Many will remember the above quote from a famous movie that was made in the 60s. It came to mind recently since I’ve been planning to return my car to the dealership next week at the end of a four-year lease. I had hoped, a month ago when I still hadn’t heard a word from the dealership but thought I should discuss my options with them before time was up, that there might be a chance of extending the length of the lease. I really love this car and will hate to lose it, but I can’t afford the upkeep right now and definitely don’t have the money or the ability to take out a loan to finance a buyout. It turned out that my only options were: Take on a new four-year lease of another brand-new car; Buy it out, refinancing the purchase price at an even higher monthly payment than what I have been paying; Turn it in to the dealership and walk away. When I asked about re-leasing this same car, the answer I received from the finance manager was a solid, “No!” Friends have told me since that the dealership would never make enough money from me for re-leasing this car to be an option.
(What the finance manager actually added was, “This car is now five years old. You’d be wanting a new car in the next year or so, anyway.” He didn’t bother to ask me if this might be the case, that I’d automatically want to “buy up.” I am not a consumer for the sake of consuming, by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, how he didn’t know me at all!)
Now, I’m new to the whole car-leasing business. In fact, I have never owned a new car in my life. All our cars have been used and came to us completely paid up when purchased, so we’ve never, ever made car payments before. I leased this car originally, because at the time I was working in a job that provided me with a monthly car allowance. I chose a car that I knew I could rely upon and this one has definitely been a workhorse over the years. I have always felt totally comfortable and secure in it. So these factors more than outweighed the fact that it was actually more expensive than other car options available to lease at the time. Over these four years, I never missed a lease payment or a scheduled service, and I had all that work done at the dealership, and probably at a higher price than I needed to pay, but I did fulfill my side of the the lease agreement. During that time, my employment circumstances changed, but I still made sure I was always able to make those lease payments every single month. I love this car! I took care of it! It’s now in very good condition going back to the dealership.
I recently read Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Customers by Seth Godin, and discovered a new concept (to me) that made total sense. You can better gain loyalty from your customers if you approach them in the right way in the first place. Encourage a dialogue, be open to change depending upon your customers’ needs, treat them as the individuals that they are. They will then remain customers – and friends – sometimes for life, and they will do the subsequent selling for you. Not surprising, Godin cites car dealerships as among the worst of the worst businesses not practicing any form of Permission Marketing. I, quite frankly, felt as though I must have died in the dealership’s eyes, once I told them that my only option was to turn in the car at the end of the lease. And since I first discussed these options with the finance manager, do you think that one person has bothered to contact me to discuss the situation further? I feel as though that pact between business and customer has been broken. I’m of no monetary gain to them any longer. They’ll say goodbye to me next week (after probably charging me handsomely for the repair of light wear-and-tear on the car) and that will be the last I will ever hear from them. So, not only are they losing a loyal customer of four years, but they’ll also lose any possible referrals I might have made to my friends or anyone looking to buy or lease a car like mine. Too bad for them if they can’t see my value to them in that respect.
I am thinking, however, of recommending that they read Godin’s book and consider changing their policies to fit the needs of their loyal customers – their friends – who have spent so much money with them already. But I’m sorry to say that my recommendation will fall on deaf ears as it’s unlikely that any businesses that are as dinosaur-like as car dealerships would ever consider changing their ways. Kind of reminds me of the book biz in that respect… I, for one, am embracing Godin’s ideas and incorporating them into my own business. I refuse to be a dinosaur, unable to evolve.
The good news is that I have received a bike from a friend; my nephew is now very kindly putting that into good repair. I live next to a very convenient transit route, and I can walk. Whenever I need a car, I can always rent, and that should prove to be much cheaper overall than those monthly payments I was making. I’ve lived without a car before and I can do it again. So, I will miss the Subaru, but I doubt it will be for long. I wonder if the car dealership will miss me…