When I am working with a client to fill positions in their store, I often ask, “What’s your store culture like?” I’m not asking in order to pass judgment. I’m asking because the person and the store have to be a match.

Your culture encompasses the beliefs, values and attitudes of your team. It drives decisions in your business. It affects how customers are greeted and the level of hospitality they enjoy. Some stores project a fun, upbeat atmosphere. Some dealers encourage their employees to work really hard from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then go have a life outside the dealership. Some managers insist that every customer be asked for a referral and a review based on the service their sales or F&I professional provided.

We have clients who work very hard at ensuring the cultures they want at their dealerships are nurtured, developed and maintained. They even go so far as to put significant policies or processes in place to help reinforce it. But sometimes, just when you think you have it figured out, the best-laid plans can backfire. That leads to an uneasy feeling we have all experienced before.

Just Write a Bad Review

On a recent trip to a dealership, I overheard the following conversation between Tom, a customer, and Larry, an employee:

Tom: Did you find out what happened to my floor mats?

Larry: No, and the GM said he can’t provide any, but I can tell you what to do about it.

Tom: I don’t understand. The listing said it came with floor mats, and the salesman verified that. I just want floor mats in my car as it was advertised.

Larry: Just go to Cars.com and write a bad review about your missing floor mats. The dealer hates bad reviews, especially on Cars.com. They will make it right and you will get your floor mats.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the not-so-great part of this story is that Larry is a manager. Did you just get a bit sick to your stomach hearing that?

So who is at fault here? It could be Larry, who directed the customer to do harm to the dealership’s reputation. It could be his boss, who, for some unfathomable reason, insisted on delivering a vehicle without floor mats. But the real culprit is whoever allowed a culture to develop in which Tom’s only recourse was to vent his frustrations online and hope the dealer noticed.

Ethics Training

If you are concerned about your store’s culture, it may be helpful to add a lesson (or several) in business ethics to your dealership’s training program. A good place to start would be to conduct an anonymous survey of all your staff, including everyone from the porter to upper management.

The survey questions should all be based on real scenarios: “If this happened, what would you do?” Pull some real examples of ethical situations that arise in your store. Include a few that are really stretching the boundaries, then add some that should be very black and white. (You might be surprised.) No names, no retribution. You want honest answers. This should provide you some insight as to where to begin your ethics training.

With a positive and productive culture in place, your staff will be less likely to color outside the ethical lines. You can avoid stomach trouble by making sure your dealership culture reflects your values and the way you want your customers to be treated.

Harlene Doane is COO of DealerStrong and co-organizer of Dealer Summit. She is the former editor of Auto Dealer Today and has expertise in dealership accounting and operations. [email protected]