Ethical Car Dealers Attract the Best Customers
Dear Florida Car Dealer:
In past columns I have “confessed” to advertising and employing sales tactics in years past that I am not proud of today. I hasten to say that I never did anything illegal, but 20 to 40 years ago my ethical standards were a lot lower than they are today. I evolved and my customers evolved. Consumers today are far better educated, informed, and demanding than those of three decades back. As I my business practices, sales tactics, and advertising improved, I noticed a very interesting, positive parallel improvement in the kind of customers my company was attracting. It was a sort of a “push-pull” phenomenon. I needed to get better to meet the expectations of my customers and, as I improved, I attracted a better kind of customer.
Today, my customers are smarter, more affluent, better educated, and “nicer”. There’s a good reason for this. For one thing, my advertising is totally ethical and honest. I don’t advertise used cars for $99, I don’t advertise that, if you buy vehicle you can get a second one free, and I don’t advertise a car below cost knowing that there is only one available which is next to impossible for the customer to buy. When you advertise like this, you attract people who are uneducated, gullible, naive or expecting “something for nothing”. The smart, fair dealing customers who know that “there is no such thing as a free lunch” buy their cars from me. I don’t surprise my customers with a dealer fee/doc fee ranging up to $1,000 which is nothing more than profit to you. In fact, many of my customers were almost yours, until you tried to “slip in” your dealer fee. A lot of my service customers used to be your service customers until they discovered that you charge an extra 5% or 10% on their service bill and tried to justify it by calling it “sundry supplies”, “shop supplies” or “environmental impact fee”.
So, you ask, what’s so great about having smart, educated, affluent, and nice customers? Well, for one thing, I don’t get sued like you do and I don’t get nasty letters from the BBB, County Office of Consumer Affairs, and Florida Attorney General’s Office. The last time I was sued was about 7 years ago. Ironically, my customer’s lawyer sued me because I settled a dispute with his client (my customer). After he wrote me a letter saying he was suing me I called his customer on the phone, drove out to her home, sat down with her and her husband at her kitchen table and settled our differences over a cup of coffee. This lawyer sued me because I had deprived him of the fee he would have charged her if he could have sued me. It’s an ongoing saga after all these years. It’s too long a story to tell here, but I will write a column about it one day. I’m guessing that the car dealers who read this column (and I know you do) have at least a half dozen lawsuits going on all of the time.
Another great thing about having nicer, smarter, more affluent customers is that they treat my employees and me with courtesy and respect, just like we treat them. I love to walk into my dealership because customers smile and wave and even stop me to tell me how well they were treated. Customers, who don’t see me in person, know that all they have to do is pick up one of four red phones located in the showroom, service drive, next to the service cashier, and in the body shop to be in immediate personal contact with me. I even give my customers my business card with my home phone number and my cell phone number. Most of the calls that I get are complimentary, just like my personal encounters. You wouldn’t do what I do because you couldn’t. Your secretary screens your phone calls and you wouldn’t dare give your home or cell phone number to a customer. By the way, if you aren’t familiar with my dealership, I probably sell a lot more cars than you do…I average about 475 a month. I have a lot more customers than you, so it’s not like I’m a little rural car dealer who can get away with what I do because I have so few customers.
Here’s another benefit of having such nice, intelligent customers. They don’t have unrealistic expectations like your customers. Remember that you probably tricked your customer into coming in with your advertising. If it worked and your customer bought a car from you thinking that you really could give him $10,000 minimum trade allowance on his car which was really worth only $500, you have reinforced his unrealistically high expectations. In his future dealings with you, he will continue to believe that he can get “something for nothing”. When you finally have to tell him “no”, he’s going to be mad, maybe even sue you.
There are other benefits, too numerous to mention, of having such happy, nice customers. Wouldn’t you like to come to work in that environment? Just think, no more law suits, no more nasty letters from governmental agencies, no more threats from the factory about your customer satisfaction index, and you could walk right through your service department or through your showroom without fear of being accosted by an irate customer. If you would like to give this a try, I would love to discuss it with you personally at any time. This is my 5th open letter to car dealers and I have yet to receive the first phone call… just a few nasty, anonymous emails. Maybe you will be the first to call.