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Customers for Life

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The art of developing the long-term customer  relationships that are the lifeblood of every  successful enterprise.
"Sewell's fundamentals are to  an entrepreneur what the three R's are to a  teacher...required reading." -- Harvey Mackay,  author of Swim with the Sharks

The man that Tom Peters called "one of the country's savviest entrepreneurs" proves that treating the customer ...

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Customers for Life: How to Turn That One-Time Buyer into a Lifetime Customer

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Overview

The art of developing the long-term customer  relationships that are the lifeblood of every  successful enterprise.
"Sewell's fundamentals are to  an entrepreneur what the three R's are to a  teacher...required reading." -- Harvey Mackay,  author of Swim with the Sharks

The man that Tom Peters called "one of the country's savviest entrepreneurs" proves that treating the customer right is the best profit strategy. Carl Sewell's straightforward "cookbook" approach is the book for everyone who deals with customers or clients.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671747954
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 10/4/1991
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 8.27 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Japanese are excellent hosts. While I was in Tokyo recently for the new car show, everyone I met was so gracious, and hospitable that I found it hard to reconcile their politeness with their aggressiveness in business.

I finally figured it out as I stood at the Toyota exhibit and heard a young Japanese engineer explain that their goal was to be "ichiban," (itch-e-bon) which means "number one," the biggest, the best.

I heard that phrase repeatedly, no matter where I went in the country. "This is the biggest bank in the world." "That's the largest brokerage firm." And, of course, we had just left the world's biggest car show.

Now I was born, raised, and still live in Dallas and I thought Texans owned the exclusive rights to being the biggest and best. But we don't anymore. At best, we share it. The Japanese drive to be number one, which seems to govern everything they do, has allowed them to wrestle away at least part of the title from us. "Ichiban" is critical to their success.

And to ours.

The most important thing we ever did at our five car dealerships was decide to be the best. Long before I met my new friends in Japan, the concept of "ichiban" was important to me. Being last stuck in my craw.

I joined Sewell Village Cadillac full time in 1967, after I got out of the Army. Back then there were only three Cadillac dealers in Dallas, and we were third in sales and profits. That bothered the hell out of me. I wanted to be number one.

I didn't know it then, but that decision represented the turning point for our company. Before you can even think about providing better customer service, you must determine how good you want to be. And we were going to be the best.

That decision ended up making life simpler, more fun, and definitely more profitable.

Simpler because it ended a lot of debate. Discussions around here now always boil down to the same question: will doing this make us better? If it will (and if there's any conceivable way to afford it), we'll do it. If it won't, we don't.

Fun because it's more enjoyable to work with people committed to the same objectives. People who don't believe that we have to be the best don't last long around here.

And more profitable because customers now enjoy the way we treat them and want to come back. Instead of buying one car from us, and then disappearing forever, the customer returns whenever he needs a new one.

Over the course of his lifetime he'll end up spending a lot of money with us -- $332,000 to be exact.

After a while this way of doing business becomes self-perpetuating.

  • If you're good to your customers, they'll keep coming back because they like you.
  • If they like you, they'll spend more money.
  • If they spend more money, you want to treat them better. (You can't do enough for someone who is going to spend $332,000 with you.)
  • And if you treat them better, they'll keep coming back and the circle starts again.

It was Tom Peters who helped quantify the true value of a customer for me. Over and over Tom insisted that we stick to our knitting and get closer to our customers.

But it took me awhile to figure how to do it. All I knew at first was that we had to become the best dealership in Dallas. And to do that, I soon understood, we had to figure out a way to differentiate ourselves from the competition.

At first I thought we could be cheaper than everybody else, but that's not really what most people want. Yes, everybody wants a good deal, but price is rarely the sole reason they decide to buy. After you've been to a restaurant, you don't remember exactly what the hamburger cost, you only remember whether you liked it or not.

Besides, we can't compete solely on price. No matter what we charge, somebody -- because they're smarter (they figured out a way to be more efficient) or dumber (they don't really know what their costs are) -- can always charge a dollar less.

Price wasn't the answer. So I began looking for another solution and, as I did, I started thinking about our company from the customers' point of view. What I realized was most people didn't like doing business with car dealers. They looked forward to seeing us about as much as they did going to the dentist.

I knew that intuitively, but I wasn't sure why. So we started asking customers what they didn't like about doing business with us, and they told us, quite often without mincing words.

They found the service hours -- usually 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. Monday through Friday -- inconvenient. They thought some of our employees were rude, they hated being without a car while the dealership was working on theirs, and worst of all they often had to bring their car back a second or third time to get a repair done right.

Some of them even pointed out that our grounds were not as clean as they should be, adding our furniture was tired-looking at best, and not very comfortable.

They weren't very specific about how we could improve things, but what they didn't like came through loud and clear.

They were telling us what was important. They were defining service excellence.

Once we understood what our customers wanted, we set out to give it to them. We figured if they liked doing business with us -- instead of gritting their teeth every time they came in -- they'd probably come back more often.

We began by providing them with free loan cars to use while we were working on theirs. We started with 5 loaners and eventually the fleet grew to 257.

Our customers also said they couldn't understand why we wouldn't work on their cars on Saturdays -- after all, other stores were open then. In the early 1970s no dealer in the state provided all-day Saturday service. We tried it, and the first weekend twenty-five people thanked me for being open. And to make their lives even easier, we extended our service hours during the week. We now open at 7:30 A.M. and close at 8 P.M.

But some of what they asked for was a lot more difficult to accomplish. How could we make sure the work was always done right? What was the best of way of reducing the time they'd have to spend at the dealership? How could we eliminate every potential problem they might have in doing business with us?

