Like many small business men you are probably finding trading conditions tough at the moment with sales down and margins constantly squeezed, the availability of credit for both funding your forecourt and finance for your customers is now much harder to obtain as lenders toughen up on their credit ratings.

So now is a good time to take a close look at how you are marketing yourself and what methods you are using to control your image, we all know the Arthur Daley phenomenon and it is all too easy to get tarred with the same brush. The key to success in any business is customer retention and the ability to keep finding new sales, this is where your image and reputation are so important, every customer who you disappoint will tell ten or so of their friends and therefore every ten disappointed customers adds up to one hundred potential people who will assume you have a bad reputation and more than likely buy elsewhere. This type of bad publicity can be devastating especially in a relatively small community so it is very important not to disappoint your customers even at the expense of your profit on a particular deal. Now that does not mean you should always give in to their demands no matter how unreasonable, but it does mean you should consider their grumbles and complaints seriously bearing in mind the bigger picture
The low cost way to end an argument!

Left unresolved, disputes can have far reaching consequences. Reputations are slowly earned but quickly lost! Inevitably, each party to a dispute may feel that the other is being unreasonable. In order to ease the deadlock, involvement of a third party can be invaluable and the National Conciliation Service is on hand to fill this role. They have a wealth of experience in motor trade alternative dispute resolution and two services are offered - conciliation and arbitration. Conciliation consists of establishing the view of each party, considering the evidence, and suggesting a resolution. The service is free of charge and thousands of disputes have been resolved this way. If the suggested settlement is unacceptable to either party, low cost independent arbitration is available to bring about a legally binding outcome.

You can find more information about settling disputes at RMI who provides the National Conciliation Service (NCS) with a dedicated helpline number: 01788 538317
It is clearly in everyone's interest not to use third parties to settle disputes; you should always aim to settle a complaint as quickly and fairly as possible.

The OFT today announced the results of a 9 month study into motor industry customer complaints:-
According to a report on the UK's £24bn used car market by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) one in five of the 3.6 million people buying a second-hand car from a dealer each year experienced a problem.
But, following a nine-month study of the market, it decided existing laws were sufficient to clean up the sector.
Car buyers tend to go to a dealer for "peace of mind” rather than get a cheaper deal from a private buyer, the report argued.

Yet, there were 650,000 complaints to Consumer Direct in 2009 about used vehicles bought from dealers and this was the biggest consumer gripe for the fourth year running.
Some 67% of problems with these cars - often mechanical - came to light within a month of the car being bought. Under the Sale of Goods Act, the dealer should resolve the problem, with a refund, repair or replacement if the vehicle was defective when sold. But nearly 30% of buyers asked in an OFT survey said they did not have their problem rectified and instead spent an average of £425 to get it fixed.

The report also claimed that dealers often failed to tell customers whether they had made checks on a car's history as less than 30% of the OFT's mystery shoppers were shown the car's service history.

Other issues highlighted by the report included:
  • A £40m a year market in second-hand cars sold by dealers masquerading as private sellers
  • The illegal use of disclaimers which say a second-hand car is "sold as seen” or "no refunds” are available
  • Increasing the value of a car by £1,700 by illegal mileage clocking.
  • An estimated one in eight cars has a "mileage discrepancy”, according to the HPI checking service. Clocking costs consumers an estimated £580m a year in higher prices, with the average car clocked by 67,000 miles.
Some legitimate instances of correcting mileage exist - such as when a counter is broken and replaced, or when a digital counter's software fails. However, the OFT claimed that this was insufficient to keep 50 companies in the UK - which openly offer mileage correction services - in business in addition software is also advertised online by other parties with ways to alter mileage.

The OFT has repeated its recommendation - first called for in 1997 - that a registration scheme be set up for these businesses, or for them to be banned. It also recommended that MOT test mileage data be shared with vehicle check companies.

The OFT report concluded that existing laws - most notable the Consumer Protection Regulations that have been in place since May 2008 - are sufficient for dealing with rogue motor traders. It said that enforcement of these laws was now a priority, but accepted that trading standards departments which policed the sector had limited resources as they are funded by local government.

It also wants greater education of consumers about their rights and clear guidance to dealers.
The industry has repeatedly said buyers should go to legitimate companies, and trading standards officers have called on these companies to shop the rogues.
"Car dealers have been seen as a closed shop who does not want to be seen to tell tales…” said Peter Stratton, of the Trading Standards Institute.
Source: Consumer Direct

Having read all this you should be able to reflect on those areas which can cause damage to your image and in turn your reputation, try to come up with a reasoned plan that you can instigate, make sure you fully understand what your customers rights are and try to surpass those rights when dealing with complaints. You can use the fact that you recognise what rights consumers have and you have a policy in place to deal with those rights in a fair and proper manner, one way is to print your policy statement on the reverse of your business cards, you can use bullet points and short one liners to get your message across. Providing you mean what you say these statements will pay dividends and this sort of practice will improve your image and reputation which in the end will increase sales and profitability.

A good source for motor trade business cards is www.betterprint.co.uk take a look they have some great offers and the best quality you can buy!