Saturday, June 21, 2008

HOW TO COMMUNICATE BEST WITH YOUR CAR DEALER

As many of you know, I communicate directly with my customers. Some would say to a fault. I don’t have a secretary or administrative assistant. My dealership’s telephone receptionist never asks the caller “who’s calling” or “may I ask the nature of your call?” and she puts my calls (and the calls to all my employees) right through. If I am not in my office, she puts them through automatically to my cell phone…7 days a week. I also have four red phones in four locations of my dealership…the showroom floor by the receptionist, the service customer waiting lounge, outdoors in the service drive, and in the body shop waiting lounge. Each phone has a picture of me with the message, “Customer Hotline To Earl Stewart. The Buck Stops Here. Have We Not Exceeded Your Expectations? Please Let Me Know. Simply Pick Up The Receiver And Wait For Me To Answer.” As if all this wasn’t enough, I put my home telephone number and cell phone number on my business cards and pass them out to my new customers at our bimonthly New Owners Dinner.

I say all this, not to brag (or maybe just a little). It might surprise you that I am not deluged with phone calls. I get quite a few, but considering I sell 400-500 cars a month and service thousands of cars each month, I doubt if I average more that 25 calls per day. Most of them are positive, complimentary calls. I believe one reason for this is that my employees are motivated to work harder to satisfy my customers because they know, if they don’t, I’m going to hear about it very quickly. Another reason is that my customers are remarkably respectful of the fact that they can call me and do not take advantage of it. Frankly, my wife, Nancy, was very nervous about this when I first started passing out my business card with my home telephone number. Would you believe that I don’t get more than 5 or 6 home calls a week? When you extend your trust to people, they almost always respect that and do not take advantage.

Of course, you are not going to find a lot of car dealers who do what I do. But here is how you can improve your communications in other ways that will allow you to get problems solved and promises kept. Always ask for the business card of every person you deal with. If they don’t have a card, be sure to get their name. This improves your service right away because the person is no longer anonymous. Ask the person for his cell phone number. There was a time when it was considered wrong to call someone on his cell phone, but that was before cell phone rates became so cheap and the cell phone became universal. If this is a critical person you are dealing with, ask for his home telephone number too. Here is a little trick that I use when I do this. I always start out by giving them my cell phone and my home phone number. Then I say “and may I have yours?” I can’t remember ever having been refused. If someone you are doing business with refuses to give you his cell or home phone number, maybe you should wonder why.

Also, make it a point to be introduced to this person’s manager. Get the manager’s business card and as many contact numbers as he is willing to share with you. When you do this, you have put the salesman or service advisor on notice that if he doesn’t return your phone calls you will be calling his boss. If you really want to have an edge, ask to meet the general manager and/or owner of the dealership. Get his telephone numbers. Now you will have everybody’s attention when you come into the dealership to transact business.

If you are a “computer person”, collect email addresses from everybody you deal with. Email is not as timely as a telephone, but it has the advantage over the telephone because it is “on the record”. When you make a request of a person by email, he can’t deny it because you have a copy of the message. I know that with Microsoft Outlook email, I get an acknowledgement every time somebody opens an email that I sent them. Furthermore you can copy as many people as you like with an email. You can send copies that the primary recipient knows about or make them blind copies that he can’t tell were sent. Someone is a lot more likely to act on your request when he knows that it is a matter of record and his boss was copied with the email.

If you can force yourself into the habit of getting names, telephone numbers, and email addresses from everybody you deal with and their managers, conducting business with your car dealer (or any other business) will be much smoother and trouble free.

14 comments:

  1. Mr. Stewart,

    My mother decided to lease a car through your store because I leased one from you several months ago. After going through the process of deciding which car, haggling over the price and getting a lease quote, the salesman just called me to tell me there was an error in the quote and the cost will be higher. I know we all can make mistakes but this sounds like a bait and switch to me. Now, we will have to start over trying to find a car and lease that will meet my mother's finances. This puts pressure on us because we just wasted two weeks dealing with your store. I have to ask myself...was this the plan from the beginning??

