The Two Faces of a Used Car Salesman

Categories Leadership

There are two ways to react to every situation: the BETTER way and the WORSE way. I recently dealt with a used car salesman that somehow managed to do both (on separate occasions), and it struck me that there was a lesson in both his behavior and my reaction to it. The story goes something like this…

I recently purchased a used truck from a local car dealership. The mileage was a little high, but it was a well-respected manufacturer and a good-looking truck. I had also been referred to this dealer, so when the price was right, I felt good about the purchase. Then…it happened. As I was driving the truck home, the Check Engine light came on. Knowing that when you purchase a used vehicle, it is an AS IS proposition, I was simply hoping it wouldn’t be a significant problem. But then I remembered that the accountant at the dealership had promised that this dealership likes to take care of its customers in case something goes wrong. With that encouragement, I promptly returned to find that he was indeed true to his word.

The Friendly Face of A Used Car Salesman

As I explained my problem, I was excited to learn that they were going to replace the offending part. The owner of the dealership even came out to tell me they would take care of it and several of the employees were talking with my kids. I was honestly blown away. After waiting for an hour or so, I was back on the road. To my dismay, however, I looked down only to find the Check Engine light had returned. Oh boy. This was not going to be good.

After returning the truck to the dealer a second time, you can imagine my relief when they said they would also replace a second part to try to alleviate the problem. Once again, my family and I were treated exceptionally well. These guys were developing a loyal customer for life. With the two parts replaced, I was a fan, and I made it all the way home without the first sign of any problems…until the next day.

The Not So Friendly Face of A Used Car Salesman

You guessed it. The Check Engine light returned. At this point, I was being haunted by this light in my dreams. I knew that the dealer had gone above and beyond by spending his own money after the sale was final, but I wanted to at least take it up there, let them have a look, and hopefully at least find out what might be the issue.

And then it happened. As one of the employees was trying to decipher the code, the owner saw me. He made is way over and was suddenly not as friendly as before. He proceeded to tell me that these lights were “idiot lights,” and he wasn’t going to spend any more money chasing a light on this truck. He complained about the money he had already spent, asked if it was running okay, and then he walked away.

He may have just lost this customer for life.

So What Does It Mean?

As I worked to control my frustration, I tried to reconcile my experience with this nice guy who had reassured me only one week before with the guy who now seemed really frustrated to have me on his lot. In two minutes, he had torn down all he had built over the last few weeks. The funny thing was: I really hadn’t expected him to do more. I was appreciative of what he had done. For all I knew, it was a simple problem that could have been handled easily, so I returned to the place that had treated me so well.

This experience, then, taught me two significant lessons:

  1. As leaders, we must always be aware of how we interact with the people we serve. It doesn’t take much for us to leave them feeling insignificant. We must be careful not to let our pre-suppositions cloud our interpersonal relationships, and above all, we must be kind. Kindness cures a lot of ills. Had this owner approached me with kindness, I would have left with an entirely different perspective.
  2. I can’t let the way others treat me, ruin the day ahead. Shortly after this event transpired, I reflected on my own attitude about the situation. I encouraged myself not to let the unpleasantness cloud the rest of my day, and I remembered that we all make mistakes. Perhaps today was a bad day for Mr. Car Salesman. Perhaps a business deal had gone bad. Perhaps he assumed that I had ulterior motives or that I was trying to hold him accountable for my further misfortune. Either way, I didn’t want to allow his attitude to sully mine. I hope it worked.

These two faces are not unique to the owner of my local car lot. We all have them. We all have to choose how we will approach every situation. The question really is: Will you choose BETTER or WORSE?

Brandon is the founder of A Life to Lead. He is also the husband of Beth, father to Ethan and Kate, and the coordinator of the D6 Conference.

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