How To Use The Car Dealership Survey As Leverage To Get A Better Deal

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

I always recommend that car-shoppers do their negotiations away from the dealership, preferably by email. However, shopping this way isn't always easy and you will eventually have to visit the dealership. If you need one last card to play you can use the CSI (Customer Service Index) or "survey" as extra leverage.

The survey is a great tool that can empower customers, but you have to use it right. Reader Khalela, who worked in various dealership positions from sales to service and F&I for over 15 years, explains.-

"First, a little background, because you can't "win" a negotiation if you don't know what the other guy needs from you. The Survey comes from the Manufacturer. It will generate from a completed sales or service transaction. So you have multiple opportunities to use it to your advantage. In theory, The Survey is a tool to gauge customer satisfaction regarding the recent transaction but in truth, the manufacturers lord The Survey and it's score over the dealerships to withhold cars or incentive monies. At one time, a national dealer chain was being denied the opportunity to buy additional dealerships because their existing dealers scored below average. In turn the dealers lord it over the staff to reduce their commissions.

Back story on the salesperson: Dealers set up their commission scale generally based on units sold with an additional "kicker" for maintaining a Survey score over the regional average. Sounds easy, right? Satisfy more customers and get more pay. But every salesperson is trying to be above average. And they can't all be. And not every salesperson is as above board as you or I. (I've seen sales reported to salesperson family members, burner phones or worst case, the local pizzeria, no score is better than a bad score.) So the "average" score keeps drifting up, in 2011, my dealership was running a 98% satisfaction index. Do you really think that we were satisfying 98% of the clients? It becomes that a perfect score is the only acceptable score. The average salesperson is only selling 15-20 cars a month. Only about half the people fill out the survey, so 10 come in. Most people take care of you, because you carefully coached them to (strictly against manufacturer regulations, but come on) and still you get the one guy who doesn't believe anything is perfect and he "9's" you. Then you get someone else who hated the wait to get into F&I and "8's" you, and now your average for the month is 97%. And you are looking at losing 25% of your commissions for the month. The average salesperson is only booking 3-4k per month, so one "long wait" and a "nothings perfecter" are going to cost you a grand. I've seen people take the rest of the month off when they get hammered with a "5". There is no recovering from it.

Back story on the Sales Manager: basically the same as above, though they can overcome the little nit-picky crap better because of volume. Still a "5" is pretty much a deal killer. Now a sales manager is losing 3 or 4k.

So, to use The Survey effectively, here is how you do it. You hold it in your back pocket. You wait until the very end. You say: Tommy, I know we are really close to a deal here, and I know you are in there fighting to get me the best deal to be had today, so let me give you a little ammo to take back to your sales manager. You tell him, if he comes down an extra $500, I will give you a perfect Survey. I will give you the good email address and the good cell phone number so that when they call or email, I will answer it on the first ring or reply in the first hour. It will be all 10's and all yeses.

You can also use it to fix problems. DO NOT complain on The Survey. Sorry, but here is another long story....

A service client comes in from out of town for long scheduled appointment to get a part replaced. They get a loaner car and 6 hours later a call from the Service Adviser, that the part is not in stock. The SA tells them they will need to bring the loaner back and arrange to come back to town another time. They were pissed, as they should be. There was no Service Manager in to manage the client because it was a Saturday. The SA seriously dropped the ball. The client got The Survey, and gave the experience a 38.

Combined that one survey resulted in the loss of over $10k in pay to service employees. So, how do you think these employees responded when the client returned to get the part installed? Do you think they bent over backward to be nice? Do you think they thanked them for coming back after having such a rotten experience before? Not at all. These clients were run off. They were fired from the dealership. The general manager fully backed his service department and labeled these perfectly nice and understandably upset clients as trouble makers who could not be satisfied.

If I had a problem, I would never fill out The Survey until I had emailed the general manager or department manager and given them an opportunity to fix it. As someone who has been the manager, I understand that sometimes an employee may misunderstand a managers intentions. It could be a training issue, it could be that I hired the wrong type of person. But if I believe, and I am a pretty reasonable person, that a company has not done right by me, I will always give management the opportunity to fix it and I will always throw in at the bottom of my request: If you can take care of this problem to my satisfaction, I will have no problem filling out The Survey perfectly. All 10's, all yeses. In fact, The Survey is already in my inbox waiting to be completed.

I get it. It's wrong. The whole point of The Survey is to gauge a client's satisfaction with a process and to pinpoint areas of improvement. But the way the manufacturers hamstring the dealers who do not have an above average score, all but forces them to lie, cheat and steal a perfect Survey. And since I know what they need, I can give it to them, as long as they give me what I need. If the manufacturers really cared about client feedback, they would make the surveys anonymous and the goal would not be to be above average, which half the dealers can not attain.

TL:DR- A perfect Survey score can make a bigger difference in a salespersons monthly pay than the actual commission on the car they are selling you."


As a buyer's consultant I don't actually purchase the vehicle nor do I go to the dealership. So "the survey" is the one negotiation tool I don't have at my disposal, but you do. The CSI can be a powerful card to play, but as Khalea explained, it must be played the right way at the right time.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

(Beyond the Showroom: Are stories, tips and experiences from the folks that work, or have worked, in the industry connected to auto-sales and service. If you have something you would like to share please send me an email at and be sure to include your Kinja handle)