Thursday, August 30, 2007

The car salesman

This morning I went to the car dealer for my every 15,000 kilometer checkup. My appointment was 8AM and the route instructions I printed from the internet ( said it will take me approximately 12 minutes. With that in mind I left home 7:30AM.

I am not familiar with Overvecht where the car dealers are located, and where Utrecht CBR (where everyone takes the driving exam) is by the way too. To get there you have to comb through rows and blocks of residential houses that looked very much the same from each other. And for a 12-minute ride the route instruction was 2-pages long! Go straight, turn right, upon reaching rotunda 1 take the third exit, go straight, turn left, upon reaching rotunda 2 take the second exit, etcetera, you get the point. Well guess what, I got lost along the way!

A couple of times I had to stop and ask people on the streets for directions. There were road constructions too that totally mangled the route making me all the more confused. Then I found myself driving into Maarssen! Alarm bells were ringing loudly behind my ears when the clock hit 8:15AM and I still could not find the familiar highway (once I see this highway I would know how to get to the car dealer). I was in panic mode maximum overdrive state, lol. If there is one thing I hate with appointments, it is being late, and I already was.

I finally arrived at the car dealer 8:21AM -- 21 minutes late.

A bald but nice looking middle-aged tall guy greeted me outside when I jumped -literally, out of the car. He also just arrived. I told him (we spoke Dutch) I got lost along the way and I am late for my beurt [car checkup]. He said not to worry and ushered me to follow him inside where we were met by a woman who took care of my business.

While waiting, I sat in the lounge area where the coffee and tea machine is located. I had tea – something that I have recently (again) adapted in my all-day diet regime and sat down in this lazy boy chair. I opened my bag and took out my 1-piece brown wheat bread that I toasted at home before I left. Munched on it, sipped the tea, and picked up a magazine to read.

It was slightly before 9AM when employees, most of them car salesmen, started flowing into the shop. One after the other, they smiled and greeted me “Goede morgen” [Good morning] whilst fetching their first cup of coffee for the day. I noticed that all of them went first to the coffee machine to get a cup before entering their respective cubicles and rooms.

I recognized one of the sales managers as the sales man who sold me my car. He is in his late 40’s, has this friendly, smiley, and round shaped face, decent look, normal body built, and for a Dutch man, he is a tad smaller (Dutch men are tall, they usually start 180cm – about 6ft. and up). He greeted me with a “Goede morgen” in passing. I thought he did not recognize me so I went back burying myself in the magazine. I was reading an old issue of Linda Magazine that featured women who succumbed to the 21st century modern day miracles of medicine and technology - plastic surgery, for reasons other than sheer vanity. A fascinating topic indeed so you can imagine me being so deeply engrossed with it. I devoured all the stories with gusto -- a 24 year old woman had her oversized flapping ears cut and corrected; a 39 year old woman went from cup E to cup C; and a 35 year old woman had her crooked parrot-like nose chiseled even.

“Hoe is ‘t met jou?” [How’s it going with you?]

I looked up and saw the car salesman who sold me my car. His smile was so wide he reminded me of Bassie the clown, lol.

He moved closer, took a chair and sat down across the table from me. He first asked about the car if I was still happy with it, and what my experiences are, and if I have complaints. I spoke and he listened. We further talked about the other car models in the showroom. He said there are new ones on display. We also talked about which cars are saleable and the type of consumers-buyers that buy them. He asked about some personal stuff too. He still remembered that I live near the center where cars being broken into were a recurring problem in the area. I told him the malevolent juveniles have been apprehended by the police early this year. We talked about work. He pretty much remembered what I told him before. Wow, this old man has a great memory.

We went on with our merry and informative chatting when a woman in her late 30’s and her daughter walked into the shop looking for him. He excused himself and talked to the woman for a few minutes. The woman with her daughter went up to the showroom while he went back to where I was, sat down again on the chair and picked up the chat we had left. It was only after a few minutes had passed when he told me he needed to go and attend to the customer upstairs.

Later, he came back to the lounge with the woman and her daughter and offered them something to drink. It was great timing as my car was ready, so I stood up and followed the woman I met earlier to the counter to pay. The car salesman saw me leaving. Swiftly, he walked towards my direction, and extended his hand, “Bedankt, tot de volgende keer.” [Thanks, until next time.] I shook his hand, and said the same thing.

Driving to work I reflected on the car salesman. There is something about the man. He has the touch, this honest factor in him that is radiating, the calm demeanor that is affecting, and the I-am-with-you sympathetic charisma that puts you at ease.

In addition to that, as a sales person he does not make you, the customer, feel intimidated - like he knows best because he is the seller/dealer/supplier. He does not really push you.

When I bought my car a while back he gave me pros and cons to consider. When I said I am not ready to decide, he didn’t push me, instead he said, think it over and call me when you are ready. He let me decide with my own terms, and on my own time, which are very important to me. I am in the same profession and the last thing I would want when making decisions that entails a large financial investment is a nagging, impatient, and greedy sales person who wants to take my money away from me.

A month after I bought the car, he called to check how everything was. I was surprised – Is this normal? Do car sales people really check on their customers after the sale has been made to monitor if the car experience is as what was expected? Talk about real personal touch.

And today, he spent a good amount of time chatting with me even if he had another waiting customer.

I know many foreigners living and working in the Netherlands say that the Dutch are horrible when it comes to customer service, especially in restaurants and shops, which I agree. But, this car sales man has just shown me the customer experience I want and what I think every sales person should emulate (towards their customers - consumers in particular), even after the sale, and even if he knew he could not squeeze out any money from me anytime soon.

As a sales person myself, he taught me something valuable today.

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