Regarding this being a good time to have SMBW do a build, did you stop at a gift store along the highway and pick up some rose colored glasses?? Ah, just kidding. I'm sure SMBW has learned something from this build and will make good use of it.

Enjoy!
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Old 10-08-2012, 06:34 PM   #122
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

I was really hoping to read that everything was perfect at the time of delivery, I can really see how some of the issues you've had can be quite disheartening, but I am glad you and your wife are mostly enjoying your new home on wheels. I am looking forward to reading your upcoming posts on how SMB resolves the remaining issues.
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Old 10-08-2012, 08:27 PM   #123
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chumley
...The SMb customer service guy warned me that we would get a lot of attention in our van. Apparently there are quite a few Sportsmobile fanciers out there. He was right. No one came up to us but we got some thumbs up and longing stares at refueling stops. Lots of people looking at us instead of the White Mountains or Sierras driving down the road (yeah, we noticed). I think that the rig looks pretty bada$$ with the duallies and the color (hey Tony, how you liking that color?).
Hey Chumley, Just got back from my third weekend in a row of camping in our van. Last weekend was spent in the beautiful Lookout Mountain, Ga area at the Tag Fall Cave-In where I was volunteered to run security (http://www.tagfallcavein.org/) for 1148 of my close caver friends. The wife and I did no less than 20 separate tours of the van for friends, fellow cavers and strangers alike. (We had to take turns talking) There was even a couple that currently have an e-350 4x4 sportsmobile (Hi Tim and Berta if you read this forum) that loved the van as well. The wet cement gray looks good after rain or piled with leaves (it had both after 3 straight days in the woods.) I have yet to turn off the fridge and everything stays nice and cold. I estimated that it generally only takes about 3 hours to fully chill a beer once I drake one / replaced with another.

Here is another thing I liked about the insulation SMB Indiana put in the van. 1148 cavers KNOW how to party LATE into the night. Once in bed, I would throw on the vent van, and sleep like a baby with virtually no outside sound heard. I got up at 5am to water a tree and noticed that there was still some heavy metal music blaring about 100 yards away. (I did not say I was very effective at security) The point is I could not hear a sound in the van.

Tonight I decided to drive it to a restaurant to show how well it drives with my dad in town. On the way to our favorite Chinese hole in the wall, I had some guy start honking his horn and pointing at the van. I thought at first that perhaps I was dragging something along the bottom and stopped off the side of the road to check. Perhaps he was really just honking the horn and excited to see the van???
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chumley

Even though we didn't use the van as intended it was just so comfortable for the 11 hours on the road. Some of the rattling and creaking actually went away so maybe some items have worn in.
I learned a couple of things too. I need to get my own squeegie since so many at the gas stations don't have long enough handles and the windows cover about an acre. I have to be very careful exiting driveways. The wheels protecting the generator are getting a workout. I am going out driveways more diagonally now and we seem fine.

I could really get used to this.

Hope you all are enjoying your SMB. I am certainly getting there with mine.
I told my wife the same thing about having to buy a telescopic squeegee. There is no way to get up there and wash the windshield other than driving through a nice rain shower.

Finally, I do want to add that while picking the van up in Indiana I mentioned to Nancy, the primary sales rep for SMB Indiana, that it would be in her best interest to read/follow this thread. (Hi Nancy if you are reading this! ) I have noticed a few minor cosmetic issues with our van but nothing near to what you have went through in your adventure.

Tony
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Old 10-10-2012, 12:53 AM   #124
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Hey All,

Tony, thanks for the comments. I remember when we called caving "spelunking" and got reprimanded by a real caver friend. Caving is incredible, I just wonder if I would feel claustrophobic now vs. when I was younger and could crawl through that hole likely too small now for my fully matured shape. I envy you, your caving experiences and the party while in your Sportsmobile.

I think it was good to point out this thread to the Indiana crew, thanks. I hope that all of the SMB offices check this thread from time to time. I had a conversation with my wife about customer service and understanding the customer and what happened with this build. We both have some experience in this area, both practical and formal education/training. We didn't see a consistency in the treatment that we were expecting from SMB, from a company so well liked as Sportsmobile. Maybe there is something that will be a benefit to all of them as this shakes out.

