Used car sales and the placebo effect

Never underestimate the power of the mind they say (whoever “they” are). My dad once told me how he got his best friend completely legless on cold tea mixed with ginger ale during a card game by convincing him it was whisky, and there will be many a doctor who has issued useless tablets to hypochondriacs who have found them to be a miracle cure (aka the placebo effect).
The example of a similar effect which I am about to give is one that still makes me smile when I think about it and I get a lot of satisfaction from doing so.

When I was younger I was working at a large VW dealer in the south and lived far enough away for the commute to be considerable and, as any car salesman will tell you, doing a long journey like that on the Sunday graveyard shift is hard to say the very least.

Unlike today working on a Sunday was a solitary experience, a mere box ticking exercise to satisfy the management that all the bases were covered when in reality we neither expected or experienced any great repeat success by opening Sundays.

I am pretty sure it has all changed now as there is far more focus and expectation and customers expect to be able to shop 7 days a week. Obviously the retail car trade has to meet these modern day expectations but in the early 90’s you were grateful to lay eyes on even the most boring of tyre kickers to break up the monotony.

Anyway I arrived at work on this particular Sunday at just after 10 a.m. (always fashionably late, even then) with my MacDonald’s breakfast in one hand and news of the world (R.I.P. – or maybe not) in the other and settled down to a day of boredom.

In spite of this I had decided if I was going to be there all day with a hangover and a long journey home in front of me, that if I caught a live one I was not going to let them walk.

I got through the news of the screws in double quick time, (nothing new there I suppose) and finished my breakfast, then attempted to chat up the receptionist but failed miserably.

At about midday when on my 5th cup of coffee a middle aged German couple entered the showroom and explained that they had moved here on a 3 year contract and needed a reliable car for the duration of their stay here.

What better car to sell a German couple than a German car, so I picked out a lovely Golf Driver in green metallic with low mileage and in immaculate condition. I decided there and then that these lovely people were not leaving without having been signed up and dippered.

I turned on the charm and took them out for a long drive where they duly fell in love with this little four wheeled reminder of home and I was counting my commission before we got back to the dealership.

There was one small issue however which I could not overcome and that was according, to Mrs Schwartz, the breaks felt a “little spongy” and before she made a decision she wanted them “attended to”.

I explained that they were not as harsh as some cars and that you actually had to engage them for effectiveness but as I had spent over 3 hours with them I agreed to get them sorted even though I knew that, with this being a virtually new car, there was probably nothing at all wrong with the brakes.

I signed them, up with the written stipulation that the deposit was refundable if she was not happy with the brakes, and sent them on the way, turned out the showroom lights and went home.
The next day I went straight to the senior tech and asked him if anything could be done. He checked them for efficiency and safety and, as we thought, everything was as it should be.

I was now starting to panic; I knew this issue would not go away and I had already mentally counted the commission money which was quite large as I recall and, worse still, my boss had told the “big boss” what a great salesman I was having made the company a good profit.

I decided that, as there was really nothing wrong and the experts had backed me that I would do what any self respecting salesman would do, I blagged it.

I called Mrs S and told her that she was indeed right and had she considered a career in safety testing cars as we had all disbelieved her, that we had made some adjustments the brake pedal and would she come back and re-test the Golf just to make sure she was completely 100% happy to proceed.

In she came at 6pm like the cat who got the cream looking very pleased with herself and her new found status as ein top-mechaniker auf höchstem niveau.

Needless to say we went out on the drive and she immediately exclaimed ‘yes, that’s more like it they are now perfect, when can we pick it up?’

How I would’ve loved to have told her that the car was exactly as it had been when she first drove it and that it was all in her mind. But, of course I didn’t. She was happy with the car, was another satisfied customer and I got my commission so that was all that mattered.


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