We needed to create systems that would take care of all that, but how? I tried to learn from every source I could find -- consultants, books, magazines -- but nothing paid off better than visiting successful companies. We spent time with people in the car industry, people like Roger Penske and Bob Moore, but others ran everything from hotels (Marriott and The Mansion on Turtle Creek) to restaurants (McDonald's and LutTce) to airlines (American and Southwest). We wanted to know how they were able to provide a consistent product and excellent customer service, every time.

We began by visiting with people most like ourselves -- other folks who sold cars. We called dozens of people in our industry and asked them who the best automobile dealers were. By actually walking through those dealerships and talking to the people who worked there, we began to understand how the best dealers in the country operated. We asked questions, took pictures, and copied everything we could get our hands on.

We borrowed a lot of ideas. We modified them, and in some cases even improved them, but the basic thoughts came from the people we met and the businesses we visited. Those ideas provided the map for us to follow.

Finally, with our systems in place, we were able to start a program in which we constantly check on how each aspect of our business is doing, and whether we are accomplishing our goals of being the best, asking customers what they want, and creating systems that allow us to give it to them.

All this is hard as hell. It takes time to visit people and even more time to figure out how to make their ideas work for us. But once we decided our goal was to be the best, we were on the right path.

I'd like to show you how we manage our business and maybe it will help you, whether you're in a big company or just starting out. After all, if our approach to customer service can make the experience of going to a car dealership pleasant, anything's possible.

Copyright © 1990, 1998 by Carl Sewell

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Table of Contents

What's New
Foreword by Tom Peters
The Ten Commandments of Customer Service
It all starts here: how good do you want to be?
ONE Ask your customers what they want...and give it to 'em
1 The customer will tell you how to provide good service
2 If the customer asks, the answer is always yes
3 There's no such thing as after hours
4 Underpromise, overdeliver
TWO How to give good service every time
5 Systems, not smiles
6 Fire your inspectors
7 Fire your consumer relations department, too
8 Do it right the first time
9 When something goes wrong
10 How to have what your customers want
11 Good enough never is
THREE People: how to care for customers -- and employees
12 Q: Who's more important? Your customer or your employee?
A: Both
13 The customer isn't always right
14 How to teach customers to get the best service
15 Creating frequent buyers
16 Making sure you have the best people
17 Developing service superstars
FOUR How do you know how good you are?
18 Accounting for more than money
FIVE What do you pay to get good service?
19 Save more by paying more
20 Partnership pay
SIX Leadership is performance
21 You can't fake it
SEVEN Every impression is important
22 Selling should be theater
23 Your mother was right: manners really are important
24 "If that's how they take care of the restrooms, how'll they take care of me?"
25 When was the last time (if ever) you thought about your signs?
26 If the boss is a crook, you can't expect the employees to be honest
27 The only dresscode you'll ever need
EIGHT Creating products that are easy to sell
28 Make a little, sell a little
29 You can't give good service if you sell a lousy product
NINE Borrow, borrow, borrow
30 Why reinvent the wheel? Just improve it
31 "The things you don't know are the history you haven't read"
TEN You are the message
32 Speak softly but...
33 Promotions: Wet T-shirts or the symphony?
ELEVEN Bring 'em back alive
34 The $332,000 customer
35 How to be forgiven your trespasses
36 This way of working really does work
Afterword by Stanley Marcus
Acknowledgments
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 14 of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 9, 2011

    great read

    what a simple common sense model all ceo's should use! takes lots of dedication but man how could you not want to work there much less shop!

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Probably the best book on customer service EVER

    If you are looking for a book that will help you make your business successful beyond anything you have dared to hope for, this is it. This book encompasses both the philosophy and practice of how to raise the level of customer service in a business (and enjoy the rewards of doing so). It was written to be used. Clear examples, excellent advice, this is a must-read for any business owner. I can't recommend this book enough.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2005

    Easy reading, with a WEALTH of Insight into customer service!!

    This book gives insight into the world of customer service without preaching or lecturing like many other books of the same calibre. A conversational flow makes this book a great read anytime, and educates the reader on the proven methods of winning customers for life, in ANY industry, not just the auto industry!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2002

    Customers for Life: How to Turn That One-Time Buyer into a Lifetime Customer

    Normally, when they tell you they have "updated a classic" what they mean is that they have adjusted all the numbers in the text for inflation. Not so, here. There are 5 new chapters, each containing at least one idea that could make any business better. It is nice when "new and improved" means "new and improved."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2002

    Customers for Life: How to Turn That One-Time Buyer into a Lifetime Customer

    Here's a case where you should believe the hype. The five new chapters make a very good, very helpful, book even better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2003

    Customers for Life: How to Turn That One-Time Buyer into a Lifetime Customer

    I had my doubts. I loved the original. And have used a number of the ideas--such as partnership pay--in my business for years. So, I was extremely skeptical when I saw that Carl Sewell had updated his book. But, I picked it up and LOVED the new chapters.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2002

    Great Book

    I had to read this book for a 400-level Marketing class. When I was through with this book, I wanted to travel from Michigan to Texas to buy a Cadillac from his dealership. He's very convincing and gives reasons why his style of marketing works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2002

    He shows you how to make customer service a business strategy

    Simple, practical ideas that help you turn customer service--something you have to provide any way--into a profit center.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2001

    Customers for life...

    I really enjoyed the Sewel insights. His opening 10 commandments about customer service are words to live by no matter what your business is... the rest of the book is an easy read, filled with quick little tidbits for personal and team development

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    Posted December 14, 2009

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    Posted January 22, 2010

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    Posted June 25, 2009

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    Posted March 5, 2013

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    Posted September 27, 2011

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