Why Car Salespeople Beg for Top Customer Survey Scores | Edmunds.com

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Why Car Salespeople Beg for Top Customer Survey Scores

The Simple Answer: Anything Less Than an "A" Is an "F"


When you're shopping for a car, the experience you have at a dealership can make all the difference. Edmunds.com Senior Editor Matt Jones worked for 12 years as a car salesman, Internet sales manager, and finance and insurance manager. He now highlights dealerships and car-selling best practices that make car shopping easy and enjoyable. Got an innovative dealership story to share? Contact him: matthewj (at) edmunds.com

In car dealerships, it's common to hear a salesperson ask — even beg — for a customer who has just bought a car to give him top marks in the customer satisfaction survey that will soon arrive. Here's why: The salesperson's pay, and potentially, the job itself, may very well depend on getting perfect 10s in this survey.

Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) scores are an important part of everyday life at a dealership, and for good reason. Automakers want to hear from customers in order to gauge how well the franchise is doing in key areas, primarily the customer's satisfaction with the sale process. On the dealership level, these scores often determine future inventory. The better the score, the more likely a dealership is to get in-demand vehicles. Depending on the manufacturer, CSI scores also can affect the end-of-year bonuses it pays to the dealership.

If a salesperson does a bad job, he or she deserves a bad survey. But what should shoppers do if they feel good about the transaction, but weren't blown away by it? The normal impulse would be to give a salesperson an 8 or a 9, rather than a perfect 10. But because of the scoring models used, an 8 or a 9 is essentially the same as giving the salesperson a zero.

With so much on the line for both dealer and salesperson, begging for a high marks often becomes part of the deal. Some car shoppers know the importance of a good survey and use the CSI survey as a negotiation tool, promising great scores if the dealership will "sweeten" the deal.

The specter of a bad survey, meanwhile, can be enough to prompt a salesperson to turn down a car sale.

"If I had a really unhappy customer I thought would give us a terrible survey, I'd sometimes have to pass on the deal," a former sales manager with 20 years of experience told Edmunds. "I couldn't take the risk of a terrible survey. I hated missing a deal because of a survey, but it could take 15 perfect surveys to make up for a single bad one."

It's crazy, isn't it? And what's a car shopper supposed to do? Do you buy into grade inflation? Or do you give realistic scores, knowing that by doing so, the salesperson who went the extra mile for you — but who didn't give you the car and didn't throw in an $11,000 Hermes bag for good measure — could suffer the consequences in lower pay or even the loss of a job?

I have some suggestions on how to proceed, but first let's look a little more deeply into how CSI scores work in dealerships.

Only a 10 Will Do
Just as receiving an A on a 100-question math test may not mean that the student answered every single question correctly, a top score on a CSI survey does not mean that the deal was perfect, either. In the eyes of dealers and carmakers, a perfect score simply means that overall, the car shopper was happy with the sales process and satisfied with the service received while doing the deal. You might think "satisfied" would equal a score of 80-85 percent, leaving some room above that for "delighted" or even "deliriously happy." But that's not how it works.

A target of 95 percent CSI or higher is quite common in dealerships. And a cumulative monthly CSI score lower than the target score may take a salesperson out of the running for bonus pay. This is why salespeople (and sometimes managers) are so insistent on getting the highest marks possible on surveys. That is: all 10s, and nothing less.

It doesn't take much to bring a salespersons CSI score below the store goal. Imagine that a salesperson received seven surveys in a month. If six of those surveys had a 95 percent satisfaction score and just one 90 percent score, she'd have an overall CSI score of 94 percent. She missed that month's target. Should a salesperson receive too many 94 percent CSI survey scores in a given time frame, she might not only miss out on additional income. Her job could be in jeopardy.

Some shoppers will never give top scores unless they're asked to do so. This is another reason salespeople constantly ask for top marks. It is simply out of character for some people to give the highest review scores, perhaps thinking that giving a person or process top marks will remove an incentive to do better.

