Thursday, October 19, 2006

Customer is not a 4-letter word

I don’t usually read ads for car dealerships, but this one caught my eye – maybe because it wasn’t in the automotive section, maybe because it looked like one of those “in memoriam” ads that companies run when their founder dies. (I’ve always been a sucker for an obituary: must be the Irish blood.) Anyway, it was an ad for Herb Chambers, one of the biggest car dealerships in the Boston area. (If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes with the TV or radio on here, you’ve no doubt heard their jingle: Herb Chambers, we’ve got it.)

The ad recounted a touching little story about how Herb got in the car business. Years ago, he ran into a pushy, rude, useless car salesman who so annoyed Herb that he “bought the dealership and got rid of the guy.”

Whether the story was literally true, or just figuatively so, so far, I was with Herb. I even liked the tag line – “We don’t sell cars. We help you buy them.”

Fortunately, I’ve led a pretty charmed life when it comes to car-buying. I’ve always lived in cities and have gotten this far having owned a very under-average, un-American number of cars: one used, two new. I’ve never actually been on a Herb Chambers’ lot, so I don’t know if anything he says in his ad actually matches up with the car-buying experience there. But I was completely taken aback by the line that he looks for salespeople “who listen to our guests.”

Guests? Guests???????

Let’s get something straight here. All those tire-kicking, bargain-hunting, MRSP-seeking, test-driving folks who swarm all over car dealerships for the Presidents’ Day sales are not guests. They’re customers – potential or actual.

The only businesses that I’ll let get away with calling their customers guests are hotels and restaurants, where the financial transactions cover categories (eating, drinking, sleeping) that at least mimic what happens when you’re someone’s real guest. But guests aren’t typically coming to your home to buy a car.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the word customer. As marketers, we should be proud of the relationships we help develop with our customers. We’re the ones making them aware of our products and services, making those products and services easier to buy and easier to sell, and keeping in touch with the customers once they’re “ours.”

I like the word customer, and I’d like Herb’s little fairy tale a lot better if he’d used the “c word” rather than pussyfoot around with the word guest.


John Whiteside said...

I bought my first new car ever from Herb Chambers Honda on Comm Ave. I did not feel like a "guest." It wasn't bad, but it was a car dealer experience. Maybe they've changed...

katrog said...

Ooh, we really felt like "guests" when we went to test drive a BMW station wagon at Herb's and the thing had a discharging battery that left us limping down Memorial Drive with non-working electronics. LOL. We bought a Subaru.