Okay, fair warning, sit where it's comfortable so if you fall asleep you won't hurt yourself... I feel that there are 2 basic types of companies. The first type believes that taking care of the client first is serving the company’s best interest and understands that making clients happy makes the company money in the long run even if there are temporary losses. They work thoughtfully to understand if clients are making reasonable demands and may even give in to unreasonable ones if there are extenuating circumstances. We all talk about how great these companies are and are willing to pay a little more for the comfort of knowing we’ll be treated well. The second type are the ones that feel that the best way to look out for the company's interests is to shield itself from losses trying to satisfy client demands that might be inconvenient or costly, even if legitimate (we all know not all demands are fair or legitimate). The company comes first and the customer is a revenue stream and that’s it. Short term savings approach. We all wonder how they stay in business.

I firmly feel that if Alan Feld were personally involved the company would be represented by the first business model. With the current Sales/PM guy I saw predominantly the first type of philosophy but towards the end there were a couple attempts to deflect issues and not take responsibility (e.g. the refer was not installed square with the cabinet and the door was twisted and the first comment was that “no one but you would have noticed it”). BTW: No one else is paying for this build but me, I don't care about anyone else, just my family and me at this time.

They went ahead and ultimately fixed it but this displayed a classic style that concerns me. What if the customer did not have a "strong" personality? They might feel intimidated and just say “okay, I guess you’re right”. Is that the way you want to be treated? Distracted with a personal comment or a simple no hoping that it is enough to deflect the issue? That represents a cheap victory and winning a battle but not the war. There were many many times during the build where a potential issue with an item was explained away and I thought about it and went along with it. Could it have been argued? Sure, but would it have been worth it? Maybe but sometimes it’s good to let the little things go and focus on the bigger stuff, but you now you can only take so much of it. To this date no one has been able to point out anything that I was unreasonable about. I think a person (like at Sales/PM guy) just gets worn out hearing about this mistake and that mistake and they get numb and a critical perspective is lost. The perspective is that of the customer. If there were no mass of problems then there is nothing to discuss but there were issues and it gets old for everyone. The project burn out is a product of the self inflicted wounds and the customer is the true victim, the company has to accept its responsibility in this. Think about the customer, have empathy for the customer and start to proactively take care of things as that the customer would like (they likely know something about you at that point) after checking in with you, no surprises – even good ones. Make the customer believe that he does not have to fight for the corrections, that each one is a humbling form of education and it will be taken care of in the most painless of ways. Make you think that they are your individual proponent in a system that is good but not perfect and they know how to advocate for your rights and interests. Make the customer feel like they have the customer’s back.

There was a time when I thought that my Sales/PM Guy was on my side but after a while there was just too much to overcome and I just wasn’t sure anymore (now I have a strong belief that there was at least one major issue that was kept from me and this issue is now going to be fixed). I have worked with some people I consider to be very good at sales and marketing. Since large commercial construction projects are usually completed between groups of professionals there is not much room for less than professional conduct. No one gets to be trite and give lame excuses because they will be eaten alive. Marketing staff is open and honest and they pound on the desk of the project manager to make them take care of their client. Most marketing guys rely heavily on commissions. When a lot of an organization’s funds are at stake everyone becomes very particular about who is going to take care of their project and everyone becomes very blunt in their evaluations of performance as a practical matter. Just business. We are always trying to look ahead and see where problems might be and turn the ship before it grounds. When I started this project I had to change my expectations because I knew that the world I work in can be demanding to the unprepared. I thought I had reasonably altered my expectations but I could not give up all expectations. There have to be standards of some sort, right? Some things are just obvious and expected. Make sure it doesn’t hurt my eyes and make it all work was what I was asking for, that’s all. Going back to the refer install, was that asking for too much?

At this point the magnitude of what has happened to me makes me think that my Sales/PM Guy should look up “Crisis Management” in Wikipedia. As part of my training to deal with the media and crisis management I learned that there are successful and unsuccessful ways to manage crisis. The successful ones usually involve some form of corporate introspection and change. Think of this as a crisis on a personal level. No one died or was injured but the fundamentals are the same. If I remember correctly, when the news cameras show up at the front doors you: A. Briefly describe the crisis, B. Apologize to the victims and show remorse, C. Summarize the problem and accept responsibility, D. Provide a plan for emerging from the crisis. Also, customer service training would usually teach you to recognize what state of anguish the customer is in when contacted. If they appear agitated and want to vent, let them. Do not try to explain or correct anything. Just listen, DO NOT interrupt them, everything you say will sound trite. Maybe they put salt instead of sugar in their coffee and still haven’t gotten over it but likely someone screwed up and there is a victim talking. If they are rational then have a thoughtful conversation but the last thing is to include a string of excuses because they are your company’s problem and not the customer’s, his problem is you and your company, respect that if you want their business and others like them. You need to make them feel like you are on their side and you care (and you do) and you will work together to a resolution. I’ll stop there, I am sure many of you are better at this than I am but I think I got the fundamentals here. Why did I go through all of this? I’ll let you read between the lines.

