Car Talk

Silver Honda Pilot

Photo credit: Fiona Traub

I grew up in a family that bought large used cars.  My dad was good at finding sturdy, reliable cars that owners no longer wanted once they had logged 40,000 miles.  He bought the ones that a local mechanic blessed and could fix for a couple hundred dollars.  Then we drove them another 80,000 – 120,000 miles.

So it may not come as a surprise to you that I am driving a 2006 Honda Pilot with 113,000 miles right now.

And like most cars that have traveled that far, it is showing a little wear. The paint on the fender has chipped off in several places.  A few rust spots dot the bottom of the doors.

But the car has become an old friend.  It has served us well for over nine years.

I envisioned it taking my family through college drop-offs and pick-ups and being there for my kids to drive.

Since the car rides well, I thought it would just need some care to go for another few years.  Recently I invested in the car’s insides – new front and rear brakes, new timing belt.

Then I investigated repairing the outside.

I walked into the Coach and Carriage Auto Body shop in Natick Center and asked about getting my car painted.  An appraiser named Joe introduced himself and said, “Let me see what I can do to talk you out of this.”

Before he even saw the car.

We went outside and Joe circled the car twice.  Then he said, “Here’s the thing.  Rust is like cancer.  The little bit you see on the doors outside is just the part that’s visible, but inside there is much more. If I repair and paint your car now, it will cost $4000 – $5000, and the rust will return in six months.  You won’t be happy with it.”

Joe the car oncologist gave my car doors about two years to live. After I recovered from the news, I told him of my hopes for the car.

Joe said, “This is a great car for the kids. It’s reliable and safe. Keep it for them. You can always replace a door if you need to. Take the money you would pay to repair the outside and put it toward a new car for you.”

But Joe doesn’t sell new cars.  He was turning away my business.

Why would he do that?

Because Joe understood that the Coach and Carriage Auto Body brand is not about repairing and painting cars.  It’s about making the owners happy with their cars by restoring their luster.

And if I was not going to be happy with my car, that would not be good business for Coach and Carriage Auto Body.

Turning away my business was a good business decision for Joe.  He did what was right for the customer and not what would fill his coffers in the short term.

Do I trust Joe now?  Absolutely.  Will he be the one I call next time I need auto body work?  Yes.  Am I likely to recommend him?  You bet.

In fact, I am likely to tell this story and rave about him to hundreds of my closest newsletter subscribers.

The positive word-of-mouth will likely bring him more business than my one car repair would.

To build your brand’s reputation and generate customer enthusiasm that prompts word-of-mouth marketing:

  • Know the problem that your brand solves for your customers. It is unlikely to be the provision of a particular product or service.  Joe knew that the problem that brought customers in was that something adverse had made them unhappy with their cars.  They looked to Coach and Carriage to make them happy again.
  • Identify all the possible solutions your brand can provide well. This often leads to ideas for new products and services.
  • Forgo the quick sale in favor of doing what is right for the customer. If your brand can’t solve their problem, help them find other solutions.  Joe did this for me by listening to my problem, supporting my idea of keeping the Pilot for my kids and suggesting that I put the funds I would have spent at his shop toward a new car.  One that would make me happy.

On behalf of his auto body shop, Joe provided the solution that his brand offers.  He just didn’t make any money doing it.  While this is not a sustainable model for every interaction, it was a wise choice for my case.

Thanks to Joe, I’m now in the market for a new small SUV.  Any recommendations?

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2 Responses to Car Talk

  1. Kris says:

    Great article. I’ve always appreciated those companies who seem more interested in you than simply making a buck. And you’re right, your positive WOM will bring them more business than simply your endorsement would have (if you needed to have the work done) afterwards. I know I’ll think of them.
    Re: Rec – Perhaps another Pilot – 2 in my family and it seems as though this one has served you well. Perhaps showing some brand loyalty on your end by buying the Honda again?

    • Evelyn Starr says:

      Hi Kris,

      Yes, honesty breeds trust more than anything else. As for the car, though I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my Pilot, I’m looking for something smaller in my post-carpooling life!

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