I once worked with a new salesperson who sold a car to his mother. His mother gave him 90 percent CSI score on the survey she filled out. Why? She believed that everybody can improve, including her son. What she likely didn't know was that that one survey may have stopped her son from getting that month's sales bonus.

When I was a salesman, I once received a bad survey from a customer because of poor treatment she received at a competing dealership. Although she and I got along fine and had a smooth deal at my store, there was very little I could do to fix the problem she had at a company I didn't work for. I ended up getting the bad survey.

Giving Feedback Without Slamming Good Salespeople
Car shoppers often have concerns they'd like to share with the manufacturers, and it's good that they have a means — the customer satisfaction survey — for doing so.

Within the survey, there are ways to voice complaints without affecting the salesperson's pay. At the end of CSI surveys, there is a comment section for the car shopper to address any concerns that may have come up while doing the deal. These comments do not affect the overall scoring of the salesperson. If a car shopper thought the music was too loud in the dealership, for example, saying that in the survey comment would likely be a better option than giving the salesperson an 8.

Tools like Edmunds.com dealer reviews are another way to discuss the good and bad aspects of the car-buying experience. These online reviews are visible to any potential customer interested in looking at them, and are often prominently displayed in an online search for a dealership.

Reviews on the Edmunds site are honest shopper assessments and offer customers a chance to better express their feelings about the purchase experience using their own words in a public forum. More than ever, dealerships are aware of their online reputations and pay close attention to customer reviews, and look to resolve complaints raised there. An added bonus to review sites is that other shoppers get to read about what your experience was like. That's something that doesn't happen with in-house CSI surveys.

And then there are some old-fashioned ways to give feedback. Write a letter to management. Or, better yet, set up a meeting with one of the dealership brass. These routes will likely go further in fixing a systemic problem at a dealership level than any customer satisfaction survey ever would. From my experience, real change happens on the dealership level, and not because a carmaker tells a dealer that the surveys show it needs to do a better job.

Until automakers and dealerships find better ways to improve the customer service experience than the blunt instrument of the CSI, shoppers can help by offering honest feedback via online reviews at Edmunds.com and by writing comments in the existing surveys.

Finally, if you liked your car-buying experience and you don't want to penalize a salesperson who did a good job — even if you think he was a little less than perfect — go ahead and give him the 10. He's probably earned it.

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.



  • gig5 gig5 Posts:

    Unfortunately I read this article too late. I purchased a BMW (certified pre-owned) recently and was begged by the sales person to complete the online survey that he told me would be sent. When I stopped by to pick-up my license plates I saw my sales person again, he added a couple of interior items that were missing that I had emailed him about in the interim (very minor stuff), and he again begged me to complete the survey and to be sure to enter all 10s (excellent ratings). Typically I never complete survey's whether I have a good or bad experience, but in this case I had a good experience, and my salesman seemed to be a good guy, so I decided to complete the survey. I gave all perfect scores of 10, indicated that I would definitely recommend the dealership, etc. BUT, there was one part that I answered "No", something about was the care delivered free of defects, then in the comments I stated how the issues were very minor and how the sale person did a great job of resolving the issues, and how I was very satisfied. Great feedback, right? WRONG!!!! That one "No", despite the glowing description of how great the sales person was in the comments, definitely changed my relationship with the sales person and the dealership. And now I have a bit of a situation on my hands. Let's just say I'm not expecting a christmas card from anyone at the dealer this year.

  • kyfdx kyfdx Posts:

    I wouldn't feel bad about it... you didn't design the idiotic system. You shouldn't have to jump through hoops _after_ you buy a car..

  • suydam suydam Posts:

    This is why car dealerships are often so awful. If you can't give honest feedback how can anything improve?

  • gig5 gig5 Posts:

    And it continues...email this weekend from the Sales Manager, and today form the General Manager. To each I respond that I was 100% satisfied. (this is in addition to the several emails I received from the sales person) What I typed in the comments doesn't matter, and neither does how I respond to their follow-up inquiries. Things have gotten weird to the point that I don't feel comfortable returning to the dealer for any reason. And all this for what were good intentions....

