Run a Small Business? Treating Clients Right Is Easy – Just Don’t Do What the Car Dealer Did to Me

Last month I went out and bought a shiny, brand new car. The car’s nice, but I wanted to share my experience with the sales rep I worked with, and the dealership that ultimately took care of me by not really taking care of me. And it wasn’t so much that I was at the dealership for 4 hours, they had no snacks to eat or that I was shuttled between two competing sales reps, it was the way I was treated after the purchase.

Once the paperwork was signed, the sales rep was far more interested in getting referrals from me that ensuring I was treated remarkably. In order to make sure that he was foremost on my mind when I left the dealership, the sales rep gave me a stack of his business cards that could have weighed down an elephant. I guess his thought was, “The more cards I give him, the more he’ll pass out and the more customers I’ll bring in.” He then explained that for each sucker, I mean person I got to buy a car from him he would present me with $100 – wow, that’s roughly .027% of the purchase price! As you can guess from my tone, I recycled his cards and didn’t give him a second thought.

The sales rep had the car detailed, put a full tank of gas in it and gave me 10 coupons I had to fill out and mail in to maybe win a prize. That’s it, nothing memorable and nothing remarkable. Now I bought a nicer car this time, in fact the nicest I’ve ever owned, but that really shouldn’t matter no matter what kind of car I bought. I got the “run of the mill” treatment and yet the sales rep wants me to talk to all of my friends and colleagues about him. Ironically, had he been genuinely concerned about providing remarkable service I would have kept his business cards and yes I would have sent people his way.

I know what you might be thinking, “He didn’t do badly”. I’d have to agree with you, but I am reminded of something Seth Godin, a leading marketing guru wrote in his book Free Prize Inside, “Being good is bad”. My sales rep was okay, he was “good”, but he wasn’t memorable or remarkable, and that’s just good enough to get my business – once. Seth also goes on to say, “There are two types of businesses: remarkable and invisible”. This sales rep and car dealership were not remarkable.

Here’s the crux of the issue: the sales rep wants me to think of my experience as memorable, if not remarkable, but he didn’t do anything or say to make me feel that. The dealership was even worse, since the transaction they’ve sent me two form emails and a letter in the mail thanking me for visiting the dealership and informing me that they want to sell me a car – this is AFTER I had already purchased one. One of the form emails was from a Sales Manager I never met, and the other one was from the Customer Relations Director. Funny, in this woman’s actual title are the words, “CUSTOMER RELATIONS”, and yet she sent out a form email saying, “I trust you had good service and I trust you had all of your questions answered” – pathetic. Instead of “trusting”, how about picking up the phone and ASKING? No such luck.

To be fair, what if I was in the sales rep’s position, what would I have done to be remarkable? How about:

  • Sending out a personal, hand-written card
  • Free car washes for a month
  • A photograph of me at the dealership with my new car
  • Special announcement cards I could send to friends and family to tell them about my new car

Is this just an opportunity to gripe? Well, yes…and no. I feel better after ranting, but my motivation was really to make sure you remember (as I was reminded of) what it’s like to be a customer versus a client that’s valued. What it feels like to be sold to rather than to buy from, and how easy it can be to be remarkable in an average business world. If you can remember this you’re ahead of the competition, if you can apply this to everyone you meet – you will have no competition.