From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Beyond Expectations

Here is a simple but powerful rule: Always give people more than they expect to get.

Nelson Boswell

It seems a car dealership in my hometown of Albuquerque was selling, on average, six to eight new cars a day, six days a week. I was also told that 72 percent of this dealership’s first-time visitors returned for a second visit. (At that time, the average for all dealerships in Albuquerque for second-time visitors was 8 percent.)

I was curious and intrigued. How does a car dealership get 72 percent of its first-time visitors to return? And how can they sell six to eight cars a day in a slumping car market?

When I walked into Saturn of Albuquerque that Friday four years ago, the staff there didn’t know me from Adam; yet they shared with me their pricing policy, the profit margin on every model, and staff income. They even opened their training manuals for my review and invited me back on Saturday if I wanted more information (an invitation I heartily accepted).

I learned that this dealership (like all Saturn dealerships) has a “no-dicker sticker” policy; that is, the price on the window is the price you pay for the car. Period. You can’t even negotiate for a free set of floor mats. Saturn abides by its premise of selling high-quality automobiles for a reasonable price.

Furthermore, Saturn sales consultants (their term for customer-contact people) aren’t paid a commission— they’re salaried. This means when you walk onto the showroom floor you’re not bombarded with what I refer to as “beyond eager” sales people.

I expanded my research to other dealerships in Albuquerque. It turned out that Ford Escorts, LTDs and Thunderbirds, as well as the Mercury Marquis, were also sold as “no-dicker sticker” cars. As Bruce Sutherland at Richardson Ford said, “We were losing our market to Saturn because of their pricing and salary policies.” He also said, “If we all did what Saturn was doing, we’d not only make a decent living, but we’d also enjoy a better reputation.”

On Sunday, the day after my second visit to the Saturn store (their term, not mine), my wife, Jane, and I were walking as we frequently do. On this particular June morning, Jane gently slipped her hand in mine and said tenderly, “I don’t know if you remember, but today’s my fifth anniversary of being cancer-free.” She was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago and had undergone surgery. I was stunned, partially because I was embarrassed that I had forgotten, and, partially, because . . . well, it seems we spend all of our time earning a living and never stop to live our earnings. I mean, isn’t this what it’s really all about?

I didn’t know what to do with Jane’s information. I spoke to her tenderly. All day. I took her to lunch. I bought the lunch. It was a nice, intimate day.

The next day, Monday, Jane went off to work teaching school. Still beside myself not knowing what to do to mark this special occasion, I did the most impetuous thing I’ve ever done in my life: I bought a new Saturn. I bought every accessory they produce in Springhill, Tennessee, to hang on that car. There wasn’t an accessory made that I didn’t buy. I didn’t pick the color and I didn’t pick the model, but I paid cash and told them I’d bring Jane in on Wednesday at 4:30 to make those two decisions. I told them why I was buying the car, and that it was my secret and they were not to reveal anything to her.

Tuesday morning, it dawned on me that Jane always wanted a white car. I called our sales consultant at Saturn, and I asked him if he had anything white in the store. He said he had one left but he couldn’t guarantee it’d still be available Wednesday at 4:30 because they were selling so fast. I said I’d take my chances and asked him to put it in the showroom.

Wednesday came and went. Unexpectedly, someone in our family was admitted to the hospital. So, it wasn’t until 9:30 Saturday morning when, after telling Jane the biggest lie to get her out of the house, we finally made our way to the Saturn store. I quickly turned into the parking lot and Jane angrily asked, “What are you doing? You promised me we’d get home right away.” I said, “I’m sorry, I forgot I have to pick up something here for my Kiwanis speech next week.”

Jane had never been in a Saturn store. When we went through the front door, the Lord took control of her feet and her mouth. She saw that little white Saturn coupe all the way across the showroom floor. She quickly passed a multi-colored sea of automobiles, sat in the little white Saturn and said, “Oh, what a pretty little car. Can I have a new car?” I said, “No. Not until Charlie graduates from college.” Our son, Charlie, was attending the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia (we call that “out of state” tuition). She said, “I’m sick and tired of driving that old Dodge, I want a new car.” I said, “I promise, just three more semesters and he’ll be out.”

Next, Jane walked around to the front of the car. As she looked it over, she let out the most blood-curdling, shrill scream I’d ever heard in 29 years of marriage.

Now, before I tell you why Jane screamed, let me tell you what our sales consultant had done. He had ordered a large, professionally engraved sign (white letters on blue) and affixed the Saturn company logo on it. The sign stood alone on the hood of the little white Saturn coupe. It said:

Congratulations, Jane. This car is yours. Five years cancer-free. Let’s celebrate life. From Milt, Billy and Team Saturn

Every employee at Saturn of Albuquerque had endorsed the back of that sign. Jane saw it, screamed, collapsed in my arms and bawled her eyes out. I didn’t know what to do. I was in tears. I took out my invoice from the previous Monday, unfolded it and, pointing to the white coupe, said, “No, honey, this car isn’t yours. I bought you this one.” I tapped the invoice with my index finger. Jane said, “No, I want this one right here.” Charlie, who was home from college and with us, said, “No, Mom. Dad bought you anything you want in Springhill, Tennessee, or anything on the lot here.” Jane said, “You don’t understand, I want this one.”

While this conversation was going on, I looked around and discovered that there was no one in the store. Our sales consultant had arranged it so that we could share the moment alone. The mechanics, the clerical staff, the front-desk receptionist, management and all sales consultants had left the store for the sanctity of our event.

Even so, it’s impossible to have a lot of privacy when so many people are standing outside the showroom windows looking in. When Jane screamed and collapsed in my arms, I saw everybody outside applaud and begin to cry. Every new customer that came to the store in those minutes was not allowed to enter; instead, the staff took them aside and explained what was happening.

Jane never drove the car until she took it through the showroom door that day to drive it home.

Over the years, I’ve told this story in the United States, Australia and Indonesia as an example of legendary service. A woman in my audience in San Francisco from Anchorage, Alaska, heard the story; she called Saturn of Albuquerque long distance and bought a new car. It’s like Ken Blanchard says, “It’s only the stories told about us that differentiate us in the market place.”

Milt Garrett

Submitted by Ken Blanchard

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