LOS ANGELES – “The deal” always will matter most to some car buyers, but not to all, says Tracy Riazzi, an executive at a management company that runs several U.S. dealerships.

She contends many people want a great customer experience more than rock-bottom prices from a stone-cold store.

“Each time you compromise the price, you’re telling the customer you’re inferior,” says Riazzi, operations director-customer service development at Automotive Management Services. “It’s about price when you don’t tell the story.”

According, a good dealership autobiography should include chapters on the importance of reputation, quality service and customer loyalty.

Deep discounters “are telling the customer, ‘I’ve got nothing,’” she says at the 2014 Automotive Customer Centricity Summit here.

Her company’s dealerships try to show they’ve got what it takes to emotionally connect with customers, offer “surprise factors” and provide human touch points along the way, including sales, financing, delivery, follow up and service.

“Why does a customer buy a car from us and why do they come back for service?” she asks. Because of a honed ability to foster good memories and positive emotions among customers, she says.

Riazzi points to a Strativity Group survey in which 44% of respondents say they would pay a premium of 5% or more for a superior customer experience.

In citing a case of customer-service cleverness, Riazzi tells an anecdote she calls “The story of a dozen roses.” It involves a forgivable white lie.

A frantic husband called a florist to order roses for his wife. He insisted on immediate delivery. The day before was his anniversary. He had forgotten, much to his wife’s ire.

The quick-witted florist came up with a good one. She said: “With the flowers, I’ll include a box of chocolates and note of apology from us, saying, ‘We delivered your flowers yesterday to the wrong address.’”

Who do you think the man will call next time he wants flowers? Riazzi asks. 

Great customer service is personalized, expressive, relevant and lasting, “the last one being the most important,” she says. She contends 95% of customer decisions are emotional.

Dealers can get burned if emotions get hot. And these days, miffed customers are likely to express their sore feelings on social-network sites.

“They sit in your lounge, use your free WiFi and write about you,” Riazzi says, citing contradictory social-media comments posted about one dealership. Remarks oscillated from “the service is great” to “liars…liars…liars” to “I felt I was in a 4-star hotel” to “the workers are recovering drug addicts and sex offenders.”

Wild criminal allegations aside, “complaints are great,” she says. “You say that and some people cringe. But when customers complain, they are giving us a second chance to redeem a relationship. It tells us what customers are thinking. It leads to increased loyalty if handled properly. So don’t blow it.”

She quotes the late poet Maya Angelou who said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Riazzi devotes much effort on fostering employee satisfaction, seeing it as a prerequisite to customer satisfaction.

Dealerships should invest more in frontline employees and empower them, she says. “Provide correct job descriptions and make employees understand the power of self-decisions.”

Employee empowerment enhances self-responsibility and reduces the likelihood of hearing “I just work here” or “I need to check with my manager,” she says. “Every second your employees delay because they have to ask for permission is a second closer to losing the race.

“I ask employees, ‘Are you doing a transaction or building a relationship?’ Their answers will tell you a lot.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com