Customer Experience – Treat Me Like Your Mother-in-Law

by Peter Sorgenfrei

The car buying experience has always been on the top ten list of the things people fear the most.  Consumers fear walking onto a dealer lot, being attacked by the first salesman to spot them, and then coerced into considering a vehicle in a different color, with a different trim level and at a different price (higher) than what they set out to buy.

Then comes the whole song and dance with the F&I manager and the dealership principal to ‘approve’ the terms offered after the consumer has been sitting in the chair for hours, hungry, tired on on the verge of leaving.  Far from a pleasurable experience.

Brands like Saturn and Scion entered the scene with no haggle pricing and the purchase experience got a little better for buyers of those brands but the one-price philosophy did not bleed over to other stores.  For the majority of the buying public, the dealer experience ranks right below getting a root canal.  At least there is anesthesia at the dentist!

The car buying experience should be one of the things in the auto industry that is the simplest to fix. It does not involve complex engineering, logistical challenges, supplier failure, etc. It is about human interaction and treating people they way we want to be treated.

Recently I told a sales team that they should imagine they were selling vehicles to their mother-in-law.

My basis for that analogy was that we treat our mother-in-law with more respect than our own mother (we get away with more with her), we do not completely dumb it down, cause we want her to like us, and we certainly do not pressure her to do anything she is does not want, of fear of retribution and wrath. (Just kidding Fran!)

But seriously, if car salesmen (and women) treated all their customers like their mother-in-law, I believe more and better relationships would be formed and more repeat (and less expensive) business would occur.

Next time you are shopping for a car, if the salesman is pressuring you, ask him to imagine you are the mother-in-law, after he stops looking dumbfounded, tell him about this theory and I bet your experience will be better.

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2 thoughts on “Customer Experience – Treat Me Like Your Mother-in-Law

  1. Dan Sherman says:

    Peter, certainly it would be in the dealership’s best interest for their sales and F&I people to treat customers like their mother-in-law. So why don’t they act rationally? What institutions need to be change to incentivise salesmen to treat customers with more respect?

    There’s a dealership group here in Atlanta which instituted no-haggle pricing. At the dealer level, customers see it as a bonus (less hassle) and are likely willing to pay a bit more. Plus the dealer can afford to hire less expensive ($10-15 an hour with minimal commission) and less annoyingly aggressive salesmen.

  2. sorgenfrei says:


    You are right no-haggling is a start.

    The problem (as you also point out) is the salesman mentality. The OEMs have tried to reward the dealers through CSI scores (Customer Satisfaction Index) as measured by a survey the customer fills out after they purchase a vehicle.

    However, sales personnel have started to tell customers that they will receive a survey and how to fill it out, thus defeating its purpose.

    When consumers shop price, no one wins. The consumer gets a bad experience, the dealer makes no money and the sales person has to constantly fight for the deal. If the dealer principals took a longer term view and rewarded longevity and production from sales personnel over a longer period than just a month (sales personnel turn over very frequently), then everyone would win, the customer would recommend the dealership, the dealer would make better margin, and the sales person would have more stability.

    Easy to say – hard to do….

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