  • gig5 gig5 Posts:

    And why can't the feedback system be anonymous?

  • isellhondas isellhondas Posts:

    That article is 100% accurate except I never "begged" for a perfect survey. Stores live and die by survey scores and anything less than a perfect score is considered a FAILURE! Yes, it's a totally unfair system and it's not right but this is the way it is. I always maintained some of the top scores in the store where I worked but once in a great while, I would get thrashed on a survey. When this happened it was ALWAYS from a person who had ground every penny out of the deal and made the process miserable. Would I go to bat for that customer when they demanded we fix a problem out of warranty? Take a guess!

  • gig5 gig5 Posts:

    Looks like we can all agree that the system is broken. When a simple survey turns a good experience into a bad experience for both parties, that's a problem. I have no doubt that customer surveys started out of good intentions, but now the system is broken, and has become part of the reason that some don't like the car buying experience. I HAD a good experience that I naively thought I conveyed in the survey. All perfect ratings, but the one "No", despite my glowing comments about the great job the salesperson did to resolve the minor issues turned my positive feedback into FAILURE, and backlash form the dealer.

  • stever stever Posts:

    Probably would be a good idea to send an email to customer support. Maybe if enough buyers do this, or refuse to send in any survey, the manufacturers would figure out a better plan - like a live phone call or txt. ![](http://cdn.vanillaforums.com/edmunds.vanillaforums.com/editor/0d/cei2fpl71xsk.jpg "") Here's a [good recent post](http://forums.edmunds.com/discussion/comment/4175834/#Comment_4175834 "good recent post") from an insider.

  • antique48 antique48 Posts:

    They begged, over and over, then... I GOT A DEALER SHAKE DOWN ASKING FOR MORE MONEY! That's what I got after my sale, when I went in to pick up the agreed on accessories, THAT I ALREADY PAID FOR! Said they would give them to me free of charge only after I promised to leave a good survey. C'mon FORD! Dealer's can't do this to their customers. I'm ANGRY! They tried to say I agreed on a different part, a part we thoroughly discussed, repeatedly, in great detail! The part agreed on was to be the same as what was on my trade, duh. The sales manager shook my hand, then pulled this malarky. Totally dishonest, and totally ruined the experience! I am a man of my word, I will leave a good survey because I reluctantly shook on it, then I will write a complaint when I get my parts.

  • stwawk stwawk Posts:

    I take issue with the insistence that a salesperson be given all 10's on a survey, regardless of how they perform. If we acquiesce to this nonsense, aren't we just condoning an unfair practice? I just purchased a new Acura MDX from an Acura dealer. The salesperson was "ok." She wasn't exactly fantastic, and she surely wasn't the best I've ever come across during a car buying experience. She did not go out of her way to do anything, and after the sale was not very communicative or responsive to my inquiries. Instead of replying to my questions, she sends me a reply telling me she needs the second key to the car I traded. I'm supposed to get this person a 10? Right. Dream on...

  • I feel terrible because our car salesman called and said that they have in their records that the survey had been mailed out last month, but either we didn't receive it or it went out with the junk mail. I requested another one to be sent from the dealer, but he wasn't sure that it could be done. Is there anything else I can do? I'd really like to help our salesman out as he did a great job at helping us into our new vehicle. Thank you for any help!!

  • ddddd71 ddddd71 Posts:

    I'll give my salesman all 5's that he asked for, but I've already posted a bad review on Yelp. The finance manager lied to me. He told me Arizona requires all new cars to have vin etch on the windshield. I looked it up today after I got home and the dealer is only required to make the buyer aware of it. I'm ticked! The a-hole even tried to trick me into financing with them for lower rate by charging me for oil change service. I told him "I"m not financing oil changes." Supposedly, even if the low score is about the finance process, the salesman still gets dinged for it. This is a stupid system.