    I am sorry to send this in a 'public' forum but there isn't a personal email listed on your website.

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  2. Dear Edwin K,

    I sincerely apologize for the bad experience you had with my salesman.

    My email addresss is earls@earlstewarttoyota.com and my cell phone number is 561 358-1474. If you will give me the details of the situation I will do anything I can to make this right.

    Thanks very much for letting me know.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh my god! Earl Stewart Toyota made a mistake and tried to take more money from the customer. Not the great Earl Stewart! He is perfect and does everything he can to fight for the customer.

    I told you all that Earl doesn't charge dealer fees so he has to try and get you in other ways.

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  4. EARL.......rather than sugar coat every response, such as " we don't charge over MSRP" can't you just admit that you try to make as much profit per deal as is possible, be it $100 or $5000....come on, you're a car dealer. Any person with common sense knows that it' the nature of the car business. It doesn't matter if you charge a dealer fee, you can under allow on trade ins (or are you the Mother Teresa of the Auto industry?). What counts is the final "out-the-door", right? Tell me you don't want your salespeople to leave money on the table.

    Anxiously awaiting your response. Address the issues, please don't challenge me to a public debate that you know will never happen.
    Your "anti-dealer fee" crusade is nothing more that a brilliant way to gwet free publicity

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  5. Dear Anonymous Car Dealer,

    If you want me to "admit" that I try to make my business as profitable as possible, I confess. If you want me to tell you that I resort to price-gouging, deceptive advertising, unethical sales practices, and dealer fees to reach this goal, you're dead wrong.

    You just don't "get it" do you? You can't understand the difference between giving a customer an honest out-the-door price which allows her to shop and compare that price and bait and switch ads with a dealer fee "gotcha" suprise at the end.

    My dealership sells a lot more cars and makes a much bigger profit than yours because my customer do "get it". They buy more cars from me and bring those cars back to me for service, parts, and body repair. Making a good profit in a car dealership results from good volume and a balanced operation from all departments. Don't you understand that when your customers find out that you tricked them, they won't be back for service or to ever buy another car from you?

    Maybe I am the "Mother Teresa" of the retail car business. In the eyes of a rapidly growning number of South Floridians, my dealership is one of the few that they can trust when they buy a car or have it serviced.

    You say "please don't challenge me to a public debate that you know will never happen". The only reason it won't happen is because you are afraid to debate me. If you think I'm dishonest, what better forum than a public debate to expose me? You can choose the time and place and you can bring as many car dealers with you as you like. I promise to come alone, but I do insist that we have a public audience. It can be radio, TV, a PB County Public Library, Rotary or Kiwanis Club, Condominium Association, Retired Military Officers Association, United Aircraft Retirement Club, or any other open public forum you suggest. I speak in front of these groups almost every week and can arrange for you to be invited to appear on the dais with me.

    The only logical reason for your refusal is your realization that your argument will fall apart in a public forum under my scrutiny.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mr.Stewart

    I never accused you of being dishonest, price gouging, having deceptive advertising, unethical sales practices or charging dealer fees.I merely stated that you "no dealer fee" campaign was a brilliant marketing ploy in order to get free publicity ( advertising). As I expected, you tap danced your way around answering my questions. Thanks for your time.

