As a car dealer today, it's almost impossible to run your business without consulting an attorney on a regular basis. The courts are backlogged with numerous cases of civil dispute, and Attorney Generals around the country target car dealers as watchdogs for the consumer, especially during election years. Identity theft, fraud, illegal immigration, money laundering, discriminatory finance practices and the ever-changing lending laws have made owning and operating a dealership - particularly a BHPH store - a legal war zone. Dealers all over are tiptoeing through the compliance minefield where one misstep could have devastating consequences. A proactive approach to solving the customer's problems is critical for a dealer's survival, and most often it is a tactic that will save you thousands of dollars in legal expense and exposure. The key is to "nip the problem in the bud" before it grows out of control. If you react quickly to the issues at hand and train your staff extensively on policies, procedures and compliance requirements, life at the dealership will be a whole lot easier.

The Business of People Whenever a problem arises the goal is to strive for 100-percent customer satisfaction. Immediately resolve the problem! Don't put it on the shelf and hope that it goes away. That's just burying your head in the sand and that tactic never works. It's like putting away bad milk in the refrigerator; it's only going to get worse with time. Instead, deal with it immediately. The same holds true with employee problems. Never leave anything to chance, especially the solution to your day-to-day problems. Competition is simply too high and there are too many risks to operate any other way. Problems and conflicts are going to happen whenever you're dealing with people; it is part of doing business and your reputation will be determined by your ability or inability to solve these problems. If a customer has a problem you should address it immediately and work diligently to resolve it without giving away the store.

Think of yourself as a customer. How do you want to be treated by a business? What kind of service do you expect? If we get a bad cup of coffee or the fast-food worker messes up our order, we want an immediate solution. The same holds true for any retail consumer, regardless of the product or service. If an employee, a manager or (even worse) the business owner ignores our problem, we get angry and may even feel betrayed. We tell people about the bad experience. If we believe that our unattended problem is serious enough, we take action. Some complaining customers will call the home office or the Better Business Bureau looking for an ally who will listen and help solve their problem. The whole situation can begin to worsen and mushroom. Some upset customers will even call an attorney looking for relief. And, as I am sure you are aware, there are several sharp lawyers who work on a contingency basis whenever the business that allegedly wronged the customer is a car dealership. That's because the stakes are high, the payoffs are huge and the opportunities for critical errors at a dealership are plentiful. Customers elevate their problems until they are satisfied, either directly or indirectly. Either way, the negative actions by an upset client are costly to your reputation and not good for your business. Actions: Louder Than Words Conflicts and problems are easy to resolve if you simply listen to the customer, empathize, and sincerely learn about the issue. It is just like sales. In fact, it is sales. You are always selling yourself, your business and your reputation. That does not mean the customer always gets what they want, or that the customer is always right. Right or wrong does not matter. It's about business and what's good for the business. It's about learning what the customer needs and quickly satisfying that need with perceived value before, during and after the original sale. Many conflicts can be resolved simply by listening, being nice and being proactive. Treat people with respect and your actions will speak louder than your words. It's when people are ignored that they become angry and unpredictable. So don't ignore your customers. Instead, solve their problems before they do. Never leave the resolution to chance. If you find a customer with a problem, you have found an opportunity for another sale. If you solve the problem quickly you will reaffirm trust in your organization and gain another sale or at least a referral. That customer will tell everyone about his or her positive experience instead of trashing your reputation all over town. A BHPH customer's trust is too hard to gain, too easy to lose, and too valuable to risk. The success of that deal is all about the relationship, negotiating win/win scenarios and staying in contact. If you betray this trust you may never regain it and the associated costs are exponential, as the walls of conflict go up and your profits go down. So, whenever a problem arises, don't waste any time. Do yourself, your customer and your business a favor by confronting the situation immediately and nipping the problem in the bud. Ben Donnarumma owns and operates a car dealership in New England, is president of a regional finance company, and is a partner with Benjamin Herald Associates. Contact him at [email protected]