Their Best Interest
Honesty and Going By the Book The Only Way to Keep Customers
For the past two years, Tire Review‘s Dealer Diary has focuses on typical tire dealers and the ins and outs of their business.
In this year’s series, we’re profiling someone whose primary focus is customer service – Barry Steinberg, owner of Direct Tire and Auto Service, headquartered in Boston. By making the customers the focal point of business, Barry says, and treating the employees well, everything falls into place from there.
We’d love to hear your comments on the series. Drop us a line or send us an email at [email protected].
Within the last year, "customer safety" has been the buzz phrase around the tire industry. Consumers are more worried about their vehicles now than at any time in the past. But it’s not just tires. They’re concerned with everything – and it doesn’t even matter what kind of vehicle they drive.
Every facet of the vehicle is being scrutinized, poked, prodded and checked by consumers. All this, of course, leaves the tire dealer answering a lot of questions. Many times the same ones over and over again to different customers. What a dealer has to do is be patient. Your customers are obviously your lifeline, and if they don’t like your answers – or your attitude – your lifeline is going to take its vehicle down the street.
You need to handle their questions with calm authority. Understand their concerns and answer questions in an honest and straightforward fashion. Confusion and safety don’t mix well together.
"Since August of last year, we’ve noticed a tremendous increase in the number of people asking about safety when it comes to tires, or wanting to buy a safer, better tire," Steinberg said. "It’s just increased awareness across the board with all drivers, no matter what kind of vehicle they drive.
"Many more people now stop in and ask ‘Could you check my tires? I want to make sure they’re safe’ or ‘Could you tell me how many more miles I have left?’ or ‘Have I got the right air pressure?’"
Steinberg acknowledges that many of his potential customers are no longer asking for the cheapest tire. Instead, they’re asking for the best value in a safe tire. And he is seeing many new customers simply because they are concerned with air pressure and the condition of their tires.
Safety As An Obligation
Safety is a very simple thing to Steinberg: an obligation. "To us, we’re obligated to do a comprehensive inspection and alert the customer to safety issues, whether something is worn or the brakes are metal-to-metal.
"We’re not obligated by law, but we have a moral responsibility."
Steinberg says all issues that have an affect on driveability and safety get checked. Direct Tire and Auto tries "to do enough of a check to make sure anything that could create a safety hazard is found," he said.
Passing along tips to customers has always been Direct Tire’s style. Now even more so with the increase in consumer awareness. One of the biggest tips is making sure customers are getting the right performance-rated tire.
"In the winter, we tell them to make sure they have either a great all-season tire or a true winter tire. If they want studs or have a front-wheel drive vehicle, to make sure they put four tires on rather than two," Steinberg said.
"The same holds true in the summer. They need to make sure they’re getting a tire for their driving needs, and that it’s the right performance rating and the right tire for their vehicle."
Profiting on Safety
Tire dealers can make money off of customer safety – and without feeling guilty about it. Safety is something that many dealers just offer, but don’t charge for. However, Steinberg feels that if the dealer is acting in the best interest of the customer, there is money to be made.
"I think you have to be willing to make money without being afraid to ask the customer for it," he said. "If a customer wants the cheapest tire you’ve got, regardless of the performance rating, you can step in and educate them."
Steinberg says tire dealers need to mention that manufacturers like DaimlerChrysler and General Motors request specific handling characteristics for a reason. "If you get cheapest tire with ther wrong performance rating, the car won’t handle properly in that one-time accident avoidance situation," he said.
"We will not downgrade performance ratings. We don’t need the business that badly. We will always pass on a sale if the tires aren’t properly applied to the vehicle. The customer may be upset, but in the long run, you’re doing the customer a favor."
Profits can be made simply by making sure that things are done right the first time. There’s no reason to cut corners when safety’s involved.
Turning Down Business
Sometimes turning down business is the best way to go. If a customer wants to do something that isn’t feasible or will pose a danger, a dealer should wash his hands of the entire situation. It may mean a little money lost now, but your conscience won’t suffer.
"About a month ago, we had a customer come in with an F-150 pickup," Steinberg said. "The brakes were grinding so badly there was no brake pad at all. It was just all backing plate, and the rotor was so thin that it fell apart when we disassembled it.
"The customer only wanted a set of pads, which wouldn’t have stopped the truck anyway.
"He wouldn’t let us do what needed to be done, so we didn’t do anything and I made him tow the truck away."
After a bit of yelling and screaming by the customer, Steinberg asked the man if he’d want his children riding around in the truck. Steinberg then called a towing service and had the pickup dropped off at the man’s house.
"We could have sold him pads for $60, but what would that have gotten us?" Steinberg asked. "What if he’s driving home and kills three people because he loses control? Is that worth it?"
Steinberg believes that if a dealer puts safety and honesty first and foremost in his business, he can’t go wrong. Straight, honest talk with customers can’t be a bad thing.
"I think that if there is a lesson to be learned in the automotive business it’s that if you do things honestly and by the book, you’ll always come out on top and do well," he said.