Question: Where are compliance lapses likely to occur in most dealerships?
1. The F&I office
2. The sales managers’ office
3. The lot
4. The showroom
5. All of the above
In my humble opinion, the answer is a qualified all of the above. The reason I say “qualified” is because in many organizations the answer may be skewed towards the lot and the showroom. Here’s why: it’s been my experience that in most dealerships, management personnel have at least some knowledge of proper legal compliance and ethics, either through training or osmosis. On the other hand, many salespeople haven’t a clue about the laws and regulations that affect our industry. Why should they? Compliance training, if conducted at all, generally occurs only at the management level. Unfortunately, attorneys and regulators don’t differentiate between job descriptions when pursuing a claim against a dealership.
So, here’s my top ten list of ways an employee can ruin your day:
1. “Low-balling” or lying to a customer about the true selling price of a vehicle
2. Intentionally misrepresenting a vehicle’s prior history
3. Intentionally misrepresenting the true advertised price of a vehicle
4. Making promises to a customer with no intention to honor them
5. Aiding a customer in structuring a transaction to prevent a Form 8300 from being filed with the IRS
6. Accessing a credit report without the consumer’s permission or a legitimate business reason
7. Intentionally misrepresenting a vehicle’s warranty coverage
8. Intentionally misrepresenting prior damage to a vehicle
9. Encouraging a customer to participate in a straw purchase
10. Falsifying, or encouraging a customer to falsify, a credit application
Oh, and did I forget to mention workplace harassment and discrimination?
Now it’s not my intention to pick on salespeople. I spent many years selling cars myself and I truly believe that sales consultants have the toughest job in the dealership, bar none. But let’s face it, salespeople are naturally aggressive (at least we hope so). Without proper knowledge, it’s very easy to step over the line legally when trying to make a deal. I know I certainly did many times before I learned the rules. It’s wonderful to have a well-trained management staff, but there’s a good possibility that an uninformed salesperson may make compliance missteps without the management team’s knowledge. After all, salespeople typically spend hours talking with their customers and it’s unlikely that management is going to be privy to all of those conversations.
Here are some recommendations for avoiding a really bad day:
• Train your F&I personnel.
• Train your sales managers.
• Train your salespeople.
• Train anyone in your dealership who regularly talks with customers about buying or leasing a car.
• Train EVERYONE in harassment prevention. Anyone can create a hostile work environment, not just a supervisor.
• Once their training is completed, have each employee sign a compliance Code of Ethics and Anti-Harassment Policy.
Give your entire staff the tools they need to do their job properly and ethically. Chances are, you’ll be glad you did, and so will your customers.
Jim Radogna is the President of Dealer Compliance Consultants, Inc., a San Diego, California training and consulting firm.