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What’s most important?

By August 8, 20084 Comments

Yesterday, I spoke about how competence and character are necessary to build trust, and it made me think of a business relationship I have with someone that’s in one of the lowest-trust categories out there—auto mechanics.

Honest mechanics are hard to come by, and I have one.

Years ago, I was referred to my mechanic, Alan, by a friend that said he was trustworthy. My first visit left me a little concerned. I’d been accustomed to dealership service departments and floors you could eat off of. His shop was cluttered and dirty, and parts were everywhere. I tried him anyway because of the strong recommendation and was happy with the quality of his work and professionalism.

Time after time, we’ve taken our vehicles to him thinking there was something seriously wrong, and have left paying a bill in the $100 to $200 range breathing a sigh of relief it wasn’t something serious.

Because Allen is honest, he has a fair amount of long-term, loyal customers and does no marketing. His sign consists of several sheets of paper taped together.

No matter.

My family trusts him so much, when we take a vehicle to him, we seldom ask for an estimate. We know he’ll be fair.

Recently, our au pair’s Camry started making noises—expensive sounding noises. I dropped it off at Alan’s. Shortly later, he called me and informed me it was a timing belt, let me know what needed to be done, how much it would cost and how long it would take. The car was neglected and when all was said and done, it cost about $1,200.

I didn’t negotiate.

I didn’t ask questions.

And even though I hated spending the money, I handed him my debit card with a smile on my face.

Ashes of problem customers. You can say anything if your customers trust you.

The picture above was taken at Allen’s shop. I’m sure his customers laugh when they see it—you’ve never met a nicer guy. But he’s built up so much trust with his customers, he can say (or not say) just about anything and we’ll keep coming back.

As marketers, we spend a lot of our time getting to know the customer, massaging the message and the visuals and coming up with bold and brave ways to break through.

But given the above, shouldn’t we really be focusing on ways to communicate competence and character, as well?

Comment below to weigh in.

. . .
If you are in the Seattle area and are interested in chatting with Allen, here’s his contact info:

Nielsen Enterprises
13237 NE 20th Street
Bellevue, WA 98005
(425) 643-4610

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • bottom line.... says:

    Doesn’t matter what you pitch or how you pitch it, the only thing that truly matters is the relationship with the customer in the end, whether they trust you and will come back to you because of the perceived value of your service, when there are a dozen other guys selling the same stuff in the same neighborhood. I used to work for a shoe store where some of the customers would come in, and if the store was too busy for him to wait on them right away, the customers would sit for an hour waiting for the store manager to wait on them, even though other salesmen might have wrapped up their sales sooner, and would have been happy to wait on them, they wanted him, and only him. It wasn’t because the store was a nationally known brand, there were equally good brands in the same mall. It wasn’t their nationally visible advertising, again there were other companies advertising just as hard, and more or less the same kind of pitch. It was him that was the deciding factor. I have my own following in the market where I show my wares, some folks have cracked that I don’t have customers, I have groupies. There are plenty of guys down the way selling a bunch of the same stuff I do, but they don’t have the emphasis on customer first service that I do, and I am told often that the customer has come to the market only to see me. Most of my advertising is word of mouth…. I’m lucky to have a good mechanic, he encourages my trust by taking me in the bay with him, and showing me all around my vehicle, he talks to me like a grown up, (you kind of have to be a female to understand what I mean by that) and I understand what’s going on, what he needs to do with my car, and why. Women are more often preyed on by mechanics because it’s traditionally assumed that guys know something about cars and women don’t know anything. Male or Female, there are plenty of mechanics who will take your car off “somewhere”, do “something”, and show you a couple of old parts and charge you a hefty pricetag for it, and plenty more mechanics who will sabotage a vehicle to bring it back sooner (like when I discovered a former mechanic “forgot” to install clips on my brake shoes, a practice which causes the shoes to slip out of position and wear out faster, after I took my car elsewhere for a second opinion)…looking for a mechanic is like looking for a prince, you have to kiss alot of frogs and hope you don’t wind up with nothing but warts in the deal. In my own experience of looking at ads for local businesses in general, those that have the focus on things like trust and competence certainly catch my attention more than those that focus on price or product, if a business can advertise that they have been there for 100 years, there must be a good reason for it, when an ad shows a dentist or doctor ministering to patient, it’s easier to imagine yourself in the chair, when two jewelry stores show ads, and one ad shows the sparkly stones while the other brings you face to face with the store’s owner, who talks about things like being the third generation of the family in the store, that ad gets my attention more, and inspires my trust more than the one talking about the sparkly stones, and you have no idea who you are going to deal with there. There’s a local car dealership that says nothing about cars in their ads at all, the owner of the dealership sits in his office and talks to you about ways of supporting friends and family members with breast cancer, and you get the sense that his wife of someone is dealing with that. Not a thing about the value of his cars. Do his ads get my attention, and make me think that this is someone who might be trustworthy in his dealings if he is going to use his advertising budget to promote breast cancer awareness? Hell yeah! Yeah, encouraging ideas like trust and competence matters (but of course the business or product had better have the chops to back up their advertising) That’s why word of mouth is so strong no matter how much you put into your print, tv, or net advertising….when someone you trust tells you about someone they trust, it has way more clout than a business or product telling you why you should trust them….

