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Monday, June 13, 2016

Good People Make Good Car Dealerships

In my columns over the years, I’ve always advocated carefully choosing the car dealership that you buy your vehicle from or allow to service it. I still believe this is important. In fact, I’ve published a list of dealers that I recommend you buy your car from and a list that I recommend you avoid.  You can access that list at www.GoodDealerBadDealerList.com.

We've all visited a restaurant or retail store and had a terrible experience with a waitress, sales person, or other employee and never returned. Yet, we’ll have friends recommending the same place that we swore never to patronize. We condemned an entire company because of one person.

I also wrote a column a couple of years ago in which I suggested that you carefully choose the individual who advises you and sells you service on your car.  These individuals are really commissioned sales people who sell you service just like car sales people sell you cars. Unfortunately most dealerships call them something else like “assistant service manager” or service advisor. As I was rereading this old column, it occurred to me that the same recommendation applies to all companies, not just car dealerships and it applies to all departments in a company.

Whichever car dealership you choose, take the time to pick and choose those individuals you deal with. Car dealerships, just like other organizations, are nothing more than the sum of their parts…their people. You should get to know the person who sells you service and, if you don’t like that individual, ask for another person to handle your service requirements. This requires a little courage because we don’t want to offend the person we originally dealt with. If this makes you uncomfortable, the second best thing is to ask the manager of the dealership to recommend their best person. Tell the manager that you would like to deal with the sales or service person that has the “highest customer satisfaction rating”.

All dealerships and auto manufacturers measure this for their sales and service people. There’s a new customer satisfaction measurement that’s slowly replacing the customer survey method. This is called customer retention. It’s a measure of the percentage of customers that return to a dealership to buy another car or additional service. This trumps customer questionnaires because it cannot be “rigged” by the dealership or sales person. Paying money or giving free gas for good surveys is a common practice with car dealers.

When you buy a car, don’t settle for the first salesman who approaches you. For example, if you’re a woman you may feel more comfortable dealing with another woman. Or, if your native language is Spanish or Creole, you may feel more comfortable with one who can converse with you in your native tongue. Don’t be shy about asking and don’t feel bad about hurting the feelings of the first sales person. An automobile is the 2nd largest purchase most people make and it’s very important that you feel comfortable with the person selling it to you. Furthermore, if after dealing with your sales person for a while, you think you made a bad choice, ask to speak to the sales manager or general manager. Believe me, car dealerships “desperately” want to sell you a car and no sane sales manager is going to lose a sale because a prospective customer doesn’t like or trust the sales person she’s dealing with. He will handle your sale personally or choose another sales person you do feel good about.

Car dealerships have other departments including parts, finance and insurance, accounting, and some have body shops. My same recommendation applies to all departments. A word of caution, when you ask to speak to a manager, be sure he or she really is a manager. Car dealerships are notorious for calling rank and file employees managers to trick the customer.

My purpose in writing this column is in realization of the fact that there are no perfect companies, especially car dealerships and that includes mine. I employ 156 individuals and I would be less than candid if I didn’t say I might have a few “rotten apples” in my barrel. Unfortunately, I don’t know who they are and finding them is a work in progress. The same thing applies to all companies including car dealerships. In my list of recommended dealers, there are some employees of those dealerships who would take advantage of you but most would not. In those dealerships that I recommend you don’t buy your car from, there may be a few honest, courteous employees. Then there are all the dealerships that I don’t put in either category. Your odds of finding the right individual are much better if you patronize a good company or car dealership, but don’t totally let your guard down.

Just stay away from the ones that I recommend you don’t deal with. In every organization there’s a tipping point. A great company reaches a critical mass of good employees and as their reputation grows, more good employees from other companies seek to be employed there. Honest, hardworking, courteous people enjoy working in an environment where others are like them. The same holds true for “evil” dealerships and bad companies (those on my “don’t buy” list). A good person with a conscience has a very difficult time functioning in an environment where, from top management all the way down, the design is to trick and take advantage of customers. These few good people don’t last long in evil dealerships and flee to a place where they can treat their customers in a manner that lets them sleep at night.

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