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Your Customer’s Perception Is Reality

I get it. It’s tough out there. Customer access to information on the internet continues to squeeze margins. Dealerships are just trying to make a buck in a fiercely competitive marketplace. You have to do whatever it takes to stay ahead of the competition

I also get that some may view compliance as unnecessary, overrated, annoying, a waste of time and money, and downright harmful to profitability. These are perceptions and as they say, perception is reality.

Some employees may be tempted to step over the line ethically when trying to make a deal. After all, the chances of getting caught are pretty slim, right? That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is to ask yourself what’s really more important in the long run - flying under the radar or satisfying your customers? In my view, when it comes to compliance and ethical behavior, the true payoff is customer satisfaction and retention. It really comes down to one simple premise - your customer’s perception is the only reality that should matter.

“We have to advertise aggressively and do whatever it takes to drive traffic to the dealership.”
Customer Perception – “I hate the way you advertise. Why is it that the deal is never what it seems? Like when you advertise a car for $7,000 and when I get there I find out that the $7,000 is only the up-front payment for a pre-paid lease and the residual is $11,000. Why can’t you just advertise the real price with no tricks?”

“Customers make ridiculously low offers. If we don’t pack the payments they won’t feel like they got a deal. It’s all part of the game.”
Customer Perception – I hate that damned “four-square” thing you do! It really tempts me to do something uncivilized with your green sharpie. I didn’t come here for a shell game – I came here to give you the opportunity to give me real numbers and perhaps sell me a car. If I didn’t like your car, I wouldn’t be here - why do feel it is necessary to play games with me?”

“If a customer is willing to pay more than the ad price, I’m not going to talk him out of it.”
Customer Perception – “It’s ridiculous that you have multiple prices. Why is it that you advertise one price on the internet and a different price on the lot? Why must I have to try to negotiate down to the price that you have already advertised? I’m not Inspector Closeau – I just want a fair deal and don’t want to be treated like an idiot because I failed to turn over every rock to find your “best” price.”

“Whatever you do, don’t sell the ad car, it’s a big loser. Get the customer down here and switch them to something we can make money on.”
Customer Perception – “I saw an advertisement for a great price so I called you and asked if the car was still available. You told me ‘Yes, c’mon down’. When I got there a short time later, I was told ‘the car was sold last night but don’t worry, we’ll give you a great deal on something else’. Why did you lie to me?”

“The only reason we advertise those loss leaders is to get people on the lot. No way am I going to sell a car and lose money.”
Customer Perception – “I tried to buy a car at the price you advertised in the paper and you told me that the ad was a mistake and the real price is higher. I don’t believe that for a second.”

“We need to close the customer at the highest payment possible so we can make some money.”
Customer Perception – “You told me that the service contract and other accessories were included, but when I read my contract I see that you charged me thousands more.”

“This customer is credit-challenged, she’s lucky to get approved at all.”
Customer Perception – “You told me that the bank won’t finance me unless I pay a higher price for the car and I buy a service contract to “protect the loan”. I’m willing to pay a higher interest rate, but I don’t think it’s fair that I have to pay more for the car too.”

“Your customer’s debt-to-income ratio sucks. We need to give him a raise and hope the bank doesn’t stip for income.”
Customer Perception – “You lied about my income on the credit application and told me not to worry because the bank won’t ask for proof. What else are you lying about? And what happens if the bank calls me, do you expect me to lie to them too? It doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

“That’s the perfect car for your customer. Do whatever it takes to send her home in it.”
Customer Perception – “You told me that the car I bought is a ‘one-owner creampuff’, then I find out that the ‘one owner’ was Hertz Rent-a Car! Why did you lie to me? I still might have bought another car from you if you had told me the truth.”

“I’ll over-allow on the trade to make them happy, just close them at this payment.”
Customer Perception – “You told me you would pay off my trade then I found out you added thousands to the price of the car I bought. I would have sold the car myself if I knew you were going to charge me more.”

“We need get rid of those grounded demos.”
Customer Perception – “I was told that the car I bought was new and had a full factory warranty. When I asked why it had 7,000 miles on it, I was told that the manager drove it back and forth to work. Then I found out that a good portion of the warranty was used up.”

“If a customer asks about that painted fender, just say it was key-scratched and repaired.”
Customer Perception – “When I asked you if the car have ever been in an accident, you said it hadn’t. Then my neighbor, who runs a body shop, checked out the car and told me tells me that it’s been wrecked.”

