Do You Treat Your Customers Like a Deal or a Relationship? A Lesson from McGee Toyota

What’s more valuable to your business – one customer deal or a lifelong customer relationship that results in repeat business and referrals? You’d think the answer is obvious, wouldn’t you?

My family is in the market for a new SUV. We’ve got a Toyota Sequoia that’s nearly a decade old with about 160k miles on it – and it’s time for us to get a new one. It’s been a good truck for us – so naturally, looking at new Sequoias was part of our purchasing plan. After some other research and a few peeks at various other brands and models, we narrowed our search down to a Toyota Sequoia or a Ford Expedition.

After a lot of discussions, research on both brands and price negotiations, we decided to stick with the Toyota. So my husband struck a good deal and signed the papers with McGee Toyota in Hanover, MA, on Friday. We bought our last Toyota from McGee and we have gone there for every service need for the last decade. So, it seemed to be a natural and feel-good move.

He had such a good experience with the salesman on Friday that on Saturday, after running a road race, we headed right back to the dealership with my sister-in-law who was also in the market for a new SUV.

After another great experience with the same salesman, we sat down do talk price – including an option for trading in her existing SUV (which we were driving, so the dealer could see it on the spot). The natural back and forth took place with the manager in his office (ivory tower) and the poor salesman running back and forth between him and us – trying to strike a deal.

Let me just point a few things out:

  1. We’re repeat customers
  2. We’ve been loyal customers for a decade
  3. We brought in more customers/referrals
  4. We just bought a car the day before
  5. We came after a road race – in our running gear!
  6. The point being, clearly, we were serious buyers.

As I mentioned, my sister-in-law had a car to trade in. And the manager refused to tell her the estimate for the trade in – or negotiate the cost of the car she was trying to buy – until she would commit to buying RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen if a) she didn’t know the value of her trade-in, and b) the bottom line cost of the car she wanted to buy, and c) her husband (who wasn’t present) had an opportunity to see the car and hear the possible deal (i.e., value of the trade-in as well as the deal for the new car after negotiation). Oh, and also – why would we commit to buying something without knowing the cost? Who does that?

This was the exact opposite experience than the day before – with a different manager (same salesman). What a shock.

After several rounds with the poor salesman – embarrassed and frustrated, recognizing we were serious buyers and repeat customers, shaking his head and apologizing – that went nowhere, we decided to get up and leave. My sister-in-law wasn’t about to commit to buying a car without understanding the costs or even the courtesy of an estimate or starting point. Why were these games necessary when we were obviously serious about buying?

Before we left, my husband (keep in mind, it was his sister he brought in and thus, he’s naturally protective) stated that he couldn’t believe the way we were being treated after having just bought a car yesterday. And he began asking about the timeframe available to us to change our minds on our earlier purchase, considering we were not only being treated rudely, and being toyed with, but the manager didn’t even have the courtesy to come out and thank us for not only buying a car the day before – but coming back the next day with another customer.

So my husband said he was going to look into the time we had to change our mind on our purchase – unless we heard from them on an estimate for her trade in soon. (Keep in mind, it’s not that he didn’t know the estimate – the salesman confirmed the manager had a price; he just didn’t want to give it to us – wouldn’t write down a number – until she committed to buying on the spot.) The salesman said “I don’t want to tell him [the manager] that, you tell him.” And my husband said, “I would if he ever had the courtesy to come out here and talk to us.”

So we walked out and as we were getting into our car, the manager finally found a reason to walk out and talk to us. He boldly sauntered to our car and walked right up to the window as my husband got out. The manager then said, “Oh, you wanna call off the deal? That’s fine, we’ll rip up the contract right now.”


Does this bullying tactic work on others? Because it didn’t work on us. This man couldn’t give us the privilege of a face-to-face discussion when we were ready to buy another car, and insisted on playing unnecessary, old-school games with a serious customer – and then he comes out with bravado and ego and tells us he’d rather lose TWO SALES than give us a simple estimate?

