Important Lessons In Collecting Satisfaction Feedback–Purchasing A Used Car From CarMax


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After looking at the prices of larger, well-equipped new cars at local dealerships, my wife and I decided it made sense to check out CarMax, where we thought we could find what we wanted at a reasonable price.

Of course, we were nervous about buying used…I always think I am being taken advantage of whenever I am buying a car. The end result is typically an expensive nice car with expensive extra features I don’t want and expensive warranties I don’t need…..but at least we have a nice car. With a used car, I’m not even sure we’ll get that!

So three weeks later, we are driving home in our newly-purchased auto from CarMax. (Yes, I bought the warranty….but the car price was fixed so I knew I wasn’t paying more than anyone else…).

My wife was happy that she is now driving a nice car, and I was happy that I didn’t have to pay a new car price for the “luxury” vehicle. I was also intrigued by the business model at CarMax and was overall pleased by the process that didn’t make me feel like prey waiting to be pounced on by carnivorous salesmen.

So now it is several weeks later, and the CarMax Customer Satisfaction Survey arrives in the mail. When my wife and I sit at the kitchen table this morning to evaluate, I begin to understand that we view the experience very differently. And rating CarMax was not going to be easy.

What Is Being Evaluated?

CarMax’s stated mission is to sell “great quality cars at low prices with exceptional customer service.” To achieve that goal, the survey states that our “honest assessment” of the buying experience was needed. On the survey is our name, our salesman’s name, and some coding presumably tracking back to the purchase…so nothing anonymous here. Also of note is that the survey is from CarMax itself, and not a third party like Dalbar.

My approach to the survey is to evaluate the “buying experience,” using past miserable transactions as my benchmark. In that regard, I found the experience positive.

My wife’s approach is to evaluate her satisfaction with “the car” as her primary satisfaction criterium, presumably using a problem-free new car as her benchmark. Since her car has been in the shop for a week fixing things we did not see on the lot, she is finding the experience problematic.

Both are legitimate approaches, based on the customer’s expectations and definitions of satisfaction. And both viewpoints must be addressed for CarMax to achieve its stated mission.

The CarMax Survey

The CarMax mission can be broken down into three parts: great quality cars, low prices, exceptional customer service. Presumably, satisfaction must be evaluated across all three categories. Of course, CarMax may view the three categories with unequal weighting, such as focusing mostly on “exceptional customer service.” If they did, they might be missing something important!

CarMax’s survey starts with Satisfaction and Loyalty questions, including the ubiquitous “How likely is it that you would recommend CarMax to a friend or colleague?”

The survey then dissects the buying experience:

  • Greeting at the Store
  • Wait List
  • Selecting A Vehicle
  • Product Knowledge
  • Communication Skills
  • Appraisal Process (in case I wanted to sell my car to CarMax)
  • Competitive Performance (versus other dealerships)
  • Business Office/Paperwork

Then the survey veers into gathering information about how we became aware of CarMax and our shopping process and past experiences with CarMax, none of which evaluate our experience.

The survey, using a quantitative bubble answer format, leaves no room for explanation. In its instructions, however, the respondent is told he or she may use a separate piece of paper or log onto the website.

Clearly, CarMax has a business formula that is carefuly crafted in its mission statement: great quality cars at low prices with exceptional customer service. I am wondering, however, whether the survey will capture what it is looking for? No survey questions asked about our satisfaction with the vehicle we bought. Only one question asked about the price, and that only in relation to other dealers.

Our response to the survey?

Experience with sales process–Very positive (5 out of 5).
Will we recommend CarMax?–Not at all likely (1 out of 11).
We we buy from CarMax in future?–Not at all likely (1 out of 11).

My View

CarMax has identified the right buttons to push for a great buying experience. Its mission is simple and clear: great cars, low prices, exceptional customer experience. But all of these elements must be working in order for the customer to be truly satisfied. If one of these traits goes awry, then the whole experience is sour.

It appears that CarMax has focused its attention on its service, and has done a great job at making used cars sales a “less risky” and more “professional” transaction. Clearly the sales process has been carefully scripted and choreographed, and its survey asks for evaluation of each step. Good job here.

But it also appears that the other two elements of its mission (price and quality of car) may need additional attention. The best way to understand this is to ask. And CarMax missed the opportunity in its survey.

CarMax customer experience analysts will scratch their heads when they read our survey. It will say:

You did everything great BUT we are not satisfied nor loyal.

And they will not know why.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Christopher Myers
Benefits Services Consulting
For more than 2 years, Chris Myers has designed and managed industry leading Employee Benefits service organizations. His passionate and innovative approach to service is widely recognized in the benefits field. His "Perfect Service" approach was created in 21 and within two years improved his company's satisfaction ratings to the top of the industry.


  1. Christopher, read your blog post today. I am sorry to hear that your overall experience has been negative and you are dealing with some frustrations post-purchase. Customer input is very important to CarMax and we are constantly examining ways to improve with the customer needs/wants as our focus.

    We appreciate your candor, and I’m sharing this directly with our research group. I’d also like to ask you to call our Customer Relations group (800-519-1511 or [email protected]) so they can document your entire experience and we can make improvements in our process.

  2. Found your blog while looking for info on Carmax surveys, due to a very weird situation I am in the middle of. A good friend, whose character I know and trust, went to Carmax to trade in her van for another vehicle. She and her now ex-boyfriend spent a fair amount of time there. Apparently , they felt they were low balled on the van, and the car they wanted needed new tires, so after some attempted negotiation, they left. They went down the street and bought a Honda the same day.

    My friend didn’t think much more about it, until she received a Carmax survey by email. She gave them a less-than-stellar review. A month later, we found out that the person our friend dealt with at the car dealership is an acquaintance, who somehow knew who our friend was. She apparently took the survey results very personally, and told us what a horrible person our friend is for giving her a poor review.

    My situation does not involve Carmax directly, but Carmax certainly helped create it. I would very much like to understand why that survey meant so much to the acquaintance. Does Carmax use those to decide who gets bonuses? Is it really a smart idea to make it so easy for names to be used or discovered? I have a dilemma, because one person is a good friend, and one is an acquaintance I must deal with in a friendly manner from time to time.

    So, I think this adds fuel to your observations about their survey. All it served to do was to make their employee angry and stressed out, and put a lot of unnecessary negativity in my life.


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