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Saturday, June 28, 2008

When We Make a Mistake

Typically I reserve my blog postings for consumer advice issues. I tend to shy away from mentioning my Toyota dealership directly. I do this to lend credibility to the opinions I publish. However, you may have noticed a lot of dialogue that goes on in the comments section of each posting. One recent comment was left by a customer who was very concerned with an issue that arose with his mother's lease of a new RAV4. His mother was quoted a lease payment when she ordered the vehicle. The problem arose when the salesperson called her to let her know that a mistake was made, and the payment was now $11/month higher. She was, understandably, upset. Her son had leased a vehicle from me recently and had a good experience, so he was also very concerned and angry that the change was made. I forwarded the comments to my general sales manager (who happens to be my son) and asked him to investigate. I have pasted the email correspondence below to illustrate what happens when we make a mistake. I removed last names and the email address/phone number of my customer.

From: Stu Stewart Sent: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 7:52 PMTo: Earl Stewart; Jason StewartCc: Josh StewartSubject: RE: Response to blog

I called and left a voicemail for Mr. K.

The sales manager made a mistake and worked the lease with a bank that does not residualize aftermarket leather. Honoring the original quote means he’d dip $150 into holdback, which he should have done (he was keeping the deal at just $250 over invoice). The RAV is here and the leather is installed. This type of mistake shouldn't have been brought to the customer's attention - we should have absorbed the loss and moved on.

I’m going to apologize, honor the quote at $388, and tell him exactly what happened.

Stu Stewart EARL STEWART TOYOTA1215 US 1 Lake Park, FL 33403V: 561.635.1349 F: 561.863.7536

From: Earl Stewart Sent: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 6:19 PMTo: Jason Stewart; Stu StewartCc: Josh Stewart; David SilversteinSubject: FW: Response to blog

Please investigate this and call Mr. K with an explanation.



From: XXXXX Sent: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 6:10 PMTo: Earl StewartSubject: Response to blog

Mr. Stewart,

I am sorry to respond via email, but I am still very angry about my situation. I just spoke with my mother concerning the call I received today about the increase in the lease price that your salesman quoted us. She wasn’t too pleased either.

I leased a RAV4 from you in February and my mother really likes it. She currently leases a car which the term is up soon. I approached Mr. D on June 12th with the RAV4 model and options that my mother wanted. My mother is on a fixed income, so, there is a limit to what she can pay per month on a lease. After several emails concerning price and options we were able to get the lease price to where it fit her finances. My mother reduced the mileage allowance and gave up the auto sensing mirror in order to get the numbers to work. We received a quote from Mr. D that was $388 per month. My mother agreed to this deal and a deposit of $585 has been paid for the RAV4.

Today I get a call from Mr. D that an error was made on the lease deal and that the best available option is now $399 per month. My mother can’t pay the new amount.

What is curious about the $399 amount? It was the first quote Mr. D gave us and it was with a 15,000/year mileage allowance and the mirror. What is frustrating about this is we spent the two weeks negotiating this and now I have to start over with another dealer and/or vehicle that she likes. She also made an appointment this week to return her current car that she will have to cancel.

Your company sells or leases hundreds of cars a month…so, how can this happen?

Below is a copy of the email where I received the quote or $388.

Edwin K

Reacting quickly to a mistake like this is crucial. My sales manager made a poor judgement call and made a decision to ask the customer to bear the brunt of his mistake. It was a small amount of money to the dealership, but it was a very big deal for our customer. This afternoon, Edwin's mother took delivery of her new 2008 RAV4 Limited. We have also implemented a process change that will help us prevent something like this from occurring again.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


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.