Ethanol war is lost; George H.W. Bush; Handling customer complaints

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Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, was typically measured in his response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s announced ethanol fuel-volume levels for 2019: “Consumers are an afterthought under the current RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard),” he said.

I’m not as polite.

EPA has once again exhibited a policy of screwing hundreds of thousands of people with boats, motorcycles, lawn mowers, pressure washers and other small appliances with E15. Even more, it reeks of an inability to stand up to the ethanol and corn lobbies and do the right thing; it also shows a lack of support for revising the nation’s broken RFS; and it builds on the bad decision by the Trump Administration to allow the year-round sale of E15.

Bottom line: Some 15 billion gallons of ethanol will go into the nation’s gasoline supply next year. Even if we as an industry continue to push Congress to revise the RFS, the likelihood of such success will be like playing rock, paper, and scissors.

That said, perhaps we need to keep pushing for change, and remember the words of George H.W. Bush: “Just don't let the critics discourage you or push you off course.”

And speaking of Bush 41, perhaps you’re like me and also recall that famous speech where he said: “The Congress will push me to raise taxes, and I'll say no, and they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again. And I'll say to them: 'Read my lips, no new taxes.’”

Later, he signed off on the implementation of a 10 percent luxury tax on our boats and implemented a new Coast Guard User Fee. It was a double hit and for nearly 3 years it negatively impacted our boat sales at all levels, particularly on our larger boats, until we were able to get Congress to repeal.

Still, as we honor the passing of a President, I chose to focus more on this statement he made that reflects who he was and what we can convey to our children and grandchildren:

"The American Dream means giving it your all,” said Bush. “Trying your hardest, accomplishing something. And then I'd add to that, giving something back. No definition of a successful life can do anything but include serving others.” Amen!

Handling customer complaints

We can complain about the EPA decision and the broken RFS all we want. But closer to home, when it comes to customer complaints at a dealership, we can make ways to be more effective in dealing with them than Congress has been with the RFS.

Let’s face it, there isn’t any dealer who doesn’t have to address an unhappy customer at some point. So, here are suggestions that might be worth printing out and sharing with the entire dealership team:

1. A complaining customer will make any employee uncomfortable. It’s natural. But, here’s a must do - always target the problem, never the customer’s anger. Do not become defensive or angry. Let the customer know you are commitment to helping. You can do that by saying something like: “I’m sorry you have a problem. I want to see what I can do to correct it.”

2. Sometimes it may not be easy, but hold your tongue and listen intently before speaking. Jumping to any early conclusions about the problem or the customer could lead to the eventual loss of that customer. You want the opposite. Take in everything the customer says before suggesting possible action.

3. After listening, determine if the customer can actually show you the problem. Perhaps you’ll see the customer has misinterpreted something in the owner’s manual or maybe getting a first-hand look at a piece of equipment can help you resolve the situation quickly.

4. If the answer to the problem still isn’t clear, ask for the customer’s help. You can start by saying: “First and foremost, we want this to be right and we want you to continue to be our valued customer. So, what do you think would be a fair solution?”

5. Once determined, above all keep whatever promise(s) you have made. Never promise or even allude to doing more than you have authority to do or that can realistically be accomplished. If the employee doesn’t have the power to solve the problem, he or she should know to tell the truth: “I’ll have to go higher up to make things right.” That should be followed by: “I will get back to you as quickly as I can.” Try to be specific, if possible, about the time you’ll get back.

Then follow up, follow up and follow up . . . as if all future business from this customer depends on it – because it may! Keep in mind the customer really wants to connect with someone who is clearly willing to listen and find a viable answer. Doing that right will turn an unhappy customer around.

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