  • Jon says:

    Awesome post. I had a junker while in college in Murray, KY. I had a good mechanic like that in Mike Harlan (Harlan Automotives).

    Mike never cheated me or tried to swindle me. He let a shop manager go for trying to talk customers into unneeded repairs. He even fixed my car for free.

    My beater of a car need repairs so often that he told me to stop bringing it to him and buy a new car with a warranty. He was a great guy and more than a mechanic. He became a trusted friend.

  • I purchase only from those I trust, no matter the product or service category. I don’t think I am an anomaly. I believe and encourage my clients to believe that none of us sell products or services. We sell great experiences built on trust and creditility.

  • bottom line... says:

    Giggle! Like Jon, my mechanic threw me out until I could get him something decent to work on as well, I’d been saving up 6 years to buy a better used car, and was hoping to keep limping my poor 87 charger along another year, but it just wasn’t in the cards….ah well, I have an 02 PT Cruiser LTD now, made sure he put his stamp of approval on it before I bought it last Oct…. ya gotta respect a mechanic with integrity… The mechanic I had before him was just awesome, I always felt good about taking my car to Tommy, for his competence and fairness, (another one that tried to talk me into getting a newer car already) I guess he must have retired, or something, I called the shop one day, and they just told me he wasn’t there anymore, so I don’t know what happened to him really, if he retired or had a medical problem or something, they didn’t tell me, (I’ve taken my car to that shop since, to the new guy) so then I was basically a free agent with respect to looking for a mechanic, when my alternator forced me to pull into Mickey’s shop (the one who threw me out till I could get him something decent to work on) Divine Providence made my brakes fail in front of the shop of the best mechanic I ever had, some years ago…I was in need of a good mechanic, as I didn’t trust the people I was going to at the time, and they were plenty expensive!….He would still be my mechanic today if I hadn’t moved out of the area. I walked in all shook up, and explained that my brakes had failed, and I was lucky my emergency brakes were working….Divine Providence was working on many levels that day, he was standing in the middle of his shop arguing with a couple that he wouldn’t pass their car for their 6 month inspection until they got the emergency brakes repaired, they were trying to talk him into basically selling them an inspection sticker and calling it a day…it was a match made in Heaven, no doubt about it, when I walked in with bad brakes and explained that I used the emergency brake to stop, that argument was *over*, Amen! I had him look over a used car I was thinking of buying, he demanded to see the bill of sale, and basically said something to the effect that it was good they didn’t write “not fit for the road” into their bill of sale and I had better take it back and cancel the check while I had a chance, it was totally unsafe, and he was not in the business of selling inspection stickers!…He saved my bacon many a time! He was crazy as a bedbug, but he was very good to me, and always tried to keep the costs down, seeing as how I was driving a ’76 Chevette that was totally rusted out, and it was like, 1990, if you know what I mean! Badly done bondo patches everywhere! ( I did em to get it past his inspection standards) But I know for a fact that he would never let me drive something that wasn’t safe to drive, and would have refused to pass that Chevette if my bondo patches or anything else were unsafe. I had him look over the next car I bought, an 85 Charger (what can I say, I’m a Charger fan!) and picked it up the night before I moved away, went to say goodbye, since I was moving away, went to give him a hug, and the dude *frenched* me!!! ROFL!!! Guess he figured it was now or never! Merl the Pearl, what a guy! Crazy ass dude, I would trust him with my life, and have many a time! Laughing my ass off just thinking about him, he sure was something! No matter how good the print or blurb is, you can always tell when someone is in the line of work they’re in because they love what they do, and not just for the money, passion shines like a lighthouse on a rocky coast….

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