What is going on here? Would YOU do this? Is this how you treat your repeat customers? I sure hope not.

I can tell you what’s going on now:

  1. McGee Toyota just lost two car sales – over ego. (Ask yourself, will your investment matter to them either?)
  2. They just lost a loyal, potentially life-long customer
  3. They showed how little their customers mean to them
  4. They created a negative brand experience associated with Toyota
  5. We’ll not only never return, and never refer someone to them again, but we’ll continually tell everyone we know not to buy from them – ever
  6. We’re now back to discussions with Ford and may abandon Toyota altogether – we’re still negotiating
  7. They showed that the value of a deal is more important to them than the value of a customer relationship.

A customer deal is great. But a salesman – especially a sales manager (or, perhaps he was the owner, which makes it even more ludicrous) – should be savvy enough to recognize when a customer is a serious, loyal and repeat customer who not only continues to give you business, but also refers others. This manager basically took the customer referral pyramid and chucked it out the window.

Am I out of touch here? Are $40-50k cars flying out the door in this economy? Are ready-to-buy customers flocking to the doors for you? Even if they were, would you treat a long time, loyal customer in this manner?

Make sure your sales team can recognize the difference between a customer deal and a customer relationship – and if you care about your business, train them to treat every customer with respect and gratitude. Even if you are in the car sales business.

44 thoughts on “Do You Treat Your Customers Like a Deal or a Relationship? A Lesson from McGee Toyota

  1. I was looking at cars there a few weeks ago. I’ll be sure NOT to buy from them. Thanks for the heads up!!

  2. I’m glad you ripped up your previous contract. Good for you. I never participate in the salesman/manager charade. I always pay invoice plus and support dealerships that use that as a sales model.

  3. The manager waiting in the little glass cube has to be the most annoying and frustrating part of it all. they apparently hold all the decision-making in that room, yet will NEVER come out to greet a customer. WE SEE YOU talking about our deal. WE SEE YOU STARING AT US while you look at the deal.

    When the sales manager finally did come out of the box…because we wouldn’t leave the lot and it was 45 minutes after closing, he told my wife, that had just been lied to, that she was being “too emotional.”

    It was the worse experience of our lives. Why did we go to Toyota in the first place? A friend loved her Sienna, so we got ours.

    I cannot tell you the length of our headaches with Toyota, but we will not buy one again. The arrogance the dealership displayed was stomach turning. Arrogance. Plain and simple.


  4. Sorry to hear, but unfortunately all too common – I generally loathe the car buying process. Seemed like the internet was going to make things better, but somehow over the past few years things have gone back in the other direction.

    Having said that, we had a good experience with Wellesley Toyota recently – realize it’s not right around the corner for you but if you really love the brand…

  5. Great post. From my own experience, car dealerships are the absolute WORST in customer relations. They seem to forget that we are making a large purchase and don’t want to be toyed with. To me, a smart car dealer would want to cultivate customers who will return, AS YOU DID. Crazy.

  6. I think this is a great piece, Christine. We recently wrote about how customer engagement requiresa human touch. It’s so important to engage with customers around things that are important to them and not just things that lead to a transaction.

    Our customer RBC have done that by transforming their online banking pages from a number of features and benefits messages to a conversation with their customers about the customer experience. This includes the things that make them smile and make them steam.

  7. Christine, thank you for sharing this experience. Starting with my parents, my family was also loyal to McGee for close to three decades, having bought several cars and referred countless customers, before it let them down too. Now that we’re not in the South Shore area, we’ve long since moved on, but it’s still disappointing to hear such an account.

