Best Practices

“Greetings – You Now Have 5 Seconds!”

When was the last time you thought about the way you greeted a customer?

The greeting is so simple, but often overlooked. I am not just talking about in person, but on the phone as well. It takes just five seconds for a person to form a positive or negative impression of you and your business. In person, the customer will not only form that impression by what you say, but also by your physical appearance. On the phone your only tools are words and tones.


While on my way to train a dealership recently, I had a personal experience that really drove home the power of the greeting. It was late at night and my flight was four hours late arriving. After picking up my luggage, I took a shuttle bus to the rental car agency. As I approached the rental agent, she greeted me with, “You better have a reservation” in a very sarcastic tone. She was obviously having a bad day as well. Well I was in no mood for a disgruntled rental car agent, so in a condescending kind of way I replied back, “Is that how you greet all your customers?” Well now I get one of those looks back (hand on hip, one eyebrow raised, head tilted) and I realize this is not going to end very well for me. Sure enough they have no record of my reservation and I was unable to produce one on my Blackberry. After 15 minutes of argument, I walked in the pouring rain to the rental agency next door. Needless to say my mood had gone from bad to down right ugly. Upon entering the second rental agency, I was greeted by a young man. He had a big smile on his face and said in a thick accent, “Welcome to National Car Rental my name is Bem and I am going to help you with all your car rental needs this evening.” Still disgruntled from my last experience I replied, “I sure do hope so; do you have any rentals available?” When he said “yes” I smiled back at him. The whole time I was there interacting with him, he continued to smile and engaged me in conversation. Turns out he was from Nigeria and was very happy to be here in our country making a decent living. By the time I left there, I was in a great mood even though it cost me $95 per day for the rental; oh and did I mention I was soaking wet? While driving to the hotel I thought about my first experience and wondered… had I used a little charm on the first rental agent could I have changed her mood and saved myself a soaking walk in the rain? Obviously the answer is “yes.” It all starts with the greeting, not just hers to me, but mine back to her. I’ll tell you it’s a lot harder for somebody to treat you rudely when you start off the conversation with a positive upbeat greeting and a smile.

If you consider all the customer touch points in a dealership, it’s real easy to see how important it is that everyone be well versed in the art of a proper greeting. I would recommend that you start by observing how your employees greet customers. That includes your sales department, service department, parts department, operator, receptionist and cashier. Watch how they interact with customers and listen to their recorded phone conversations. Once you have a good picture, start a campaign within your dealership by getting your employees focused on how they should greet customers. Monitor your progress and continue coaching as needed.

As a phone trainer, I listen to hundreds and hundreds of recorded calls each month and I am amazed at how poorly these customers are often greeted. If it’s bad on the phone, it’s usually not any better in person.

So how would I greet a customer? Well it’s not always about what you say, but how you say it.

  • Make sure you look your best each and every day. When you feel good about the way you look, you’re more apt to display a level of confidence and professionalism. Remember the way you felt the last time you bought a new suit and wore it for the first time?
  • Greet each customer with a smile; smiles are contagious. Smile at somebody and see if they don’t smile back at you. Even when on the phone a smile goes a long way.
  • Make and maintain eye contact with your customers.
  • Come up with a greeting that is positive, upbeat and just a little different than that of your competition.
  • Remember that it may be the zillionth time you’ve answered the same questions or transferred a call, but for the person asking or calling, it’s their first time.
  • Use voice inflections to add more meaning to your greeting.
  • And most importantly; remember that the person in front of you or on the phone is your most valued possession–a customer.

When in dealerships training, I’ll often take sales calls to demonstrate the proper procedure for handling customers. I just happen to have a few recorded calls demonstrating the greeting I use with actual comments from customers. Please visit the following link to see how a proper greeting can help your dealership create a positive experience for your customers:

Follow this link for some interesting and fun greetings..

About the Author: Jerry Thibeau is a sales trainer and the President of Phone-up Ninjas. His company focuses on helping dealerships around the world increase sales by teaching automotive professionals the proper techniques for scheduling more appointments with phone and Internet customers.

Great article Jerry, passed on to our receptionists and sales guys. Everyone on the floor is having a smily day, myself included.
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    Sharon Amico
  • November 12, 2009
Great article Jerry!
One of the most over-looked parts of dealership training. Thanks for the reminder Jerry!
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    Bruce Hartz
  • November 12, 2009
This is good stuff.Thanks for sharing it with us. Its so easy to get lazy with sales calls if you have been selling for a while. I just copied and pasted panes 1-7 to a word doc along with the URL for future reference. I just tasked my Blackberry to remind me to listen to you once a month! Bruce Hartz
Great take and personal story on some great basics to being successful in sales and in life.

Like you I have printed this out for the receptionists and salespeople. We all know you need to have some of the basic fundamentals, to often though leaders forget that just because we may read or know something it doesn't mean anything until we pass on that knowledge.
Good "back to the basics" article we all need more often Jerry.
Jerry, thanks for sharing! These are techniques we should all be practicing and mastering!

When we as salespeople take our job seriously and become professional, the prospect/customer feels it and will more often than not trust us enough to follow our lead!

When salespeople don't handle customers well, it makes it harder for the one's that know how to, because we need to bust through the wall that was built up from their last poorly handled experience.
Great article that is well supported by your story at the beginning. Will definitely pass this one on...
Thank you for the kind comments, they are much appreciated. I am looking forward to writing future articles for DealerRefresh. It's a great community and I excited to be involved.

Thanks again!

Jerry, Thank you for the great advice. Those phone calls were a riot. I have written down the "faboulous" line and placed it by my phone. I can't wait until the next call comes in!
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    Mark McKinney
  • November 13, 2009

Excellent article. Step #1 is the Meet & Greet. You have fine-tuned it to todays auto retail environment.


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  • December 6, 2009
Nice article and thanks for sharing information.