Why Car Dealer Surveys Matter

Dealer handing over car keys
Photo Credit: Goodluz/Shutterstock

You make the deal on the car of your dreams, you sign the papers, you are about to get the keys and drive away, but there is one more stop…the customer satisfaction person. This is where you get THE TALK. You are going to hear about a survey you are going to get from the car manufacturer, and how important it is to fill it out with all good marks. In some dealerships, it is the salesperson who pleads-er, sorry-asks that you fill out the survey with top scores.

There are reasons why the survey is so important to dealerships. For the salesperson, it is often tied to his or her compensation, but almost always the bonus plan. For the dealership, impressive awards are at stake, which sets them apart in their market area, and often they too have bonuses tied to the survey scores. For a dealership, it can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The automakers have placed the dealers and their employees in the unenviable position of having to beg and bargain for good surveys. Dealers feel they have to train the customers on how important it is to fill it out, and that a score of 9 instead of 10 is not acceptable. If it a salesperson has to maintain a 95% completely satisfied average, one bad score of a 1, 2, 3, or 4 and nine completely happy 10s, will knock him or her out of their bonus.

The next problem for the dealers is that consumers know they can hold the dealer hostage with the survey in their hand. When I still owned dealerships, I’ve had customers flat out tell me that unless I gave them the accessory they wanted, they would give me a bad survey. A decade ago, I knew dealers that actually paid $25 if the customer brought them a perfect survey to mail. I suspect some of these shenanigans still go on today.

The challenge for dealership employees is getting those 100% happy customers to fill out their survey. The customer has full intentions of doing so, but it is a month down the road, they live busy lives, and they forget. To make things worse, if you have an unhappy customer, whether it is your fault or not, you can bet they’ll send the survey in every time.

I was once talking to the GM of a large dealership in Houston about someone who felt like he was not being treated right. His comment to me, and I kid you not, was “Jerry, I passed on the deal. I was losing a net $1800 on the truck, which I didn’t mind doing, but I knew I was going to get blistered on the survey, so I didn’t sell it.” This consumer outsmarted himself and lost out on a great deal because he threatened the dealer with a bad survey.

If 10 is the high score on a manufacturer’s survey, an 8 or 9 does the dealer or salesperson no good. Sure it is better than a lower score, but still drags the average down. I have had many customers tell me they had a great experience but “nobody is perfect, that’s why I gave you a 9.”

One tragic thing that happened to me years ago was a dear friend, who had bought many cars from me, scored me all 1s-every single category. When questioned, he thought being #1 was the best score. Sigh.

If a dealership does a poor job, they deserve the bad survey. In my mind, if they lie to you, don’t communicate, and don’t follow through with promises, they deserve an appropriate score. However, if your salesperson does everything right, truly cares about you, and appreciates your business, give him or her the 10 they deserve. It might be the difference in them getting a bonus or not getting it. If a minor problem pops up, use the comment section to note it, that will help the dealership improve their processes. Hail to the almighty survey.

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