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Car Buying Should Not Resemble a Hostage Situation

Many dealerships embody high standards and seek to improve the customer experience but find it challenging to boost consumer confidence. Here are a few ways to provide a positive collaborative experience for your customers.


The now-angry customer could not understand how the sales manager misplaced his keys. Now he was stuck there until they could find the used-car manager. It wasn’t the first time I witnessed this ruse, and, at that moment, I realized the car-buying experience and a hostage situation had a few things in common.

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You are technically a hostage any time you are “detained in order to compel someone to take an action.” The average hostage or crisis situation only lasts two to four hours, but a car deal can take 14 to 48 hours. It’s no wonder that the “Be Back” bus never returns because no customers willingly put themselves in that situation.

Today, some people dread coming to the car dealership because the industry’s machinations have followed it for decades. Many dealerships embody high standards and seek to improve the customer experience but find it challenging to boost consumer confidence. Here are a few ways to provide a positive collaborative experience for your customers – not a hostage situation.

Increase Transparency

One of the hallmarks of a stressful situation is a lack of control and transparency. Not knowing what is going on, what the options are or how to control a situation causes stress in individuals. An increase in stress pushes the consumer to run away, which translates to “no” in a car deal. Reduce their stress level by increasing transparency and putting the customer in the driver’s seat.

Consumers might buy a car once every six to eight years. They are usually not experts and will need the salesperson to play the role of navigator. Customers need a clear road map, defined expectations and the ability to stop at any point.


Quality Communication

People don’t like to be harassed and badgered. Let’s face it; most millennials are uninterested in negotiations and talking to people in person. They tend to be conflict-avoidant and sensitive to pressure. They dislike sales reps in regular retail, which helps explain the rise of companies like Amazon.

Asking, “What is in it for the customer” before you contact them is critical. Endless follow-up emails for 12 months after a visit or purchase are ineffective. The consumer knows they are automated and meaningless. It is an excellent way to get your company email addresses black- or grey-listed.

Enable the consumers to be in control of the communication and respect their requests. You can offer 100% purchase online through digital retailing tools. This empowers customers to reach out only when they get hung up in the process. It allows the dealership to monitor progress and only intervene when necessary.

Listen More

The best negotiators are ones who ask good, calibrated questions and let their counterpart talk. These are open-ended questions that avoid beginning with words like, “why, can, is, are and do.” Replace those words with “what and how” to gain better insight into what the customer needs. Examples: “What is the most important feature to you?” “How many miles do you usually drive?”


Encourage them to talk by using tactical silence and labeling their statements with “seems like” or “sounds like.” Examples: “It seems like gas mileage is really important to you.” Sounds like you put a lot of miles on your vehicles.” Follow those statements with silence. This encourages the customer to talk. They feel that they’ve been heard.

Time Management

Gone are the days of saying, “Just come in, and we’ll work something out.” People can use digital retailing to start and complete transactions online. Dealers can reduce the time spent in the store by 85-90%. In a world where time is money, this shows great respect to the customer.

Offering an online or remote service where customers walk themselves through the process from anywhere will set a dealership apart in an otherwise saturated market.

Dealership customers are no longer hostages. They’re buying cars like they would any other commodity. Dealers want customers to have a great experience, whether in the store or online. Adopting forward-thinking methods will positively impact dealership market share, consumer reviews and the bottom line.

Scarlet Fox, Chief Operating Officer for WebBuy

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