So why did I go there? Oh yeah, I’ll go back to why I went off on this tangent.

I was sitting in a motel room in Minden Nevada last Saturday while my wife slept in the late afternoon. We got to the room and she handed me a beer and she took a Benadryl because something in the room gave her an allergy attack. We were supposed to be sitting in the mountains in the fresh air and enjoying our new investment. You know how it is when you’re driving along and talking about how wonderful everything is going to be and what you’re going to do in this wonderful new Sportsmobile van. You’re having this wonderful conversation and you are just happy. You have put all of the stupid stuff that happened in the last couple of weeks behind you and you are just drinking it all in. This is why you went through all of this and paid what you did for this incredible van. Then the wheels fall off as water starts coming out of the heater and everyone’s disposition changes. So much has happened the last few weeks and we had pushed it all aside but it all came back and all I remember was seeing that look of disappointment and hearing her say “I hate this thing”. So I watch her sleeping and I sit down and write my next post to this forum. I actually felt a bit of rage. I rarely feel that since I just seem to compartmentalize or detach myself but this was just too personal and when the one you care about and really wanted to be happy was so disappointed then… what do you really do? Feed the anger or try to make it better? I stopped and rewrote the post. I decided that the next day would have some of the most essential parts of the trip kept in the plan and we would enjoy ourselves and let the people who created this problem suffer, not us. I posted to the forum and my wife read it and she felt better. Something about getting out and expressing yourself. We decided to have a nice meal and try to enjoy ourselves. We did, it was an expensive meal for eating in a motel room but it was worth it. Anytime you are in Minden I recommend Buona Sera, good food and good people.

Sunday we stopped at the Whoa Nelly Deli just as she had been talking about for at least a year. It was one of the many things we talked about doing when we were still just dreaming of this van. As she said “check this one off the bucket list”. I wish that the SMB folks could see both the night before and the day after, there was such a contrast and if I were them I would fully focus on making sure only one of those two happened regularly.

We really enjoyed the rest of the day in our Sprinter (the Mercedes part performed well). I relaxed and I decided that I would go back to approaching this build businesslike.

You can never be in a hurry when trying to correspond with someone at SMB but if you are persistent you will eventually be in contact with someone. I was home Monday since we drove until midnight and was groggy in the morning but went to work trying to get our SMB van right. After it was right we could start to put distance between us and the bad memories and maybe think of the folks at SMB as something other than phone numbers and extensions. I do not tolerate someone talking to me or my staff in an unprofessional manner and if not that at least respectful. No one should ever be crapped on if they were not the one directly responsible for your issues. I called and was very respectful of the Customer Service guy even though there was some early morning groggy rage lingering. I talk with the Customer Service Guy and he is nice but likes to try to explain what is going on and tries to talk over you at times. I was actually just wanting to vent for a while but then I decided to go to work and get some stuff done. So we got the following resolved.

The dash will now be replaced. They have the guy that does the stereo install involved and this is what he does. I know the guy and feel that he is the most trustworthy and can likely do it, I ascertain from my conversation that no one from SMB is comfortable with this, I agree. It will now include the instrument cluster lens (plastic) since it is scratched and sawdust has gotten behind it. The instrument cluster will be replaced too if necessary. Alan has given his blessing to this plan. I also added that if this does not work and it is not all “perfect” then the fallback is that they pay for my local dealer to do the work. Of course, as usual, there is no firm and direct agreement but I would like to think that there is a tacit agreement to this.

The plumbing will likely be fixed that same day. My digital photos (the ones I posted here) provided a wealth of information and they used them to come to the conclusion that this can be done the same day too.

I never got a call back from my old Sales/PM guy even thought I was polite enough to leave a “firm and expressive message” with him on Saturday night. I think I clearly stated that I wanted to talk to him as soon as he heard it. I even called him “my friend”.

So where am I right now?

I am actually starting to feel good about what is going to happen on Thursday. I trust the guy that is replacing the dash. The plumbing will likely get fixed. The other issues I mentioned will all be fixed. I found a small cut on the leather driver’s seat that they will look at, maybe do something. They have a full day of work and they say they can do it. What do you think?

