Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2006   by Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

Easy Money

If there is one thing that this business teaches you, it is the value of people.

While it is true that there are limits to what you can do without profit, time and time again we are taught the old lesson that the blind pursuit of profit in the short term rarely leads to its capture over the long term. One of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite movies, “Citizen Kane,” opines that “Making money is easy, if that’s all you want to do.” Indeed.

For those among us who might also wish to be remembered well by those we dealt with in this short life, there is much more to the equation.

The funny thing is that there are many occasions where the desire to seek the long term benefit of building relationships today also seems to reap benefits in goodwill–in both the short and long term.

Now, I don’t pretend to mistake clients for friends–though there are some who are both, to be sure– there is a certain level of listening and communication that can help all parties build a mutually profitable and, yes, friendly future.

With the understanding that this is a highly competitive market, and despite the constant emphasis on price as a selling point, experience has demonstrated that continued success is built at least as much on not giving customers a reason to go elsewhere as it is on attracting them in the first place.

In the vernacular, if you want to be successful, stop driving your customers into the arms of the competition. This is essentially a lesson in the known versus the unknown. If a customer is happy to do business with you, or at least to do most of it, the competition will have a heck of a time attracting his business. On the flip side, I don’t care how sincere you are with your promises; you’ll have a devil of a time attracting customers if their existing supplier keeps his promises.

Another point that came up recently is the importance of showing that you value your customer’s business. If the competition drops its prices, there has to be a response of some kind from you. This does not necessarily mean going head-to-head on pricing, but you have to show that you care whether your customer stays or leaves.

One of the most infuriating financial transactions I experienced was when my then-current mortgage holder refused to budge when I received a better offer from another bank. I would have gladly stayed if they had come close to meeting the rate and terms–I liked doing business with them–but their lack of any response told me that my business was not important to them. When someone from their head office finally called a few months later with a competitive offer designed to keep my business, I just laughed. Too little, too late, by a long shot.

Your response to a completive issue may be better terms, a more flexible warranty policy, or invoicing that is accurate and credits that are applied promptly (failure to execute the latter two points causes more friction than any other issue, in my experience). Or it could be a combination of all of the above. You may already have all these in place, and have a customer who just needs to be reminded of what you have to offer. As much as price is an issue, they need to know you’re there for them.

In the end, a business relationship is about give and take. Long term success requires balance and trust; people prefer to deal with those who can offer both.

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