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Watch Your Language at Work

Professionalism counts in the auto business, and while many dealerships embrace this concept with dress codes and employee conduct handbooks, most ignore an important facet of businesslike conduct language.

Professionalism counts in the auto business, and while many dealerships embrace this concept with dress codes and employee conduct handbooks, most ignore an important facet of businesslike conduct — language.

That old saw about first impressions applies not only to your facility and appearances, but also to the language used by you and your staff.

All too often the language of car sales is one of slang, poor grammar and worse. To be taken seriously by an increasingly savvy customer base, employees must not only say the right words, they must say the words right.

This becomes especially important in light of the increasing importance of customer-satisfaction surveys. Customers who are offended or insulted seldom give good marks on a survey, if they even buy a car from the offending party.

It should surprise no one that ours is a field peppered with jargon and slang. For years, salesmen and their mangers have salted their language with phrases that are often apt, but also inappropriate.

Although the process of buying a car can be vaguely adversarial, degrading your customers with negative labels such as “grinder” shows a lack of professionalism. Yet this type of language is so common that we become inured to its rudeness.

Say your staff makes a habit of describing customers who pay full price as “lay downs.” Your dealership has just insulted a customer who has given you more money. Instead of fawning over this customer for increasing your gross profit, sales people retire to a back room to ridicule the customer's lack of negotiating skills.

Calling a customer with below-average credit a “stiff” or “roach,” is another common put-down. Subprime customers are a viable group of buyers who can give a healthy boost to your gross profits. Yet use of derogatory language with respect to their credit status is almost universal.

Often these miscues are tolerated because the customer is out of earshot. But even if you are speaking only among colleagues, this manner of speech is ill-advised. It still is insulting. And what if Mr. and Mrs. Jones just overheard your intemperate remark? Will they feel good about the deal they just got?

Worse, this type of speech fosters a general culture of disrespect among your staff. Because they become accustomed to referring to people in put-down ways, they have less respect for customers in general.

Some might say the colorful, arcane language of car sales builds employee camaraderie. In some ways, the secret language of car sales people stokes morale and team spirit. But stores that aim to be more business-like in an increasingly customer-satisfaction driven environment will banish this type of language from collective vocabularies.

While we're at it, another important issue is the use of cursing. Although daily life has become less formal, it is absolutely essential that you make your dealership free of all foul language.

This applies to employees at all levels. Some managers have been known to swear profusely in open -topped cubicles. Even some dealer principals, in a rage, can be seen — and heard — dressing down a subordinate in an expletive-laden tirade.

Swear words create an unprofessional store environment. Imagine hearing your doctor explain your medical problem in language peppered with four letter words! Or if you overheard a salesperson in your local department store making obscene comments to another employee.

This lesson is simple: ban the use of foul language at all times. (Tip: pretend your mother is standing behind you.)

What may seem like harmless joking to one employee may be offensive and even be deemed threatening to another. In an extreme case your dealership might be held liable.

Bad language could even be the basis for employment litigation, including sexual harassment suits. A dealership where foul language is regularly used may be found to have fostered an unsafe workplace for its employees.

Protect your dealership from these types of lawsuits and customer complaints by prohibiting foul language and any pejorative comments regarding race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation or religious affiliation.

Proper language does not end merely at not using slur words and avoiding slang. You must also strive to speak intelligently and correctly.

Too many smart professionals use poor grammar and syntax that make them seem unintelligent and unprofessional. Remember you are not interacting with friends at a bar but conducting a major financial transaction. If you are peppering your sentences with “um” “yeah” and “like” you don't sound professional.

Finally, it is important to take a short moment to compose your thoughts before speaking. Brief pauses can give you a second to think of the right words. It can also even out the tempo of your speech. Otherwise, it can become staccato and unsettling to the listener if you are talking too quickly.

Some sales people actually prepare a script so that they have well-phrased responses ready. While it is never good to sound rehearsed, this can help improve your grammar and diction. You will sound well spoken, prepared and ready to make the sale.

Jesse Berger is an auto salesman who works at a Ferarri dealership on the East Coast.

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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