Dealer Ops

Choose Your Words Wisely: The Proper Questions to Ask Customers

Little things can make a big difference. A piano with just one key out of tune could ruin a recital. Shaving a couple of seconds off the pit stop time can make all the difference to a NASCAR race driver. Typing one wrong letter can take you to a completely different Web site. Consider how a small pebble in the shoe could affect a marathon runner. And, though it pains me to mention it, think back to how many little things went right for the Giants in the fourth quarter to help them win Super Bowl XLII.

In the buy here pay here (BHPH) world, little things can definitely make a big difference—oftentimes the difference of whether or not we make the sale, hold the gross, or prevent a repossession. Many times, the little things that make the difference can be as simple as carefully choosing the words we use when talking to our customers. Let’s look at a few examples of how subtle differences in the words we choose can lead to dramatically better results.

When Initially Greeting a Customer
Don’t Say: “Hi There! Can I help you?”
Say: “Welcome to Linnehan’s! Are you here about our guaranteed credit approval?”  

Even though the first greeting sounds polite and welcoming (which it is), the problem is that it causes you to lose control of the conversation right from the start.  Not only that, but the reflex response you will usually get from the customer is, “We’re just looking.” Now you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

We teach our staff how to gain or regain control of a conversation by asking questions. Not only does the suggested greeting allow you to steer the conversation in the direction you want to lead the customer, but it also garners some qualifying information based on whether they seem interested in your special credit program.

You should use whatever it is that is most unique about your company, asking customers if they are here about your warranty/money back guarantee/double your down payment offer, etc. Anything that gets customers in the habit of interacting with you is better than the conversation-killing, “Can I help you?” By the way, this greeting can also work just as well, if not better, when greeting phone ups. Simply replace the word “here” with the word “calling,” and off you go!

When Asking for Down Payment
Don’t Say: “Do you have anything for a down payment?”
Say: “How much cash do you have for down payment right now?” 

The first approach implies to the customer that having a down payment is optional. Depending on your underwriting model, that may or may not be true. In any case, a stronger down payment is always desirable, as it not only makes the weekly payments more affordable for the customer, but also improves the dealer’s cash flow position.

Phrasing the question properly will help us find out as early as possible what the maximum available down payment is on every deal, keeping in mind that most customers will tend to offer the least amount they think is necessary to get a vehicle.

When Determining the True Ad Source
Don’t Say: “How’d you hear about us?” or “Where did you get our phone number?”
Say: “What made you decide to contact Linnehan’s today?”

I’m sure we all understand the importance of sourcing all of our leads, so it is vitally important that the ad source we record on the log is accurate. Properly wording the question can ensure that happens as often as possible.

What we really want to know is which of our ads spurred the customer to take action today. Asking in general terms how a customer heard about us doesn’t really answer that question. The customer may have known about us for quite awhile, but it was the vehicle pictured in today’s newspaper ad that caused him to come down (or pick up the phone and call). A customer may have heard an ad on the radio that spurred him to contact us, but he had to look our number up on the Web site. In this case, we want to source the up to the radio ad, but could mistakenly source it to the Web site if the customer is merely asked where he got our phone number.

When Setting an Appointment over the Phone
Don’t Say: “Can you come in and check out our inventory?”
Say: “When is a good time for you to come down? Would you prefer this afternoon, or would tomorrow morning work better for you?”
Again, we want to assume that the customer will come in. The first question gives us only a 50/50 shot of getting what we want. The second question should get us what we want regardless of which of the two options they select.

Does this work 100 percent of the time? No, but this approach definitely generates much better results than the former approach. Tracking has shown that closing rates are far better on leads where a firm appointment is set.

When Collecting a Past-Due Account
Don’t Say: “Do you think you can make a payment this weekend?”
Say: “How much can you pay us by noon on Saturday?” 

In my opinion, the suggested phrasing really doesn’t sound any harsher, but it is certainly a more aggressive approach. Rather than giving customers the option to say no, it requires them to look over their checkbook to see how much they can give you. It also sets a deadline with which customers agree to comply.

There are many other similar areas that we encounter on a daily basis in the BHPH industry, and I know there have been conflicting opinions in the business world as to whether we should or shouldn’t “sweat the small stuff.” All I know is that paying proper attention to the little things in BHPH can have a big impact in turning a good company into a great company. To me, that’s worth a little bit of sweat!

Vol 5, Issue 4

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