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  7. Earl,

    Why if any time a blogger gets on and makes statements about your company you automatically assume he/she used to work for you or they are a car dealer. Why can't they be like me. Someone who knows you for who you really are and wants to show your customers how to read between the lines. You are dishonest when it comes to dealing with your customers. You do allow your service department to perform services on customers vehicles that are not needed and then you cover it up by saying it's because of the harsh area we live in. Don't you hear what you are saying. So what you are telling your customers is that because we live in a harsh climate you have to change you 100,000 mile coolant at 30,000 miles? Are you serious? Don't you think Toyota take into account that their vehicles, which are built in this country, are going to be in freezing weather as well are sub-tropical weather. As you seriously that dumb to believe that Toyota doesn't know that they sell cars in Florida and that their 100,000 coolant last 100,000 miles in Florida as well as New York. What about the transmission flushes. You use the same logic? Come on. Most transmissions fluids now never need to be changed. Toyota spends billions of dollars on research and developement to know this information. Let's look at another thing. Why now? The reason why you are standing behind this un-honest practice of flushing brake fluid, power steering fluid and transmisson and coolant at intervals not matching the Toyota guide line is because you have hired people from another dishonest Toyota dealership and they have brought this dishonesty to your service department. You have been warned that your retention is dropping and you refuse to see it. Your survey scores are horrible and you say it's because everyone else is cheating. What does everyone else cheating have to do with YOU getting bad scores on surveys? Nothing!!!! The scores reflect the true feeling of your customers and again this all started with your new management team, new ASM's and new technicians. Please don't respond because I don't want to hear your lame excuses and I don't want to hear you blame everyone else.

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  8. Earl, you need to get a life and wake up. Your SPSI sucks, your service department is falling apart and the only growth you have is because they are selling service items not needed to service customers. Anyone can do that. You are a thief and a liar. I know, I know I will hear from a blogger stating how great you are because they heard you speak at some engagement. You are a joke and you are trying to make a profit by stealing

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  9. I had an irresistible impulse to join all these people that are trying to drop your mask revealing your undeniable dirty way of doing business.
    Your website is full of lies. You do not sell 400 or 500 cars a month as you say. It is published in your website the name of other Toyota Dealer and its dealer fees, this is disgusting.
    You have refused to answer the most simple and basic question:
    DOES EARL STEWART TOYOTA SELL CARS FOR LESS THAN OTHER TOYOTA DEALERS? This is a YES or NO question! Be a man and say: Although I do not charge dealer fees, I can not SAY that I sell cars for less than any other Toyota dealers. Drop your mask once and for all.
    You have heightened everyone’s awareness of your unethical business practices. DO NOT FORGET THE SAYING: What goes around comes around, wait and see.

    ReplyDelete
  10. looks like you have pushed this "holier than thou" thing past the breaking point, Mr. Stewart

    ReplyDelete
  11. Earl,

    You are not telling the truth. What month did you sell 400 or 500 Toyotas? This is bull****!!!! You don't sell that many cars. You may export that many cars, which is not a legal method of doing business. Sounds like you are being dishonest again. You are not the biggest service department either. I think you rank 10th out of 14th. Again lies, lies, lies. I invite anyone who reads this blog to look at Earl Stewart Toyotas website. Compare prises with any other dealership and you WILL find that Earl Stewart charges more for basic services. He has to to cover the hidden charges. You will also find that he recommends service work NOT NEEDED regardless of what state we live in. Tropical climate my butt. You will also find that his out the door price is not different from anyones elses out the door price. Out the door means OUT THE DOOR regardless of what dealer you go to or it dealer fees are involved. Out the door is out the door. Earl is covering up a much larger picture. For years he had to rake customers over the coals to survive in the crappy little dealership. Now you have built a new dealership and need to pay for it. You have a new tactic of making all these claims that you are the best and as you are fully aware people believe in what they read. You are disgusting, rude, arrogant, criminal and a liar.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have looked on Earls website. I pay less for an oil change with tax and shop supplies then the price he charges without tax. I pay $29.00 with tax and shop supplies. Earl Stewart charges $29.99 before tax. Seems like more money to me. Another thing I noticed on Earls website is that the majority of his employees have only worked there a couple of years. A large percentage started this year. The Toyota dealership I use, which is close by, has had the same service people there for years. Says something to me. Good luck Earl, I am sure you will do fine.

