Running a Shop Sales+Marketing Compensation+Benefits Human Resources

It Doesn’t Pay to Please the Wrong Customers

Order Reprints
Joe-Marconi.jpg

A man walks into a Starbucks, steps up to the counter, and after staring at the menu board for a few seconds says, “I’ll have one of those mocha frappuccinos.” 

The barista behind the counter replies, “Sure, sir, what size?” 

The man responds, “Huh, make it a large, or venti … whatever.” “I’ll be happy to make that for you,” the barista says. “That will be $5.48.” The man responds, “How much? You must be kidding! Five bucks for a fancy cup of coffee? What’s it made with, liquid gold?” 

The barista explains the features, the benefits and the quality of Starbucks products. They go back and forth and finally the barista says, “OK, I’ll let you have the frappuccino for $4.” 

The man, although still visibly upset, grumbles, “OK, that’s better, but it’s still a lot of money.” 

You’re probably saying to yourself, “That would never happen at Starbucks.” And you’re right. I made up this ridiculous scenario for a reason: Starbucks doesn’t just sell coffee, they sell the Starbucks experience. They have clearly defined their products and their customers. People who are not Starbucks customers don’t walk into a Starbucks store and complain about the prices. They simply go elsewhere. And that’s perfectly fine. 

We, in the world of automotive service and repair, don’t always have clearly defined products or customers. Maybe we should.  We open our bay doors to the motoring public, and sometimes, that brings a little grief. We often find ourselves justifying prices, working through sales objections, and many times, trying to please the wrong customer, which can suck the life out of us. 

Way back in the early 1980s, a customer came in with a coolant leak on his Buick. It needed a radiator, hoses and a thermostat. I gave the customer the estimate: $285.35. The man responded, “Are you joking? I know what this job should cost. I’ll give you 200 bucks. That’s what the job is worth, son, take it or leave it.” Being a young man in business and not yet a businessman, I took it. Although the situation bothered me, I was too green to know how to deal with it.  

After that, I tried to reason with price shoppers. I stood firm on my price and did close some sales. But, it was emotionally draining. These customers usually never returned, and if they did, we would engage in a bargaining debate all over again. 

ThinkstockThese “let’s make a deal sideshows” went on for years until I finally woke up to the fact that I was trying to please the wrong people. I began to pay close attention to the customers who did not complain about price and were easy to deal with. These customers were also the most loyal. The price shoppers and the ones that gave me a hard time were more like vampires, sucking the life out of me. So, I made the decision to pay more attention to my loyal customers and spend less time with the vampires. 

We, as business people, should always provide the absolute best service possible and quality repairs at a competitive price. We should treat everyone with respect and work hard to earn the respect from others. However, equally important is knowing who your profile customer is. To discount your price because a particular person decides that he just doesn’t want to pay that price is senseless. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Build your company by paying more attention to your profile customers. 

The other day, Kristina, one of my service advisors, paged me and said that a first-time customer wanted to speak to me about buying tires. Because it was a first-time customer, I hurried into the service area, shook the woman’s hand and said, “Welcome, how may I help you?” She handed me a piece of paper and said, “I hear you’re the boss. Here are the tires I want, and the price I want to pay. Do we have a deal or not?” Maybe it was my wild imagination, but as she smiled, I thought I spotted a pair of fangs.

This lady did not realize that the once young man in business is all grown up now. Without looking at the price, I folded the piece of paper, gave it back to her, smiled and said, “My service advisor, Kristina, will be happy to give you our price for the tires. I do hope you see the value in our service and enjoy the experience.”

I am not sure if the women will come back to buy the tires. But just like Starbucks, if she doesn’t, that’s perfectly fine. 


Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at jmarconi@ratchetandwrench.com. For an archive of his columns, go to ratchetandwrench.com/marconi

Recommended Products

2016 Ratchet+Wrench Shop Technology Survey: Complete Report

2017 Ratchet+Wrench Shop Technology Survey: Complete Report

2016 Ratchet+Wrench Shop Performance Survey: Complete Report

Related Articles

Spend Time with Your Best Customers

Finding Your Customers’ Online Pulse

Selling the Benefits of Repairs

You must login or register in order to post a comment.