Are Your Customers Lying to You?
Everyone has heard the old statement, “buyers are liars.” This is a reflection of the feeling you get when you ask a customer a direct question. Often, they lie to you to “get out of it” instead of giving you the straight answer.
When I first started working in a quick lube shop in Buffalo, New York, I was shocked at how the customers could so easily come up with bogus excuses.
These are some of the excuses I heard many times:
1.“I have a mechanic. He takes care of all that for me.”
I would hear this excuse from customers who did not want to purchase anything beyond an oil change. Even though their vehicle may clearly have been extremely overdue for whatever service it was, they’d insist their “mechanic” took care of that stuff. But, it was almost always obvious it had never been done.
2.“It’s under warranty, so the dealer does it for free.”
This one never made sense to me. First of all, warranties cover repairs to parts that have failed before the warranty period is over, not regular maintenance items. Maintenance has always been the responsibility of the car owner. While it’s true many dealerships today are offering vehicle maintenance along with the purchase price of the new car, it is typically not 100-percent inclusive of all the maintenance their car will need on a continuing basis.
3.“I just bought this (used) car. The dealer should have done all that before they sold it.”
To a used-car customer, this statement would seem to make sense. A normal person would think that the dealership would want the vehicle to work correctly and that they would do any maintenance required to give a good value to their customer.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way and for a very simple and universal reason — profit. Spending money doing transmission flushes, brake jobs and small parts exchanges only adds cost to the bottom-line of the vehicle they’re trying to sell. But it will never add anything to the actual value of the vehicle. A lower overall cost to the dealership allows them to make extra profit, and the expense of needed maintenance is passed on the customer. In all the years of servicing customers with newly-purchased, used cars, I have never once seen any dealer do all necessary maintenance to a vehicle before selling it. Certainly nothing beyond whatever minimums their state may require for a used vehicle sale by a dealer.
4.“It’s my wife’s car. It’s not necessary.”
This one really used to get under my skin! I could always conjure up the mental image of this callow husband driving along in his smooth, well-maintained, air conditioned vehicle and receiving a frantic phone call from his wife, standing on the side of a busy highway, sweating and disheveled, her car overheating and spitting up coolant. That may be a bit of over-dramatization, but that is the story the “wife’s car” excuse suggests.
5.“My brother is a mechanic. He does all this stuff for me for free.”
I know you have heard some variation of this one. I also know what you wanted to say to this excuse-giver, “If your brother is a mechanic, why didn’t you take it to him for an oil change?” Of course, you can’t say that. It is especially aggravating to hear this one when it is painfully obvious no one has been doing any kind of maintenance on the vehicle. The air filters look like Chia Pets. The coolant is rusty and looks like chocolate soup. The tires have less than 15 pounds of air in them and the wiper blades are slapping their “tails” around and scratching the windshield.
6.“This is a brand new car! It doesn’t need that!” The car is more than a year old.
This happens from time-to-time. The customer may have indeed purchased the car brand new 30,000 miles ago! Wishful thinking wants them to all to hold on to that new car feeling as long as possible. But technically speaking, any car that rolls over the curb at any dealership with your name on the new title is now no longer a new car. More realistically for lube shop scenarios, any car with enough miles on it to require its first scheduled maintenance procedure is now clearly not a new car anymore. Oil changes are typically recommended somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 miles on most new vehicles, which would clearly mark it as a used car.
7.“It’s just a ‘beater.’ I’ll drive it ’til the wheels fall off.”
Don’t let them kid you. They depend on this vehicle. They are driving it because they need it to do something for them. If they truly didn’t care about it, they would not be in your shop getting the oil changed! If their job, and therefore their livelihood, depends on this vehicle running dependably, they are more inclined to take care of it than they are letting on.
8.“It’s not my car. I’m just changing the oil for a friend.”
This one was always a little funny to me. I have borrowed friend’s vehicles over the years several times for various reasons and while I will typically gas it up and give it a carwash as a token of appreciation, it seems odd to randomly give it an oil change! This would be like sleeping on the couch at a friend’s house and then shampooing their carpets the next day to say, “Thank you.”
9.“I had that done at XYZ lube down the street.”
Many times the customer does not realize that we know far more about the history of their car than they do — or they think we do. If they came to your shop 5,000 miles ago for an oil change and a particular service was recommended and it is clear it has not been done, how could it have been done somewhere else?
They will even tell you they took it to a different place for their last oil change and had it done then. All the while, they’re oblivious to the fact your specific brand of oil filter is still on the car, your unique tamper-seal marks may still be in place upon their arrival and your static-cling window sticker is still in place on their windshield.
10. “I’m selling it.”
My all-time favorite! If you are selling it, why are you spending money on it at all? And of course, this same guy comes in five or six times over the course of a few years and always says, “I’m selling it.”
I know many of you have all heard these excuses or variations of them in your own lube shops. Why do customers lie like this so frequently? Clearly they don’t want to spend any extra money and your presentation isn’t convincing them to do so. (Sorry, sometimes you have to face the truth.)
Also, why do they make up a story instead of just saying, “No thanks.” It’s simple, they do it to avoid any possible confrontation with you. However, what always concerned me when I was a “newbie” in the business was just how easily and comfortably they would look you right in the eye and tell you a bold-faced lie.
Remember, it all starts with you. If you have a poor greeting/presentation/customer service technique, your customer will probably not perceive you as being sincere or honest with them. If they feel you are only interested in making a sale and are not making a recommendation primarily based upon what is best for them and their vehicle, then they will see that as untrustworthy and dishonest to varying levels of degree. Further, when any customer feels you are not being honest and are lying to them, they have no problem lying right back to you.
In a nutshell, they have little or no confidence in your integrity. Therefore, they have no personal difficulty in treating you with the same perceived attitude. Additionally, if you have already asked them to purchase something earlier in the presentation and you gave them a little grief, a sigh or an eye-roll when they said no, they surely do not want to be put into the position to have to suffer that fate from you again.
So what should you do? Don’t lie to them. Be honest and sincere. Make statements with confidence and integrity and don’t try to lie your way through something if you don’t know the proper answer. When your customer senses you are being truthful and honest, they have a much harder time forcing themselves to respond to you with dishonesty and deceit. It is human nature to be more honest with someone we trust.
Even if you are dealing with a scoundrel of a customer who can easily lie to you, even when you are being honest, remember these words from my good friend Larrell Willis, “Even bad people want to do business with good people.”
I heard all of those excuses when I was a rookie, and many more. These days I don’t hear them from my customers nearly as much. Most often it is just a simple, “No thanks” or “Maybe next time.”
I don’t mind at all when most of my customers say, “No thanks.” My closing ratio is not as high as some would think, typically around 30 percent for most things. That’s plenty. You will have a healthy sales base. Happy customers will return because they trust you, and you’ll have a stress-free day if you just tell ’em the truth!
See ya’ next month!
KIT SULLIVAN is a partner in a multi-unit, Florida-based quick lube company. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Sullivan has more than 28 years experience in sales and management training. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org