    Anthony Pertrulio

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  13. Dear Anthony Pertrulio,

    First let me congratulate you for stating your name even though you chose to criticize my dealership. This differentiates you from those anonymous wackos who lie and call me names while hiding under a rock. Unlike them, you are no coward and have the courage to say who you are.

    I will address your two criticisms. I never claimed to have the lowest priced oil change in PB County. It doesn't surprise me that you were able to find someone who would change your oil for a couple of dollars less. We use the best oil, Mobil specified by Toyota and genuine Toyota oil filters. A Toyota oil filter which is more expensive than a generic oil filter, is uniquely designed with an overflow valve that will protect your Toyota's engine. Our technicians are the the best in the business trained by Toyota. Are you aware that there are a lot of companies selling cheap oil changes that used waste oil that is recycled?

    Regarding my having a lot of employees who have been with me for a short time. This is true but this is because my sales volume has nearly tripled in the past 5 years. Five years ago I was the smallest Toyota dealership in PB County and now I'm the largest. I've gone from 63 employees to over 140. My core employees have been with me for many year... Some since I began business in 1975.

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  14. To the numerous, anonymous, name-callers:

    I'm not sure what you guys think you are accomplishing by shot-gunning lies about me and my dealership. The only reason I bother to respond is because this elicits more of your self-incriminating diatribe which makes my case even stronger.

    Your accusations carry no weight because you are afraid to crawl out from under your rock of anonymity and face me like a man and because you have no facts. I have answered most of your lies and distortions, but you seem to think by repeating the charges they will somehow carry more weight.

    One of you [is it the one who cannot spell Prius...pries!!]says that I don't sell 400 to 500 vehicles a month and I lie about it on my Web site. My financial statement through May shows that I have sold 1,669 new and used vehicles. Divide that by 5 and you get an average of 433 vehicles per month. If you still think I'm lying, let's each put up $10K in escrow, call in a CPA to audit my books, and the winner takes all. Put your money where your mouth is, you Bozo!

    Another of you anonymous, envious car salesmen/managers wants me to admit that I make as much money, or more, selling cars than other dealers do. He doesn't like me telling him the truth about no dealer fee and no markups over MSRP like his dealerships does. The fact is that I may well average more profit per car than most other dealerships. But there is a very good, honest reason for this. I am the largest seller of hybrid cars in the USA except for a few dealers in California. Hybrids are high demand, low supply vehicles. Because I have never price gouged like other dealers, I have earned far more hybrid production then they which is why I sell 10 or 20 times the number of hybrids they do. These dealers who price gouge are making more per hybrid but I'm selling a huge amount more vehicles. When I sell a hybrid for MSRP, I make a very good profit which is still far less than they charge. This raises my overall average profit for vehicles...probably above the profit per vehicle of most dealers.

    This does not mean that I charge more than other dealers for all my models. It just mean that I'm able to earn more production and sell more vehicles of the high-demand, low supply category. This may be too complicated for some of these Bozos to grasp, especially the one who can't spell Prius.

    Lastly, the Bozo who is criticizing my SPSI. This proves that he is affliated with a Toyota dealer competitor. For those readers of this blog who are not affiliated with Toyota, SPSI stands for service-parts-satisfaction-index. It is one of several measure of customer satisfaction derived from customer surveys. The scores are published weekly and I have had some low scores. In fact, my average score in the first 5 months is too low. However, "one swallow does not make a summer" and my score will be high by the end of the year. Because my service department is growing faster than any other in South Florida, we have had growing pains especially with parking and getting the work done on time.

    What this Bozo did not want to tell you was that Earl Stewart Toyota was the only winner of the 2007 President's Award between Vero Beach and Ft. Lauderdale. The President's Award is the highest award Toyota gives for customer satisfaction. It also requires other accomplishments in sales, facilities, and profitiablity. No other Toyota dealeship in Palm Beach, Martin, or St. Lucie County won this except mine.

    OK, you Bozos...bring it on.

    ReplyDelete

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