How to Lose A Customer

I recently bought a car. It’s a 2007 Mustang GT. It’s metallic gray with custom wheels and I loved it the minute that I saw it on the Paramus Chevrolet dealership lot. Not too long after that serendipitous sighting I was the new owner of that car. The Mustang was perfect inside and out with three exceptions:

  1. The custom after-market stereo seemed to work but did not emit any sound
  2. It only came with one key
  3. The manual (hey, I love manuals) was missing
Hotness from the right

Hotness from the right

My salesman at Paramus Chevrolet promised that all three of these things would be taken care of after I purchased the car. We even wrote a “we owe you” slip to ensure that no one at the dealership “forgot” what was agreed on at point of sale.

I returned a week later to have an amplifier installed in the Mustang to make the radio work. Turns out that the radio was also a CD player (nice) and a navigation system (even nicer) but, although now making sound, the face plate would not retract fully making it impossible to place a CD in the player nor was it possible to switch out the West Coast navigation DVD for an East Coast one. This rendered the navigation system unusable.

Hotness from the left

Hotness from the left

So, to recap — I am now the proud owner of a beautiful sports car (the kind I dreamed of as a teenager) and yet the three things that were agreed upon for post-sale disposition have gone unresolved and have left me with an unsettling feeling about the dealership’s motivations and legitimacy. After many unresponsive email attempts and phone calls, I tracked down the sales manager. He told me that I should go to Best Buy and find out what a new version of the car stereo would cost and that they would split the cost with me — $300. Installation was another $200. So, at this point the dealership is squabbling with me over $500, a key and a manual — ALL of which was promised to be taken care after I purchased the car. I spent over $20k at their establishment only to have my purchase experience and ANY word-of-mouth praising I might do eliminated in an instant — over $500, a key and a manual.

I continued to send emails, voicemails and the occasional drive-by to see if I can get them to move on any of these items but the result is always no response or no budging on any item. So, Paramus Chevrolet, you’ve lost me as a customer. I will not tell my friends to purchase cars in your lot. Here’s why:

  • In an information-at-the-ready world where anyone can provide any product or service to anyone else the CORE differentiation is customer service. That service can only be delivered by humans and it’s those interactions with those humans that drives the perception of the experience with your dealership.
  • The best type of transaction is one that instills trust. As a used car dealer you are starting in the red. You must work extra hard to earn a level of trust from your customers that make them feel good about dropping tens of thousands of dollars in your establishment.
  • Hassle-free experience. That is your goal. That’s what you should strive for. Making it nearly impossible for me to get a hold of my salesman, his manager or anyone else to resolve this only exacerbates the issue.
  • Any sales or influence book will tell you that word-of-mouth referrals are THE MOST valuable thing you can gain from your customers. Why would you risk so much future revenue over $500? In retrospect, it makes even less sense than before.

Case in point — recently at my workplace,, we reworked our refund policy so that getting your money back from us was hassle free and painless. We want to provide good service but in the event it doesn’t meet your needs or expectations we want you to leave happy as well. As soon as the changes for this policy went into effect, our customer satisfaction ratings jumped over 30%. Even customers who were not happy with our product, left happy with our service.
Losing a customer is easy. Gaining and keeping a customer is hard work but the payoff is exponential if done right. Customer service is for the long term. Thinking about the short-term gain/loss ensures that you’ll continue to work even harder to gain new customers. For me, it’s too late. Paramus Chevrolet has lost me as a future customer but perhaps the next time this happens, $500 won’t be too much to spend to keep that customer and earn their trust.

About Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf is a lean thinking and design evangelist, spreading the gospel of great team collaboration, product innovation and evidence-based decision making. Jeff is an author, speaker and thought leader on the future of product development and design, often teaching workshops or giving talks on building cultures that support teamwork and innovation. Jeff co-founded Neo Innovation, a lean/agile product firm in NYC. Prior to that, he led the UX design teams at TheLadders and Web Trends. Earlier he worked with and led small teams of software designers at AOL. He is the co-author (with Josh Seiden) of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience and the upcoming (Harvard, 2016) Sense and Respond (
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  • music hear

    More disturbing is that they spend millions on advertising instead of fixing their customer service because they underestimate their customers.

  • learn dancing

    Good to know. I will definitely avoid all McAfee products from now on!