16 Lessons in Customer Service from a Car Salesman

car lotThis week has been a bit of a challenge. I’ve been haggling with car dealerships over purchasing a new car. I’m sure I don’t need to explain how frustrating that process has been, but I will say that I’m surprised at the customer service lessons I’m getting out of the experience.

  1. Don’t rush your customers. Pouncing on them as soon as they arrive is not enticing to customers and can come across as a bit desperate. Give them space to consider their purchase. Stay accessible, but don’t smother them.
  2. Don’t hound your customers. Give them room after they leave to evaluate their options. A phone call or email a day is fine, but don’t go overboard (calling an hour after they leave the showroom is a bit excessive).
  3. Don’t argue with your customers. You obviously have strong opinions for and against certain features relating to your product, but if your customers have opposing opinions, it’s best to disagree respectfully — and gently.
  4. Don’t downgrade the competition. Berating your competitors won’t win you any points. By showing respect for the competition, you demonstrate a quiet confidence in your own product.
  5. Listen to your customers. Are you paying attention to what your customers are saying? Are you listening to what’s important to them? Be fully present and listen to the needs, desires and frustrations that your customers are sharing. This is invaluable when it comes to fitting the right product with each person, and the ability to recall minor preferences is even more impressive.
  6. Focus on your customer’s needs, not yours. This may be surprising, but the customer doesn’t care about your bottom line. They’re not worried about making this work so that you benefit. They don’t care about your timetable either. Instead of worrying about your needs, focus all your effort and attention on doing an exceptional job.
  7. Don’t be condescending. Don’t patronize your customers. Consider the possibility that they may have actually done their homework and know what they’re talking about. Your customers understand that you have “inside” knowledge, but don’t talk down to them or be dismissive. It’s insulting, and that alone could cost you the sale.
  8. Know what you’re talking about (and find the correct answers when you don’t). Here’s an example. I went into one dealership this week and had settled on colors for the interior and exterior. When I went to another dealership, they said that color combination wasn’t available. (Yes, it was. I had seen the car myself.) It turns out that the combo was available, but the person relaying the incorrect information knew that they’d have to get it from the company’s other dealership, which was an hour away. That’s three strikes. One of salesmen didn’t know the facts about his own vehicles and suggested that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and the other lied for the company’s benefit.
  9. Don’t just say what you think customers want to hear. “What? You need a certain price? No problem. We can do that.” Yet when the customer shows up with checkbook in hand, that price no longer exists. Puffing and bluffing isn’t going to impress your customers, and if you’re only trying to appease them, eventually that will surface, leaving customers feeling very frustrated with you.
  10. Shoot straight. If you can’t do something, you can’t do it. Period. Say so. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Be direct and upfront and never skirt the truth.
  11. Communicate clearly. Go over things slowly and carefully (and then go over them again). Be thorough and detailed with your responses to avoid misunderstandings.
  12. Stay cool under pressure. When you’re dealing with other people’s money, there will inevitably be tension. Proceed with caution. Take breaks. Take a few breaths. Keep things in perspective and consider the other side. Do not, under any circumstance, lose your composure. Talking too quickly or loudly and seeming frustrated or agitated will only risk evoking the same response from customers.
  13. Keep your promises. Call when you say you’re going to call. Have what you say you have. Do what you say you’re going to do.
  14. Know what’s really going to impress customers. Take cars, for instance. Customers want the best in safety, and a good-looking car with low gas mileage is important, but what about reliability and how about some proof? Rather than going on and on about how super awesome your brand new cars are (they better be), show me one with 500k miles on it that’s still rolling. Paying $30k seems much more appealing when I can think about driving that car for twenty years.
  15. Make things easy on your customers. In general, making a big purchase (buying a car, hiring a VA, etc.) can be a stressful experience, so find ways to make things as easy and painless as possible for customers.

I have not been impressed with three-fourths (or more) of the salespeople I’ve come across this week, and if things don’t get better quickly, I might be the customer who simply drives her car to 500k miles — that’s the final lesson. I actually had a salesman tell me that their goal is to wear customers down, until we eventually give up and give in. I will, but it won’t be the way they expect. I’ll go home and keep rolling in my faithful car, because they forget (or weren’t listening when I told them) that I work from home.

So, Lesson #16, don’t treat your customers as opponents to be beat. If you do, they’ll eventually think of you that way, too, and eventually move on to someone who’ll work with them instead of against them.

I’m amazed at the treatment I’ve received this week from car dealers, but it’s made me appreciate exceptional customer service even more. How do you ensure that your customers are impressed rather than appalled?

Image from Flickr by thebig429