What is your biggest asset? Is it your impressive floor plan, the lineup of new inventory you have on your lot or is it your employees, customers and service that matter most? In an industry where a significant amount of emphasis is still placed on units sold, I challenge you to rethink your approach to business. Customer service and brand management are your biggest assets and it is imperative that you dedicate attention there in order to be recognized as a great place to do business.
Without great customer service, whether it’s provided by your sales or service team, the receptionist or even your shuttle driver, your brand suffers. Consumers have lots of choice; and they have become extremely savvy as to who they engage in business with. So you need to provide an experience that is positively memorable and encourages them to share the experience with others, and come back for more. To quote Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, an industry leader of online shoe and clothing retail, “You need to deliver WOW through service“.
Service is the heart of any business. Getting people to make the initial purchase is one thing, sustaining the business takes work and dedication. And this work doesn’t have to be hard or tiresome. Try some simple acts of kindness, like greeting your customers at their vehicle when they roll in for service, offering a relaxed environment to stroll through your lot while shopping for their new vehicle. Or even making a point to be proactive and stay connected to your customers throughout the day via phone, text, email or personal websites, to give them a heads up on the progress of their vehicle service, can go a long way into “wowing” them.
Quality customer service should be at the forefront of your corporate values and mission statement. We can all learn a great deal from the experiences we have from businesses like Zappos. Zappos employees are encouraged to spend as much time as they need with their phones customers, make recommendations, and even direct them to a competitor’s website if they are out of inventory of the product that the customer really wants to buy. Sending a customer down the road is a very unsettling idea. However, offering to service that vehicle throughout the ownership lifecycle is a great opportunity to continue to earn the loyalty from that customer. Don’t just send them down the road empty handed. Offer them the same opportunities to participate in your loyalty programs, recognize them on their birthdays/anniversaries and continue to send your mail offers. Don’t lose the connection or the opportunity to provide great service. Transparency is a key element that can be pivotal in building your brand and customer loyalty.
To reinforce this customer first culture, regular quick-tip meetings with your entire staff is a good way to make sure everyone understands your mission and vision. Dedicating 10-to-15 minutes a day or week to go over your key customer service points is a method to ensure everyone understands the business culture and how to best service every customer or potential customer that walks through your doors. Fostering a positive environment can naturally be reflective in how your customers feel welcomed when they visit your dealership.
As a side note, if you ever come to Las Vegas (whether it’s for work or pleasure) and can pry yourself away from the intoxication of the ringing sounds from the slot machines, flashing lights and fascination of the elaborate casinos, I encourage you to drive to Henderson where Zappos is headquartered… which incidentally is just a few miles from MPi’s headquarter. Zappos offers tours to individuals and businesses to come and meet their dedicated team members, get a glimpse into their culture and offers free resources that you can take back to your office to create your own wow factor. Because MPi is so close in proximity to Zappos’s office, my staff has taken advantage of this opportunity on numerous occasions. Each time they visit, they return with great ideas about how we can foster a customer first approach to our business. And we’ve implemented them. MPi is known for the highest level of customer care in our market space as we work hard to live by our motto: “customers come first”.
Now is the time to get creative with your approach to service and put your customers first so they are customers for life.
Hotel chains across the country have long had problems with customer loyalty due to an inconsistent customer experience. In researching the problem it was found that the prime reason for the disparity in customer experience was due to the growth of each major brand. Hotel chains were acquiring new properties and, in many cases, simply slapping their corporate branding on the building to attract customers.
Despite the fact that each hotel within the chain shared the same name, the quality and amenities at each varied. Some were luxurious and offered all the amenities that a business traveler could want; and some were below the standards that their loyal customers had come to expect. In 2004, the hotel brand, Hyatt decided to tackle the problem and do something different.
Hyatt created the “Hyatt Place” addition to their brand offerings. Their strategy was to create a brand in which, no matter where it was located, a business traveler would have the exact same experience. Everything is exactly the same. The lobby has the same floor plan, the bar/eating area is in the same place, the fitness center is in the same place and offers the same equipment, and each and every room at all 160 locations is exactly the same. Business travelers fell in love almost immediately. They knew exactly what they would be getting no matter which location they stayed in. Hyatt Place has won 7 awards over the last 6 years, and recently became the highest-rated mid-priced hotel chain in the country.
Consistent customer experiences generate trust. Trust generates loyalty. Trust, however, is a fragile thing. It is hard to earn but easy to lose.
How does customer experience translate to loyalty in your dealership’s service department?
It starts with consistency. Your technicians inspect customer vehicles and recommend repairs to your advisors who advise your customers. How consistent are your recommendations? Do you know how to find out?
An exercise that I recommend to dealerships is as follows:
- Find a car that none of your service techs have ever looked at.
- Put it on a hoist and have each of your technicians independently (and by themselves) inspect the vehicle, just as they would a customer’s car, and record their observations and make their recommendations.
- After all of the techs have inspected the vehicle, compare the findings.
This is an actual example of the results of this exercise:
As you can see, the results are all over the place. Imagine if a customer visited the dealership and the advisor told them they needed service on both the left and right front brake linings. The customer declines on this occasion. On their next visit maybe they ask the service advisor about those brake linings. Based on the inspection from that visit, where a different tech does the inspection, the customer is told that the tech marked them as fine. This would certainly raise red flags to the customer. It could also destroy the trust that’s been built with them.
I challenge you to perform this exercise on a regular basis. It will help create a more consistent customer experience with each visit reinforcing the declined recommendations given previously. And it will also help point out errors to any techs that need additional training due to recommending unnecessary repairs and/or failing to see needed repairs. Set a consistency goal in relation to this exercise and, when it’s achieved, have a pizza party to reward your techs.
Customer experiences are of course important in all areas of your dealership. The service drive accounts for almost half your dealership’s revenue and sees more traffic in a day than your showroom may see in a week. Make your service experience one that builds trust in your customer and loyalty will follow.