This past Monday was a dreary wet November 2010 day in Winston-Salem. I went to a local car dealership to assist my daughter (let’s call her Myrtle) with the last steps of purchasing a used car.
She had already met the Used Car salesman. For this story, let’s call him Steve.
Myrtle knew what car she wanted, how much she was going to pay for it and that she was going to trade her 2003 car in on this newer car. She even knew what to expect for the trade in value of her old car. Myrtle was very well prepared for this transaction.
She told me before we met at the dealership that the Steve made her uncomfortable. Apparently Steve represented all Used Car Salesman across the country very well with his stereotypical mannerism. I suggest that she get past this and purchase the car she had her eyes set on. She agreed.
Myrtle and I drove separate cars to the lot and got out of our respective cars simultaneously. As if on cue, walking across the parking lot toward us was Steve. I tried to hold back a half a step so that he could address my daughter first, but no. He side stepped her and reached over to me, arm extended saying, “Hello Sir, are you here to buy a car?”
I immediately responded with “No, I am not.” I pointed to Myrtle and said, “Please meet your customer. I think you have already met before. She needs your attention.”
He then addressed Myrtle and asked her if she was ready to buy that car. Myrtle acknowledged that she was ready, but wanted me to see it first. Steve led us to the car and then went to get the car keys.
During Steve’s absence Myrtle said, “Dad – that was ridiculous. He knew I was here to buy the car. Ignoring me as we walked up made me feel like he only wants to deal with a man, not a women. If I did not really want this car I would just leave now.”
I suggested that she not get upset with his sexist manner and just go for the deal. She agreed.
Steve returned a few moments later and we got in the car and drove it around the lot. It really is a nice car and exactly what Myrtle needed. As we drove around for a few minutes Steve continued doing well representing used car salesman around the world. He bantered with me and fired off one-liners and witty retorts to all of my statements. I did well egging him on as anyone would expect from me. He seemed pleased with himself to be able to keep up with my well-honed sense of wit. (OK – that was a little self-serving and I know it – It is my blog).
As we headed back to the front of the dealership I brought Steve back to the task at hand.
“Steve, I know that your customer really wants this car. I suggest that when we get back you find out exactly how much you will sell this car to her for.”
I continued on with, “I know for a fact that your customer lives on a very low teacher’s salary and really needs to buy this car for about $500 less than the sticker says on the window. Will you see what you can do for her please?” Steve responded with he would ask his manager and let us know.
I then reminded Steve that Myrtle was going to trade in her other car and he needed to tell her exactly how much he would give her for that car, regardless of the price of the one she wanted to buy. Steve was all over that.
When we parked the car, Steve escorted us up to the “Room” You know, the little room with one desk, a chair for the salesman and 2 chairs squeezed up against the wall in front of the desk for the clients. The only thing on the desk was a big old monitor for the computer and a keyboard & mouse. There has to be some research that says this is he only way to “Seal the Deal”. All dealerships are setup the same way.
Steve offered us water or coffee, which we politely declined and then said he would be right back as he walked away to get paperwork.
Sure enough, as if on cue, he walked over to another younger guy (later I learned that this was Billy) and laid a piece of paper in front of him, as if to ask for permission to sell the car for less money. I watched as heads nodded, fingers pointed, they looked out the window as if at the car, then they looked out another window as if at Myrtle’s old car. Classic used car salesman activity. It was almost as if I were watching a movie. I tried hard not to laugh out loud. I believe I did let out a low giggle.
Within a few moments, Steve was back in the office, sitting down in front of us ready to present the deal.
Steve looked at me and said, “I can sell that car to you for $500 less than listed and I’ll give you $1000 for your car.”
I looked Steve right in the eye and said, “That’s great Steve, but I don’t want the car and I don’t own the other one. I suggest you talk to your customer, she’s right here.”
Myrtle appeared quite disturbed at this time. Steve repeated the offer to Myrtle.
Here is where the transaction started going downhill even faster.
Steve then giggled a little and made the following three statements, almost in rapid succession.
“I love selling cars to women, you can get them to do just about any..,” then he caught himself and spun the statement into “They will do just about anything they want to do, where a man will ask questions and check out the deal completely first.” He giggled again.
“I can’t stand selling cars to Asians. They may be smart, but, even if they think they can drive a car, they can’t. I get freaked out every time I see one heading towards me for a test drive. I will not get in a car with them.” Again, he giggled.
“Now gay men, I love selling cars to gays. They know what they want and will pay what you want them to pay for it, no questions asked. I love those gays.”
Neither Myrtle nor I responded to any of his statements at all until he finished the gay statement. I have already caught the redness of Myrtle’s neck and knew first hand that this meant she was very uncomfortable.
As soon as he finished his third statement and before he started to giggle again, I stood up and declared to him, “Steve, you have gone over the line now. You do not know me, and you do not know your customer and even if you did, racial and bigoted statements like those are totally inappropriate.”