  • thebean thebean Posts:

    I was very pleased that the only mention of the survey during my recent Honda purchase was when the finance manager told me she wanted to make me aware that any score less than a 5 on the survey was a "fail".  That's it - no begging, no asking how I was going to rate them, no guilt.  The experience was good enough that I gave them all 5's with no prompting.  And I posted a positive review on the Edmunds dealer page.

    A far cry from when I bought a Honda from another dealership in 2002, they said the only way they would take the deal I offered was if I promised to give all top marks on the survey.  I kept my word but never set foot into that dealership again.  

  • isellhondas isellhondas Posts:

    Teachers and engineers were the worst. They seemed to feel that no matter how great their experience was there is ALWAYS some room for improvement. I know some stores in my area were offering a free tank of gas for a perfect survey and I'm sure a lot of unhappy customers sold themselves out for that tank of gas. I sometimes would tell a customer that I would rather not sell a car than to have a customer leave unhappy and I meant it!

  • zenslapped zenslapped Posts:

    Some dealerships, like the one I work at, even structure their pay plan around CSI. Below average CSI = less money for you... significantly less. If the dealership suffers, you do too! Not to say I cant blame them either, but the problem is there are so few questions on these surveys that have anything to do with the salesperson. It's not my fault that you went into the bathroom five minutes after the big 250 pound guy waiting in service blew it up and clogged the toilet - so you score me a 2 on cleanliness of the facilities. Nor is it my fault that you learned the next day that you can get gap insurance for $200 cheaper with your own insurance agent than what you paid for at the dealer, so you give us low marks regarding the finance office because you now feel that he was out to rip you off. I work for a brand that will pay a factory bonus to the salespeople for hitting the minimum CSI - which in this case happens to be a 940! The amount they pay ranges anywhere from $50 to $200 depending on the number of new car deliveries reported in your name for the month; and if you dont make that mark, you get nothing... not half, not a dollar - nothing. It's like your teacher telling you that if you score less than a 94 on a test, then you fail - and yet you don't even take the whole test! Your pass or fail scoring system is based on the answers other students gave on the test! Oh, and they (CSI scores) are all averaged. So, if you sell five customers who all gave you a perfect 1,000 and one grumpy customer gives you say a 600, then you get absolutely no credit for the five others who felt like you did a great job. Another thing about the brand I work for is they do a three month rolling average. Under this system, if one particularly nasty customer decides to really slam a dealer on a survey and give very low scores across the board for everything (say like a 250 score - and I have seen this happen to salespeople more times than I care to think about) then they make it practically impossible to qualify for a large majority of their income for THREE MONTHS! Something to think about the next time that poor salesman begs for perfect survey scores after working a 70 hour work week at his dealer trying to make a living in an industry with ever dwindling profit margins and commissions.

  • thebean thebean Posts:

    Career change??

  • stever stever Posts:

    Class action suit?

  • isellhondas isellhondas Posts:

    Had the store where I worked had a program like that I would have quit. I always maintained some of the highest scores in our store but once in awhile someone would trash me. Usually some miserable person who ground the last penny out of the deal.

  • stever stever Posts:

    "Subaru of America filed a federal lawsuit against one of its California dealerships and its employees, accusing them of forging more than 200 customer satisfaction surveys to improve the dealership’s reputation and avoid termination." Subaru sues Calif. dealership, claims it filed false customer surveys (Automotive News) Note these surveys were the manufacturer ones, not reviews that consumers post here or on the other "survey" sites like Yelp or DealerRater. The "independent" review sites have various methods they use to try to weed out this kind of fraud.

  • isellhondas isellhondas Posts:

    Honda used to mail the surveys directly to the customers but for the past few years, they call on the phone. And, they call and call until they finally reach someone. I've heard that some stores would tell the customers to bring the blank survey to them in return for a tank of gas. Funny how an unhappy customer who may have been mistreated will sell themselves out for a tank of gas!

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