Dealers take pride in high CSI scores, and rightfully so. But the attitude your salespeople exhibit when asking for positive survey responses should pervade every interaction with every potential customer.

Dealers take pride in high CSI scores, and rightfully so. But the attitude your salespeople exhibit when asking for positive survey responses should pervade every interaction with every potential customer. 

As manufacturers continue to put a stronger emphasis on customer satisfaction index (CSI) scores, they’re tying more money, preferred model allocation and other perks to stores and employees whose customers describe them as “outstanding” or “truly exceptional” or “superior.” In response, dealers are focusing on boosting their scores.

Every dealership I’ve ever worked at has had some variation of the “survey speech,” a carefully crafted statement that ensures the customer knows that they will be getting a survey, it is important that they fill it out and you hope they will give you an excellent score. So far, so good.

Early in my career, I had colleagues who would beg, barter and sing for good scores. They would offer to fill them out themselves or dangle incentives such as free oil changes. The OEMs wised up and added questions designed to prove that customers weren’t being manipulated.
Somewhere along the way, we forgot that CSI scores are only one piece of the customer satisfaction puzzle. To be truly outstanding in your market, your entire dealership must treat every potential customer like a survey respondent, whether or not they buy a vehicle from you.

Trading Places
One of the first exercises I have my new hires complete is a quick mystery shop. I have them submit inquiries online and call dealerships directly. I encourage them to cross-shop brands, contact our direct competitors and see what responses they get from stores that are a substantial distance away. These are simple interactions that happen every day in every dealership, and they drive the perception of your operation.

The first contact can determine whether or not a potential customer visits your store, and we know they’re visiting fewer stores than ever. My mystery shoppers have encountered rude receptionists, extended hold times, poorly written email responses, lack of product knowledge and worse. Those negative experiences discourage in-market shoppers from showing up, and if they don’t become customers, they won’t be counted in your CSI score.

Attitude is a major factor in your dealership’s success. Unlike most skills, it cannot be taught. It’s important to have the right people on your team — and not be afraid to make difficult decisions. Think about where you send your best customers. Do you insist they work with a particular person? There’s no harm in rewarding your best people, but what about the worst? If there’s anyone on your staff that you would hesitate to introduce to your best friend or a close relative, you should take a hard look at what they actually bring to the table.

That being said, you need to take a hard look at yourself as well. Dealers and managers can wither into negativity if that is all they are surrounded by. It isn’t always easy motivate others, particularly during a slow month or when operational concerns demand your attention. As leader, you have to take the responsibility for your team. Empower your team to call out a bad attitude or a lack of customer focus — including your own.

Dealing with the public can be a challenge. Even the perfect group will suffer through rough patches. It’s normal to be frustrated after you spend weeks working a customer who decides to go with a competitor. It can be difficult to pick up the phone after the last caller took your head off. You will always worry about not having enough units sold for the month. But it’s not about you.

Each customer may only interact with you or your team once. It’s so important that every single opportunity is approached with enthusiasm. If someone is having an off day, send them to lunch away from the dealership. Have them take a walk or read an industry publication or page through their positive customer reviews. Everyone has their own, unique set of motivating factors, but if you have the right people, they will just need a gentle push to remind them what makes them get up and work every day.

If the entire team has that attitude, it will only be reinforced and continue to grow. Only then can you can be proud of your good CSI scores and enjoy the benefits of a happy, productive staff and increased production.

Kelly Wadlinger is the studio lead at Faulkner Fiat in Harrisburg, Pa., a position which encompasses the roles traditionally held by finance and sales managers. [email protected]