Car Sales - Made a Mistake - Be Less Typical

An Open Question: What To Do When You Make a Mistake

With so many variables in a car deal, it is getting increasingly more difficult to wow a customer in even the most routine of situations. What do you do when you make a mistake?

I was recently made aware of a transaction where we sold a client a car. We aggressively priced our vehicle, provided a very fair trade-in value and met the customer at an agreeable end price that both parties were happy with.

The sales consultant provided a print out for the client to take to his credit union for financing and prepared for delivery. When the client got to the credit union and they contacted the us for lien placement, we provided the wrong dollar amount and in turn had to call the client to inform him that we had made a small error. Even though the paperwork he was given when he was at the dealership was accurate and we had only made a small verbal error over the phone, the client was very upset. He argued that because of the error we were obliged to honor the mistake and therefore absorb the difference in price at our loss.

What should we do in a case like this? We risk so much by arguing the point with the client, and even though it was a nominal amount in this case, should we stand firm or allow for the loss?

What if it was a much larger error? Would or should the decision be different?

In today’s marketplace, we risk much when we get into situations such as this. The threat of a poor survey or an unfavorable online review could haunt us for weeks or even months down the road if we do not handle it properly.

Are we allowed room for human error? Most might say yes, but we are supposed to be the experts. Opinions can certainly change when you are involved. It costs the dealership and salesperson hard-earned income and on the other side, creates doubt in the customer’s mind that they are getting a fair and professional deal.

The most frustrating part of this type of situation is that everything was done right, up until that phone call. Even more frustrating is that in either case, it will cost the dealer. If we stand firm, the deal could fall through and the client will most likely never return. If we give in and the customer completes the purchase, then we are accepting the fact that we are not allowed to make errors and will take an unnecessary loss.

I am afraid there is not a black and white answer. Without a standard policy or best practice, there is not a guideline that will advise us on what we should do. We are forced to rely on our judgement and quick decision-making. Unfortunately, this means that someone comes up short. In most other purchases, outside of what we do inside of a car dealership, pricing is fixed and there is no negotiation. Which means we cannot look to other industries for guidance.

I am confident that a few general rules apply if you find yourself in a situation where a mistake was made:

  1. When you recognize the error, take a deep breath and analyze the possible solutions. In most cases it will be something that you need to “own” right away. If it is something that you specifically can solve, then handle it immediately.
  2. If it is something where you will need assistance, take it to your manager. Your pride and ego may try to get in the way, but believe me when I say that your manager has probably been in your shoes before and they may have a good solution (and they have more control to do something about it). Just don’t wait, the longer you wait the harder it will become.
  3. Remember, everyone makes mistakes, and as terrible as it feels you will recover and the people around you will move on. If handled correctly, the mistake can do more to impress those around you than damage their opinion of your work.

Until we are able to figure this type of issue out or share best practices, I am afraid that we might always struggle to maintain the reputation that we work so hard to build. A reputation where clients are confident in our ability to operate in an ethical, principled manner; built on an understanding that we are looking out for their best interest and we are trustworthy enough that when an error is made, we get the benefit of the doubt.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? How did you handle it? What are your thoughts? Can we do something differently so that it can be avoided in all cases?

Please share your feedback!

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