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Jack Burke Jack Burke , 4/16/2014
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Over the years, I’ve tried to differentiate between a customer and a client.  A customer is primarily a single sale that might or might not recur.  A client, on the other hand, represents a relationship designed to grow into the future.

Once we understand this, it becomes easier to define “professionalism” when it comes to producers.  Although we’d all like to be everything to everyone all the time, the professional producer knows that that isn’t possible and realizes that he or she might not have the best solution for each client in every instance.  The test comes when the producer decides what to do with this awareness when it arises.

To draw an analogy, I move into the automotive realm.  My wife has a twelve-year old Cougar that she absolutely loves and has repeatedly voted against replacing with a new vehicle.  It’s in good shape, with only 75,000 miles on it, but began acting up. recently

We put it in a repair shop which handled the problems with the performance of the engine – but additional problems then arose with the transmission.  The owner of the shop that did the engine work explained that the transmission was beyond his expertise and recommended that we take it to the Ford dealership.  He then gave me the computer printout of the specific transmission repairs needed.

We towed the car to the Ford garage and asked for an estimate.  The service advisor indicated that they had assigned it to a mechanic who had gone home sick.  So they’d assign it to another mechanic the following day and call me.  Now here’s where it gets a bit hinky.

The following day, the service advisor called and said the transmission needed to be repaired (duh!).  He then said that parts were going to be a problem and the vehicle might have to sit for two or three months while they waited for the parts, since they no longer make Cougars.  (Now having grown up in a Ford dealership and spent a considerable part of my life in the industry, I doubted his analysis – but I continued to listen).  He went on to recommend putting a rebuilt transmission into the car as the best and quickest resolution, quoting me a price of $3,900.  I told him I would think about it and get back to him.

I then contacted a local transmission specialist and explained the problem.  He agreed that replacement would be quicker, but that the transmission might be repairable for less money.  However he said he would have to deal with the local Ford dealer for parts, and they would probably give him the same story.  But he didn’t stop there; he said that there was  a major transmission rebuilder just 40 miles away that that also did repairs, adding that I would be better going directly to them.  (I appreciated his candor, and since he does other work as well, I’m sure I’ll be giving him future business.)

I called the rebuilder, who said parts were available if repair was the right option and that a replacement was available if a replacement was the best bet.  He then quoted a maximum of $1,700, $2,200 less than the Ford dealer.  Now I’m not a total price buyer and would have been willing to pay a premium for Ford service – but not a 130% premium!

The following day I went to the Ford dealer to have the car towed to the rebuilder.  When I explained my decision to the service advisor, he went into selling mode.  His arguments were: 1) we’re better trained and more experienced; 2) it’s going to cost you $200 to tow the care there; 3) We’re local and you’re helping the local economy; and 4 ) our dealership will back up the work we do.

Do those arguments sound familiar?  Too many non-professional producers might have said similar things trying to convince a prospect to sign on the dotted line.
Unfortunately none of the dealer’s arguments justified a $2,200 premium.  Oh and then the dealership charged me $90 to release the car, with a repair order that stated the exact computer information I gave them originally.

Wrapping up the story, the rebuilder called me within an hour of receiving and diagnosing the vehicle. By 4 PM the next day, it was ready to be picked up with a rebuilt transmission installed, a three-year warranty, and a bill that matched their $1,700 quotation to the penny.

To make a long story short – two garages were willing to put my best interests ahead of their pocketbook.  The Ford dealership was blatantly overpricing their work and unable to justify the difference.  Yet, there are those who would have had them do the work because they didn’t know any better.  But how long would these people remain loyal after someone s explained that the dealer had taken advantage of them.

By the way, I was so impressed with the rebuilder that next month we’ve made arrangements for him to rebuild the transmission on my classic T-Bird.  I guess I’ve become a client, rather than a customer.

Do you always put the interests of your client above your own pocketbook?  Or do you try to force them to accept what might not be the best, but it’s what you have?  Which approach do you think will result in long-term loyalty and solid client relationships?

Although sometimes we have to swallow hard and lose some immediate revenue, such actions usually pay dividends in the long term – if we put our clients first!