Poor grammar is a sales turnoff

First impressions matter when it comes to attracting online shoppers. Dealerships should ensure responses to potential customers are not only thoughtful and informative, but also grammatically correct.

Nearly half of consumers said poor spelling, grammar and punctuation were enough to turn them off from a dealership before ever walking in the door, according to a survey by EFG Cos., an F&I product and training company in Irving, Texas.

In the survey, EFG asked, "What are the top three reasons that would lessen consideration for a purchase/lease at a dealership?"

The No. 1 reason to walk away from a dealership was a general feeling of distrust. Consumers ranked poorly worded/nonprofessional communication as the No. 2 reason, followed closely by lack of knowledge on the part of the salesperson.

A typo on the store website or in a message to a customer signifies inattention to detail and lack of professionalism. The salesperson, F&I manager or any other dealership employee who corresponds with customers represents the dealership as a whole. One person's grammatical error will likely make the entire dealership seem unprofessional.

"It really does all start with, who are you hiring in your business to interact with your car-purchasing public?" said Jenny Rappaport, EFG's chief marketing officer. "Things evolve and change. Dealers need to look at different ways to scrutinize and screen potential candidates who might be in their [business development center] or their online representative."

Incorporating a writing test into the interview process can help dealerships identify candidates who are comfortable -- and competent -- with online interactions.

Around 2009, the intersection of the recession and a consumer shift to online shopping put a premium on rapid response times, Rappaport said. At the time, many dealership employees believed the first message to reach the customer made the sale.

"What you saw was this groundswelling happen of canned responses, kind of the auto responders, and then very rapid and hurried communication back to the consumer about that vehicle," Rappaport said. "In that hurry, you just saw a lot of poorly worded, maybe not scrutinized information going to the customer."

But sending personalized messages doesn't have to be a gamble. Some dealerships enlist chatbots or smart software to communicate with customers online and then hand the reins to a salesperson once the customer visits the dealership.

Even an edited template can be helpful when converting online shoppers into dealership customers, saving the store's staff time drafting similar messages. A uniform sample text that sales associates and F&I managers can tweak to fit their customers' needs allows dealerships to reach out to consumers effectively without risking a small but costly typo.

All in all, dealerships' reputations are vital to their success. A simple proofread can protect -- and enhance -- a store's image.

You can reach Jackie Charniga at jcharniga@crain.com -- Follow Jackie on Twitter: @jccharniga

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