As I posted previously I think that SMB is talking about all of this internally now. This is the time to get a new rig built just based upon everyone being on alert. How long it lasts I have no idea. Windguy, I got me some rose colored glasses, but they are flip ups so I can still see clearly, at times.

Remember, the last phase of crisis management is to prepare a plan to emerge from the crisis, hopefully a better company. It starts with introspection from what I am told.

Thanks for putting up with me, I really thought that I was done with all of this... Can you believe all of this?

Chumley
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Old 10-10-2012, 10:38 AM   #125
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chumley
Hey All,

Tony, thanks for the comments. I remember when we called caving "spelunking" and got reprimanded by a real caver friend. Caving is incredible, I just wonder if I would feel claustrophobic now vs. when I was younger and could crawl through that hole likely too small now for my fully matured shape. I envy you, your caving experiences and the party while in your Sportsmobile.
My standard reply is "Cavers rescue spelunkers"
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Old 10-10-2012, 11:27 AM   #126
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

We were one of the first Sprinter conversions done by SMB in the spring of 2008. I can only think of one thing we had them change.

The microwave (mounted below the counter-top) was crooked. I had them line it up . . . and later discovered that when the gaucho is extended and you squeeze by the cabinets the door handle on the microwave trys to grab your leg. Left in the original position there would have been no problem!

We did get an extra outside electrical plug at no charge (lol). They installed the first one where when the sliding door was open you couldn't get to it. They discovered that mistake.

Maybe our design was easier. No shower, no engine water heater, no generator but it is great for my wife, me and Presley, our dog (http://www.facebook.com/PresleyAndFriends). 80K on it now. I have done a lot of mods on it and know changes I will make on the next one.

Some folks are luckier than others I suppose.

Regards,

Keith
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Old 10-10-2012, 04:05 PM   #127
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Tony, I guess I would be a spelunker. But I never had to be rescued. I wish I had pictures of the draperies (like bacon) and helictites I saw in my limited underground experiences. Incredible.

Keith, I so wish that I only had one change, that would represent perfect to me. I did not think that my build was complex at the time. However there have been some recent comments made that might confirm what you are saying about it being too complex (or not simple). But I was not told it would be tough for them when we were planning the build. Of course what would you expect them to say? No, that looks real hard, maybe not? I was warned by a few here on this board that this might be an issue but I am having problems with basic stuff here, not the stuff you might consider complex. Maybe there is a magic number of items that can be installed well and then they lose attention. Of course I've only used the refer so far so who knows what else might be lurking. Hmmm... I think tomorrow at the repair appointment I will have them run everything while I am there to make sure it all works properly now.

If I knew then what I now know then I might have done things differently but then I might not have done it at all because it would not have met our needs. If a company says they can build they need to build it right.

I really think that sometimes there can be a job where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. I joke about the build being cursed but I think it can be boiled down to some basics. Here are some of my theories with examples. There is a normal routine and it can override specific directions to the contrary. The "that's the way we always do it" comment that includes microwave without venting, refer without lower vent and the vinyl ottomen instead of leather. People can become robots (maybe rotate their duties once in a while?). The office doesn't confirm directions have been received by the shop and they are fully understood (put about everything that happened on this item). I keep hearing "that was not communicated well". The shop makes changes on their own because "they know better" (my countertop and backsplash were delivered contrary to our specific agreement and the window trim around the bath window same thing, same reason). The office doesn't check in and review the work and the shop foreman has great latitude to do things the way he sees fit. This would explain why I would ask the Sales/PM guy how they were going to fix the floor that was cut short, then with the hanging cabinet, and I would only be told that "I will like it". They get rushed, but by who? The dash had holes in it and I was not told it was patched and painted. This makes me wonder if there had been some sort of budget controls that kicked in and they just wanted to get it done (again) and stop losing money. I could be wrong but nobody will talk to me about it so until told wrong I will believe what I wrote.

The sheer number of mistakes clearly indicates that they have a problem right now, or had a problem. No matter how simple or complex the job. I would love to hear from someone else who recently picked up a SMB West Sprinter. I can tell you I saw a blue one go out without the venting I was told was required for the microwave unit by the Sales/PM guy. How long will it last? Or was the comment about needing venting just and excuse and then was meant for "the ether"?

I got thinking about what to do if you go on a trip immediately after the build is done. Something Windguy said got me thinking. Maybe SMB could make arrangements with key RV repair shops around the country to take in SMB customers as emergencies and then debit some sort of SMB account if the issue is legitimately an SMB warranty issue. Maybe call and SMB representative and get a credit card number from them after a description of the work. Something along those lines, a way to make SMB customers (like me) feel like they can be care for on the road, just in case. I am going to be very nervous for a while on this trip coming up and I don't think I deserve that, do you?