I looked at Myrtle and said to her, “If you want to leave now and go somewhere else to buy your next car, I fully understand.” Myrtle’s reply was clear and decisive. “Dad, I want that car, I just do not want to buy it from him.” As she pointed at Steve, she said, “Please find me another salesman with better manners who can help me.” Myrtle was both upset and mad!
I looked at Steve and suggested he leave and have someone else come help us. Steve started offering apologies for his statements and even excuses.
He said, “I’ve used those lines a million times and never offended anyone before now. I don’t believe they offended you.”
I replied, “Steve it does not help your case at all to accuse the customer of being 1 in a million who can’t take an offensive joke. Please get us another salesman to work with now.”
Steve walked away and into an office where what appeared to be another salesman sat. With a few quick words between the two, Steve returned with salesman #2 who we will call Bob.
As he walked up to us, Steve said, “This is Bob; I have been working with him for a very long time and respect him. He will do a very good job for you.”
Maybe I should not have responded with, “Thanks Steve, but I am not sure if your opinion of Bob matters to me after hearing your opinions of women, Asians and gay men.” I don’t think Steve heard me. He did not reply.
Bob introduced himself and proceeded to apologize for us getting “off on the wrong foot” with Steve. I did well to keep my cool and then clearly informed Bob, that we did not get off on the wrong foot with Steve. “Steve screwed up by being a bigot and racist with the comments he used while working with us. That is much different than simply, Getting off on the wrong foot.” Bob apologized again for not understanding and then dropped the conversation.
We all sat back down to continue the process at hand. Bob picked up the transaction well. He reviewed the figures that Steve had written down and began to inform Myrtle of her finance and warranty options. He told her that the finance lady would go over them with her. Myrtle told him that she was paying cash and would not need finance help. No worries replied Bob, the finance lady would still be involved. (yeah, to try to sell the add-ons)
However, Myrtle was still very rustled about what had just happened. She responded to Bob as best she could, but it was quite clear she was still upset. During their discussion another gentleman walked in and interrupted the conversation.
He introduced himself to us, “Hello, I am Billy (for the sake of this story). I’m the sales manager here and I overheard the conversations you had with Steve and Bob. ”
Now, Billy is a young guy, however he apparently had read the Used Car Salesman manual many times. He proceeded to apologize for any offensive statements made by Steve, “Steve is a really good salesman, he knows about as much as any one man can know about used cars. And we are all good people here, we are not racist at all, heck, we even have a Greek working for us”, as he pointed to Bob with his olive skin and jet black, yet thinning hair.
Billy continued with, “I hope that you do not judge the value of this dealership on the comments made by one employee.”
I decided that Billy needed some good customer service coaching as well, “Billy, if you want your customer to not judge this dealership on the actions of one of your Senior and well trained salesman, then I suggest you give her a gratuitous apology that she will remember.”
Billy’s retort indicated that the book he read was somewhat lopsided, “What do you mean?”
“Billy, I mean if you want your customer to remember something very positive about her transaction here and to think good thoughts about the dealership, give her an additional discount on the car she is buying and make the end of this transaction more very re-Markable.”
Billy still did not catch on, “How am I going to be sure that even if I give her a bigger discount she is not going to still speak bad of our dealership when she leaves?”
Wow, I had my hands full with this one, “Billy, it’s rather easy. If you do not look her directly in the eye and apologize to her with some level of compassion, and give her an additional value offer, likely in the form of a bigger discount, I am quite certain your customer will only remember the remarks made by Steve and how it made her feel. If she leaves this building elated at the way it turned out, rather than still upset at Steve, she is less likely to speak ill of the dealership. Your actions at this point will alter the risk you have here. What will you do?”
He heard me! Billy turned and looked Myrtle directly in the eye and told her this, “Myrtle, I am very sorry for how this transaction has gone for you. I want you to think positive thoughts about all of the people who work here and I want you to know that we care about our customers. I am going to give you an additional $200 off the price of that car as an offer of apology. Will you be able to speak positively about our dealership once you leave with you new (used) car?”
Myrtle had begun to calm down at this point. “Yes, Billy, thank you very much.”
From that point forward, the transaction wrapped up very calmly and quickly. Yes, they tried to convince Myrtle that her car would need lots of additional warranties, spill proofing, bird drop protection and loaner car support, all of which Myrtle already knew the reply for. “No thank you” Myrtle drove off in her new (used) car, smiling and happy.
I am sure that over the next few days she told the story of the well trained yet impolite salesman. I am also sure she either did not mention the name of the dealership and she ends the story with, “But the dealership guys were really great, despite the 1 person there.”
To wrap this story up:
Does anyone have the book, “Used Car Salesman for Dummies”? I would like to see what it teaches.
And, is there any hope for used car salesman who should have retired 20 years ago?
This has been another story from Teddy Burriss. I hope you enjoyed it.