“Let’s just roll the deal. Once they fall in love with the car and show it to all of their friends, they’ll re-write at a higher payment.”
Customer Perception – “You told me my loan was approved, and then you called me back and told me that I need to put more money down and agree to a higher payment or you’ll take the car back. I never would have taken the car home if I knew this was going to happen.”


This article is intended as food for thought. You may agree or disagree. One final thought though - a consumer law firm or attorney general’s perception of the above scenarios probably wouldn’t be pretty.

Views: 48

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Comment by Jim Radogna on August 2, 2010 at 1:49pm
Thanks for all of the great feedback guys!
Comment by Bryan Armstrong on August 1, 2010 at 7:43pm
Great article. Now days "word of mouse" can hurt your business quicker than "word of mouth" ever did. Perception is reality and a timely response can go far in clearing up any misconception even when no "shady", ie. illegal, behavior was intended.
Comment by Mark Dubis on August 1, 2010 at 2:08pm
Great information and confirmation that a small number of people in this business understand the power of their reputations.

When we developed Carfolks.com we understood the true value of this for sales teams. So when sales people build their free page on Carfolks.com like this, they have full portability and take their page and their customer reviews with them to any dealership they work at in the United States.

We are already seeing sales people and dealerships use our site to sell against the competition. Your personal brand and reputation mean everything. The fact that we give out free leads is just a bonus.

Mark Dubis
Carfolks.com
Comment by Thomas Manley on August 1, 2010 at 1:59pm
I couldnt agree more! I have spent 15 years in the auto sales industry and was taught the old school ways. I.E. tossing the keys on top of used car building. I was out for 5 years and decided to return just 3 months ago. By being honest, knowing my inventory, using suggestions from this website and just working hard i have become one of the leading sales man at my dealership. I have received referalls already in 3 months and some of the other salesman dont understand why. Bottom line with todays technology readily available the customers knows if you are upfront and honest with them. My reputation is all i have complete control of at any dealership i work, so i guard it and use it to my best advantage. Thanks to all who have given me help and understanding especially with the internet sales part!!
Comment by aaron kominsky on August 1, 2010 at 10:56am
A dealers reputation is first and foremost today because te if the customer has issues everyone will know what they are and will encourage others not to enter that :DANGER ZONE: , so word to the wisw as a dealer in order to keep your high class reputation at bay you must create a world class experience, so not only just to make them happy and completely satsified with their vehicle and their purchase price/financing options but during their entire ownership experience as well
Comment by Rob Hagen on August 1, 2010 at 10:13am
Jim, you are absolutely right about perception. This has always been an issue but it is growing tremendously with the social economy we are currently operating. In the past, an upset customer would tell a couple of friends about their bad experience and that was it. Now, they post it on Facebook and Twitter, they blog about it, and write negative online reviews.

Yes margins are being squeezed but I see people willing to pay more with dealers that make the experience enjoyable in the future. I'm not saying everyone will pay sticker but up to $500 more or so.

One of my favorite quotes by Erik Qualman, Author of Socialnomics, is "Your ROI on your social media efforts is your business will still be in existence in five years." Harsh but with the speed information can travel these days, it is not out of the realm of possibility.
Comment by Thomas A. Kelly on August 1, 2010 at 5:12am
I'm with you all the way Jim.....It is as simple as "be what you present yourself to be" and "do not engage in anything you do not want to get caught at", because you will. Timely comments Jim, all dealer principals need to be put on notice... most will sleep better.

Tom Kelly
Hank Graff Davison
Comment by Ken Nix on August 1, 2010 at 12:36am
The original phrase was: "a customer's perception is their reality" and was originally coined by a young salesperson who got a short lesson in life from a Mr. Ziglar at Holly Lake Ranch in the early 80's.
Comment by Andrew Brinkworth on August 1, 2010 at 12:27am
Your online reputation is paramount to any future in car sales. Where once using the tactics above might have cost a dealership 3 or 4 future customers now it could cost you hundreds. With the amount of review sites out there like Yelp and Google's love of them a bad experience can follow a dealership forever. A dealership's own Business Listing in Google's business center can be turned against them by a customer whose had any of the experiences above. A ruined reputation can destroy a dealership. I think that sales managers who still subscribe to the "make the sale at any cost mentality" may soon find themselves out of a job.
Your online Reputation is paramount treat is well.
Sorry if I rambled, Just my two cents
Comment by Jim Radogna on July 31, 2010 at 11:07pm
Thanks Ralph!

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