    It reminds me of an even worse (shocking, I know) customer experience I suffered in 2006 at Boch Toyota. They botched just about every single opportunity to do it right. Sadly, I went through with the transaction only because I had already devoted more time than I could afford to repeat, while I had a newborn in the NICU. My priority was simply to get it done so I’d have a new, safe care in which to bring my delicate baby home. They also had NO understanding of what it means to negotiate a car sale in between visits to the hospital, but that’s a whole other story. Had I been blogging then, I would have also shared my story, but this was almost 5 years ago. I have, however, told everyone I know to avoid Boch Toyota and precisely why. I know this has dissuaded hundreds of people over the course of those years from doing business with them. But that one manager working with me didn’t realize the power of seeing me as a relationship. He was just trying to seal the deal. Shame.

  8. Wow. I suppose car salesmen have become a cliche for a reason. It surprises me that — given the car sales shenanigans that are commonplace — the Saturn model of transparent pricing/no games didn’t catapult their sales into the stratosphere (must have been the cars.)
    I hope you print out this blog post (and following comment stream) and mail it to the owner of Magee Toyota. Tape it to the front door of the dealership before opening so that all the other employees and prospective customers can see it too. Perhaps if enough people stand up and say “no more games” the game will change. I hope so.
    Two last words — Silko Honda — We have been happy, happy customers for 10 years.

  9. It sounds silly, but the reason I bought my Mazda6 was because the manager at North End Mazda completely won me over with his friendly personality and willingness to do whatever *I* needed him to to close the deal. It doesn’t hurt that I absolutely love my car, but it was hard leaving Toyota after owning 4 of them. Dealers are everything.

  10. I wonder if this “manager” had a beef with the salesperson and was willing to lose a deal or two so the salesperson wouldn’t get a commission.

  11. Great story, Christine. Too many businesses treat customers like paper towels: use once and throw away. One of my regular golf foursome is one of the biggest car dealers in our area. I think he must value repeat business because many people I know keep going back to him. I do know he has a policy that if you buy 20 cars from him, the 21st is free. He ought to put that deal on foursquare, right?

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  14. JJ, I too wrote an email to management one late night. I never received a response. All it amounted to was a “free” cargo net, which they didn’t bother to install and I’ve never used since. I’m not surprised to hear of your similar trouble since a Boch salesman told me himself how common these disasters are on the night I picked up my car (nice). So about an hour later, when I realized my car was not at all prepped for pick-up, it was just more of the same shoddy service. The salesman rushed to get it vaccuumed and gassed up while I waited, and clearly skipped several other steps since I found the unchecked checklist IN THE CAR, and went on to find uninstalled accessories in the glove compartment, center console and trunk the next day. Boch is a service nightmare.

  15. Here’s my update, ya’all –

    Toyota headquarters responded to my blog posts yesterday and offered $1k off of any purchase or lease for the next 12 months. They have also reached out to ask about the experience directly.

    While I appreciate this – and appreciate that corporate cared – it was too late. We went back to Ford last night and bought an Expedition.

    Jannell Ford in Pembroke, MA was great. We had quite a chuckle together over McGee’s ego. I hope to write a full post on our GREAT experience with Jannell later today – because they deserve it.

  16. Absolutely. You don’t want to give your money to a dealer who doesn’t value your business. If you still want a Toyota, I’m happy to share some other dealer recommendations that people gave to me. Just let me know. And good luck!

  17. Thank you for reading, Matt. It’s really unfortunate because I like Toyota a lot. But out of principle, I couldn’t give even another Toyota dealer my business – he ruined the entire brand experience for me.

    Ford, on the other hand, was great. Down-to-earth, no BS, friendly and honest. We felt great when we left there.

    Also, I had to laugh at your first paragraph – I think they like being seen in their “roost.” So 1959. Customers want engagement…hello… is this news?

  18. Thank you for reading and commenting, Donna. All I can hope is that by sharing my story, and through great people like you helping to spread the word, we can help businesses like this improve. Customer service begins at the POS.

    Also, it never fails to blow my mind how they treat consumers making such a large purchase – it’s not a small investment for most of us. I’m not going to be bullied into it.

