A lack of empathy keeps many sales professionals from becoming great and prevents many high-powered organizations from retaining long-term employees and long-term clients. A lack of empathy costs dealerships deals now, and deals later.
All too often during a training session, I will have to remind my clients that, although they might have been brought up a certain way, their experiences may not align with those of their customers.
Perhaps the training is about budget topics and how a customer may be financing a vehicle. The average salesperson may not have personally put a large sum down on a new purchase, and thus their expectations that consumers will do the same influences their customers. This kind of preconceived notion is often wrong and can negatively impact sales. For salespeople whose financing experience is to put the least amount down at the longest term possible, understanding how to properly communicate with customers who make large down payments for a positive equity position is difficult. If we do not communicate with those customers correctly, at best we limit their options, and at worst we offend them and they leave.
At the virtual RVDA convention this year, I have a session called “How Down Payment Cures Reverse Equity.” If you really listen to my message, you will learn how to properly recognize the customers’ positions and respond appropriately. Our customers are not us — if we want to reach them, we have to be empathetic to their situations.
Let’s start with an easy example from this summer. Some dealerships held to the strictest standards of cleanliness and distancing for COVID-19, and other dealerships disregarded any concern, with most dealerships falling somewhere in between. I am not a scientist nor a politician. I am a customer service expert. Regardless of what we might each personally believe, the customer’s concerns are what we should care about.
So as those who returned to work after mandatory business closures on the sales floor may have been comfortable interacting with many people, we saw a record amount of phone and internet inquiries from consumers across the country with anxiety over the situation. If you treat customers in a way that raises their anxiety (and thus their stress) level, they will find making a confident decision to buy your product difficult.
Dealerships that have a policy of asking about customers’ comfort levels before the appointment, and took the necessary steps to ensure customers’ confidence during the buying process, capitalized and made sales when others did not.
Dealerships may have processes and techniques in place because they are the best processes known at the time to accomplish the dealership’s goals. All too often, those processes and techniques do not account for the customers’ comfort or confidence.
For example, dealerships that have a qualification or interview step often conduct it in a salesperson’s closed office. If a customer just left a closing room where the salesperson tried to grind them into a deal, that customer will not feel comfortable going into another sales office with someone they do not know. If the last salesperson did not listen to the customer, a cookie-cutter sales form will not inspire confidence, either.
A fair number of closing techniques are based around creating a controlled conflict. The idea is, if a salesperson has all the experience with the closing form and the customer does not, that should create a home-court advantage that will increase closing ratios. Though not wrong, that approach certainly is not empathetic and will lead to more lost opportunities than it will create. Similarly, a four-square-style closing form is designed to create that controlled controversy by creating conflict in one or more boxes.
In previous articles, I have written about what Sobel University calls the Triangles. The Triangles represent the time frame of the sale — properly trained sales staff who spend quality time with customers up front can avoid conflict at the end. The four-square approach destroys this time frame. It takes the hard work of aligning product and budget before demonstration and reopens negotiations at the end. Customers do not want to deal with a bunch of slick sales lines designed to frustrate and confuse them.
The time spent going back and forth with customers in negotiation creates stress. All too often, customers leave because they are frustrated; subsequently, their guard is up, and they are prepared for a battle the next time. This lack of an empathetic process creates unnecessary stress.
Customer stress creates salesperson stress and sales manager stress. Retaining long-term employees is difficult if they are constantly under stress — at some point, they break. Keeping long-term customers is hard as well — if they are always under stress, they just will not return.
If we are not empathetic to our employees, we lose them. If we are not empathetic to our customers, even if we manage to close a deal in spite of ourselves, we will not gain repeat and referral business.
This is all without mentioning the negative online reviews, or the rate customers will try to get on a deal if they feel they were pressured into something at the end.
Regardless of how accustomed to a process or technique any salesperson may be or how much a dealership might believe a combative practice is justified, a process that causes stress for the customer hurts the business. Most dealerships do not possess an unlimited marketplace. They cannot afford to lose an upset customer — and even for those who believe they can, there is only so long a business can thrive by having customers feel they were treated poorly.
We should use everything we have to create a quality experience for our customers, from the first interaction through their grandchildren buying their first RV. If we are not empathetic to our customers’ situations, to how they feel, we will never gain those future opportunities.
Jered Sobel serves as faculty at Sobel University, a company dedicated to training top dealerships and salespeople around the country. His previous experience includes working as a dealership salesperson, hiring dealer staff and working as a general sales manager.