Our head mechanic came into the office and asked me to look at a car in the workshop, some cars were just starting to come through with the new style full plastic wheel trims but the majority of cars had chrome hub caps, and when he had prized them off he had noticed that there was a yellow paint dot on each of the wheel nuts and a corresponding yellow paint dot on the wheel, it seemed a little odd. What was even odder was that there were yellow paint dots, on the spark plugs, points, air filter, oil filter; it became clear that the customer had trust issues! He had marked virtually everything that we would be inspecting or replacing on the service, and he would be able to tell immediately if we had charged him for something that we hadn’t replaced or if we had missed anything on the service schedule, he had gone to so much trouble to mark things, that with just a little more work and a few spare parts he could have carried out the service himself.
Later that night when he came to pick the car up, he asked to see the car first before he paid his bill, I brought it round from the compound, and left him to inspect it, he flipped the bonnet up and I went inside to wait for the fireworks, sure enough, he exploded and charged in the showroom shouting at me that we were trying to con him, and had charged him for parts we hadn’t fitted, I waited for him to finish and then I said “It’s a good job I saved these then isn’t it” I reached under the desk, got the box of his old yellow paint marked parts that we had replaced and handed them to him, he stuttered for a bit and asked: “Is a cheque ok?” I smiled and said “sure, as long as you have a cheque card” then I added “you can’t trust anyone these days”
We had carefully marked everything we replaced with a yellow paint dot of our own, and even gone to the trouble of lining his wheel nuts up exactly as they were, it took ages to do but it was worth every minute just to see the expression on his face.
One thing all customers except that one seem to have in common is that they only check their cars for damage after it’s been into a garage for service and not before, so we got blamed time and time again, for something that happened, somewhere else, some way, somehow but just because they never noticed doesn’t mean to say that we were responsible I was trying to explain this to one of my favorite customers as politely as I could without upsetting him.
We had serviced his car, he had come to collect it and paid the bill, I had brought his metallic turquoise Opel Rekord Berlina from round the back in our compound and parked it on the forecourt. He was waiting at the showroom door, and before I got out I saw him point to the back of the car, then bend down to inspect it, there was a scuff on the rear wheel arch, it was fairly new as it hadn’t started to rust yet.
Here we go again I thought, I sat down on our front wall and launched into my well-rehearsed explanation, I had to sit down as I was multitasking and I couldn’t do that and stand up at the same time. I was trying to pacify the customer, but I was starting to realise that something wasn’t right, my brain was also rewinding – I had gone to get the car from the compound and it hadn’t been parked where the mechanics usually put finished cars, even though there was plenty of room this customer’s car had been parked with the passenger side close to the fence, it was too close to the fence.
I knew that I hadn’t scratched the car, and even if the mechanic who parked it there had caught the fence when he reversed he couldn’t have done that amount of damage, the fence was made out of plastic-coated mesh, this damage had been caused by a rough surface, it must have been done on something like the rustic brick wall that I was sitting on, I couldn’t bear to look down but I did, and there along a six-foot length of the wall partially obscured by my legs was the turquoise metallic paint that had been scraped off his wheel arch.
When I saw it I stopped mid-sentence, the customer was facing directly at me and he noticed the paint too, I won’t lie to customers so I said “Ok Mr B##### I will give you the benefit of the doubt, there’s a slim possibility that the damage could have been done here after all, then I reached down and pretended to rub the paint off the wall. He laughed and I promised to repair his car, our mechanic had caught the wall, he hadn’t said anything and obviously hoped the damage wouldn’t be noticed for a few days, and the customer would think that it had been done elsewhere. It was a dirty trick and not one that I would knowingly be an accomplice to.
I managed to keep my smile until I had waived the customer off, then I charged into the workshop to give the mechanic a telling off, he denied scratching the car and said the customer must have done it when he dropped the car off in the morning, I hadn’t checked it so it would have been a possibility, if the car hadn’t been parked against the fence, I knew who I believed, it wasn’t our mechanic and his days at our garage were numbered.
I learned three very important lessons that day,
1) always check around the car with the customer when he brings it in,
2) always check round the car after the mechanics have had it,
3) Customers are creatures of habit when they do things differently, there’s usually a good reason for it, they’re trying to hide something!
Mercedes Benz were great sellers, the only problem was that when you sold a new one to a customer who had requested an unusual specification it would often have to be a factory order and would take at least 3 months to arrive, so we may as well have used a crystal ball for a lot of the valuations we gave and not CAP or Glasses Guide, no one really knew how much the car would depreciate, so with a little cooperation from the customer, i.e. promising to keep the mileage down and agreeing to pay for any damage that wasn’t on the car when we did the initial appraisal sheet, we just had to take our best guess how much it would be worth.
Sometimes we could be spot on, sometimes we could be better off, but sometimes we could be spectacularly wrong, as we were when we agreed on a deal to take an S Class Coupe in part exchange and it dropped £8000 in one month’s Glasses Guide, it was a bitter pill to swallow and I’m sure that if his new car had gone up by £8000 the customer would have cocked, but I’m an old fashioned guy and would like to think that my word is my bond, and my handshake is as good as cash in the bank.
Another of my customers who was buying a C Class had been an absolute pain to deal with if you look up indecisive in the dictionary you will see his name printed next to it, he was a nightmare, whenever I saw him roll up my first instinct was to run and hide, but I had persevered, got him dippered up, he had signed the order form on the dotted line, and also my appraisal sheet, I kept a copy and gave him a copy too it listed things like, tyre wear, body damage, stone chips, scratches, trolley dents, any kerbing on the alloy wheels, etc, that was 3 months ago and now he was here to pick his new car up, strangely although the car park was empty, he had chosen to park right at the end, he had even reversed in and the passenger side of his car was close to the plastic coated chain link fence, too close.
Here we go again, another customer that thinks I was born yesterday, I didn’t really need to go out to look at the car, I would have put money on it having damage on the side I couldn’t see from the showroom. Before I went to inspect it, I asked “Is there anything you would like to tell me?”, I gave him the opportunity to come clean, but he declined. I picked up my original appraisal sheet and went to inspect the car, so that I couldn’t be blamed I didn’t move the car, I walked through the gate and viewed the passenger side of the car from the other side of the chain-link fence, customers never cease to amaze me and although I expected to see some damage, a small scratch, or dent I didn’t expect to see a gouge stretching the length of the car from the front wing to the back wing, equating to two or three thousand pounds worth of damage.
When I told Mr D#### that there appeared to be some damage on his car, he did a very unconvincing job of denying that he knew about it, and all too readily agreed to pay for it, I know a lot of salesmen can’t be bothered to go and check the car and my customer was probably hoping that I was one of them, but it wasn’t the first time that customers had tried to do this to me, to be fair I had also seen garages where I’ve worked try (to a lesser extent) do it to customers too, but if I’d done what the majority of salesmen do these days and give it an inspection over the top of a coffee cup while staring through the showroom window I’d have been caught out, I would have had to pay for the damage out of my wages, or got sacked for not doing my job properly.
There’s no substitute for experience