Everyday life can produce great lessons in integrity and business. So was the case when I was purchasing my car at the end of its lease. Maryland requires a state inspection. With only 40,000 miles on the car, it seemed like a formality.

We would all agree that the dealership, especially for luxury vehicles, has the latest information to service your vehicle. So, since there was some warranty/recall work required, I had the dealer perform the state safety inspection, I took the report at face value when they said I needed $2,500 to $3,000 of repairs.  But, feeling as though some of this didn’t make sense, I did what few consumers would do:  I paid for a second opinion.

I contacted some friends in the automotive industry, and they recommended an independent mechanic that runs a medium-sized facility. Jeff, the owner, has a reputation for servicing luxury vehicles and solving the tough cases. Most importantly, Jeff is known to operate with integrity.

Jeff”s facility is not as elegant as the dealership. I explained that I knew I needed a bunch of repair, and also needed an inspection in order to change from a lease to owning the vehicle. After an hour, he came to deliver the report: I needed nothing, nada, zip.  The car was in perfect condition. I showed Jeff something on the front tires that the dealer said required that I replace two tires for $700.  Jeff explained how they test the tires, showed me the state guidelines, showed me the same situation on a brand new tire, and said “your tires have at least 10,000 miles left of safe usage. I’d be happy to sell you tires, but I’d prefer to wait until you need them.” I then showed him the report from the dealer, and he shook his head and then showed me in detail each of the supposed failures and how the dealer’s report was not accurate.  In fact, in one case the dealer reported that each brake pad had 6/32 of material left on it. Jeff showed me how two of the pads had 14/32 – I guess they grew material overnight.

The lesson, for my purpose, is of course about sales and integrity. The dealership represents the high-end market leader. Jeff is the local small to medium business. Jeff is not permitted by the manufacturer to perform warranty and recall work – you must go to the dealer. But, when the dealer lost my trust, do you think they can ever earn back my business?  Jeff could have easily charged me to fix what didn’t need repairing. However, by being honest and educating me, did Jeff earn my trust and business? You bet.  And, where do you think my referrals are going now?

It is our job to help ensure that our clients are making good decisions, and that we are looking out for their best interest. When we do this, we are rewarded with repeat business and referrals. For the record, I personally purchased more than $200,000 of vehicles from the dealership in the past several years and referred more than two times that amount in business. It took a while to build up that referral business. But, guess how fast that spigot will be turned off.

If you assume that this could have been caused by one rogue mechanic, think about how that same situation can apply to your business if one person in your organization fails to act with integrity? And, if you catch wind that your competition just acted improperly, now could be a good time to speak with your prospect about how you might be able to meet their needs… but be sure to do so with integrity – and never bad-mouth the competition.  If you ask the right questions, the customer might do that job for you.

I contacted the dealership to speak to the owner. How do you think they should respond?