Oftentimes when working with clients to fill positions in their store I ask “What’s your store culture like?” I’m not asking to pass judgment on it, I’m asking because to find the right person for your store it’s best to understand your store culture.

Culture is the way of life in your store encompassing the beliefs, values and attitudes of your team. It drives decisions in your business.

It can be things like how you greet your customers, what hospitality you offer customers. It can be the upbeat fun atmosphere in some stores. It can be work really hard between 8 am and 6 pm and have a life outside the dealership. It can be that you ask every customer for a referral and a review based on the service you provided.

We have clients who work really hard at ensuring the culture they want at the dealership is executed and maintained. They even go so far as to put significant policies or processes in place to help reinforce it. But sometimes just when you think you have it figured out, the best laid plans can backfire.

Recently, while traveling I overheard the following conversation between two individuals. Tom and Larry are discussing Tom’s recent vehicle purchase. The exchange went like this:

Tom: Did you find out what happened to my floor mats?

Larry: No, the GM said he wasn’t providing them, but I can tell you what to do about it.

Tom: I don’t understand this issue. The listing on cars.com said the vehicle came with floor mats. The salesman verified the listing said that too. I thought all cars came with floor mats. Did detail take them out and just not put them back?

Larry: The vehicle didn’t go to detail. It went to clean up, it’s a different process they don’t clean your engine or anything like that in clean up.

Tom: I just want floor mats in my car as it was advertised.

Larry: Go to cars.com and write a bad review about your missing floor mats. The dealership hates bad reviews, especially on cars.com. They will make it right and you will get your floor mats like that.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the not so great part of this story is that Larry is on staff at the dealership, in a clerical managerial position. Did you just get a bit nauseous or sick to your stomach hearing that?

Who is at fault the most here? The GM who didn’t want to provide a set of floor mats (that were advertised to ensure customer satisfaction) or Larry for directing a customer to do something that was harmful to the dealership? Think there might be a real culture versus perceived culture problem here? Something is definitely not right with your dealership culture if you have employees telling customers when and how to post bad reviews against the dealership.

“A lesson (or several) in business ethics might need to be added to your dealership training.”

A good place to start on adding business ethics training would be to conduct an anonymous survey of all your staff, everyone from the porter to the general manager. The survey questions should all be based on situations – if this happened, what would you do? Pull some real examples of ethical situations that arise in your store and add in a few that are really stretching the boundaries, then some that should be very black and white (although they may not be to everyone on your team). No names, no retribution, you want honest answers. This should provide you some insight as to where to begin ethic training.

Once you put some business ethic training in place and your staff strays outside of the lines you can properly handle it. Until then it’s like having the child who ate 10 candy bars – you said they could have chocolate but you didn’t define how much. Avoid the stomach ache and the aftermath by making sure your dealership culture is really what you want it to be by training to ensure it.