Trial lawyers can trip up by asking a witness a question without already knowing the answer. Car dealers can goof up asking questions of customers when the dealers already know – or should know – the answer.

“The cardinal sin of building a relationship is asking someone something about themselves that you already know,” says Scott Miller, CEO of Vision Critical, a provider of customer-relationship-management intelligence software.

That’s because today’s consumers expect companies they regularly do business with to know them and their buying preferences. “Customers share information with you,” Miller says.

It’s a turnoff if they’re treated like first-timers.

Accordingly, CRM systems help dealerships track and use customer information and avoid egregiously asking the obvious, Miller says. “I don’t wake up in the morning and say to my kids, ‘Hi, I’m Scott.’”

He disputes the notion people dislike engaging with car dealers on a regular basis.  “I’d challenge that.” But dealers need to provide them with useful information on social media and other digital communication channels, he adds.

For example, he says, “people would love to know how a car works.” Dealers can help them instructionally there.

In fact, “many people would like to know how a dealership works,” says Miller, who grew up admiring dealers’ business acumen. That knowledge is underutilized when it comes to communicating it to others, he says. “It would be something to share with the community, with students. Why not open up about how your dealership is run? Show people you are running a great business.”

In the course of imparting information to customers and others, dealers should, in turn, use CRM systems to collect information from them, particularly when they buy or service a car, Miller says. “Every time you engage with them, deliver value back to people to maintain that relationship.”

Their buying preferences and behaviors are in the dealership CRM system, allowing the store to engage with them about “anything related to their vehicle use,” he says. 

In addition to by all means avoiding “who-are-you?” gaffes, dealers should make meaningful use of their information on customers, Miller says.

“I’ve bought 22 vehicles from a dealership over the years. That’s about $1 million in business. Please don’t send me an email saying, ‘Hey customer. We just serviced your car. How’d we do?’ It goes deeper than that.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com