  19. Thanks for the referral, Chris. Unfortunately, almost on principle alone, we bought the Ford last night. We were *this close* to doing it before – and so this pushed us over the edge. Change is good, right? :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

  20. Thanks for reading and sharing your link, David. Great stuff! I love to hear about innovative transformation. Car dealerships could take note.

  21. Carissa – your story trumps mine, any day. I am so sorry you had to deal with that. I’m troubled, however, that McGee hasn’t learned a lesson yet.

    As you know, I can relate to a child in the NICU and any person who couldn’t empathize with that and skip the games “just this once” is disgusting. To take advantage of someone who was in your situation is horrible.

    I’m glad we didn’t go to Boch – we had considered it. But as you may know, we instead went to Ford and bought an Expedition.

    Thanks for sharing your story – through doing so, I hope we can help companies be better to their customers and realize the value of customer service AND positive engagement.

  22. Thanks for sharing yours, JJ

    I hope Toyota can inspire its dealers – those like McGee and Boch – to do better by its customers, and its brand.

  23. Ooh, 21st is free – not THAT is so cool. And yes, it should be on Foursquare. I love that story! Maybe I could interview him for a post. Thanks for sharing (and reading and commenting), Joe.

  24. I am happy to her that Jody – it’s the same reason we closed the deal with Ford last night. The salesman was personable, funny, honest, no-pressure – just a real person. He deserved our sale.

    Thank you for sharing!

  25. Sue, I am so tempted to take your advice. But sadly, I don’t think McGee would care. When we called to confirm the deal was off with the finance manager, he said the situation was indeed “unfortunate,” but seemed to otherwise have a gag order on discussing it with us.

  26. I know, Peter – I’m right there with you! And I don’t think we were asking for too much here. I get the “car sales” game and that’s fine – but not in this instance. Not when we just bought a car and brought a repeat customer. And the bravado and bullying – never should happen.

    Thank you for reading and commenting.

  27. Oh yes, Kate that always makes me so happy – when they speak to my husband and not me…

    I have to say, the Ford dealer did the opposite – clearly, a man who “gets it” :)

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  29. Wow, that’s quite a story Christine. I don’t blame you one bit. We bought our Toyota Sienna from Ira (we’re on the North Shore) and couldn’t be happier. It’s amazing to me that McGee wasn’t able to recognize the lifetime value lost during that one interaction. I’d be shocked if there’s not some very tense discussions going on there right now. Good for you for sharing!

  30. Thank you Jim. Here’s a kicker for you. Toyota’s Headquarters took the liberty of contacting me after reading our blog. And that’s great (even though their offer was too late – we went Ford). But now suddenly, we’re getting their newsletters. I wasn’t aware blogging about a brand was an opt-in to their email newsletter. Oy vey.

  31. Sound like a commercial!! They deserve it!! We need to share our positive brand experiences more – so thank you for sharing. I am happy that Honda treated you well. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  32. No it wont Matt. They have no control over the local dealers. Hard part for most OEM’s is getting buy in, even on a basic level from their dealers. No matter what they try the local people that have no clue will never get a clue, no matter how many of these posts are written.

  33. Hi Christine,

    I was in the car business, in the 90’s. I participated in those games. A lot.

    Yours was a case of absolute paranoia; the sales manager obviously didn’t take his logical pill that day, nor was his intuition in sync with real life.

    Christine, he didn’t want to give you a price, because;

    A. Your brother-in-law wasn’t there (Final decision-maker?)
    B. He was afraid that you’d shop his price all over town with other Toyota dealers
    C. He was being bull-headed.

    It happens a lot in the car business. It IS old school. He was betting on the odds, but he didn’t have the right information to bet. You are a loyal customer who wanted to do business, there. Period.

    He lost. You lost time, and had a temporary raise in blood-pressure.

    My brother-in-law, who’s part owner and the GM of a Cleveland area Toyota dealer would have made the deal. Both times.

    (He probably would have brought the car out to your brother in law the same day, too see it.)

    The Franchise King®

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