I will be sitting in the SMB office all day tomorrow so I will try to get my project closing posts ready to go.

I really, really look forward to having everything fixed.

I hope I get an SMB extended warranty now too. I think it would be appropriate now.

I want everything fixed and a memory wipe. That would be good.

Thanks.

Chumley
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Old 10-10-2012, 06:46 PM   #128
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Quote:
Originally Posted by kmessinger
Some folks are luckier than others I suppose.
Keith, I'm pretty sure this has nothing to do with luck, sadly.
more like craftsmanship, quality and not being jaded about the process you are doing.
Remember the old saying about American made cars, don't buy one made on Monday or Friday.
That was before quality assurance was introduced to manufacturing in the US. It's done for a reason.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kmessinger
We did get an extra outside electrical plug at no charge (lol). They installed the first one where when the sliding door was open you couldn't get to it. They discovered that mistake.
glad you were able to handle a rookie move like that, more so than I would have been. prior to your first Sprinter build in 2008, SMBW was still working on vans with sliders and barn doors. same issues for those vans as for yours. mark the location of something and check it thoroughly before cutting into a $40K van.
I guess if surgeons can cut off the wrong body limbs then a misplaced outlet isn't so bad.

you have to remember that Chumley's van was gutted after it was pretty far along because someone couldn't read a floorplan and nobody was checking his work. It was the customer that discovered the discrepancy. That's not bad luck.

Hey Chumley - hope all goes well on Thursday with your fixes. bring a toothbrush and a change of clothes just in case you run into some bad luck!
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Old 10-10-2012, 09:12 PM   #129
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chumley
There is a normal routine and it can override specific directions to the contrary. The "that's the way we always do it" comment that includes microwave without venting, refer without lower vent and the vinyl ottomen instead of leather. People can become robots (maybe rotate their duties once in a while?). The office doesn't confirm directions have been received by the shop and they are fully understood (put about everything that happened on this item). I keep hearing "that was not communicated well". The shop makes changes on their own because "they know better" (my countertop and backsplash were delivered contrary to our specific agreement and the window trim around the bath window same thing, same reason). The office doesn't check in and review the work and the shop foreman has great latitude to do things the way he sees fit. ................... This makes me wonder if there had been some sort of budget controls that kicked in and they just wanted to get it done (again) and stop losing money. I could be wrong but nobody will talk to me about it so until told wrong I will believe what I wrote.
Chumley,

I think that you got it right. However I think that the "budgetary control" that kicked in was the realization that wage increases are tied to the number of vehicles built. Unfortunate, but true.

You found this out as it was happening because you were able (forced) to visit SMB every week. Many of us just make 1 or 2 visits and accept the unit the way it was built. I was fortunate in that those items that I could not accept, I fixed myself. I was, however, forced to live with the mis-location of the Fantastic Fan. It was clearly specified to be located adjacent to the shower but was installed "where we always do it".

We are very happy with our Sprinter and are looking forward to many happy miles, I sincerely hope that you arrive at this point as well.

Good Luck,
JIM
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Old 10-11-2012, 11:39 AM   #130
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Our back splash goes all the way out. I did not think about it could break so will be extra carful not to use to use it as a handle. Our microwave is not vented. Doesn't require it looking at the manuals. I don't doubt yours needs venting but I just don't understand why.

Ours has particle board not plywood and our "veneer" is just paper . The particle board will absorb water and swell up so I was told so a leak like you had would be bad. I think I will pull the gaucho (after the play-offs - Game 5 tonight) and check all the water lines. Need to do that ever so ofter as it gets very dirty underneath. I went thru mine this spring and tightened all the screws I could reach. It really made a difference in noise from the back.

I don't believe they painted the dash! I mean I do believe it but do not understand why SMB woiuld do such a thing. I don't think that normal for SMB.

Don't forget to get it weighed - each axle and a gross so you know the actual numbers. And for tires, I am going for these (discussion - http://sprinter-source.com/forum/showthread.php?t=22633) the next time. Not sure if they will work with your dualies.

I do a lot of work, maintence, mods on mine. I think with a lot of the SMB owners it becomes somewhat of a hobby. My 8 year old neighbor asked me a while back, "Hey Mr. Keith, are you playing with your car again?" I guess I was.

Regards,

Keith
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