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Zimbrick's In Madison Define Loving Care Service

It doesn’t take long for first-timers at Zimbrick’s in Madison, Wis. to get the idea that they’re in for a unique experience.

First, there’s the marquee-sized picture in neon-blue lights of two cats, a female and her kitty, snuggling above the service drive. Then there’s the motto: “Loving Care Service.” There’s the hotel-style welcome extended to every new guest. And then comes the kid-glove treatment, when new arrivals get to see what that loving care means as translated by the dozens of people who work there.

“I think it all stems back from the Zimbrick family,” Kendall Dahmen, Zimbrick general manager said. “We’ve always been trained that you treat everybody like family, like a hero, a friend, your mother, your father, your grandmother. You’ve got to treat everybody like family. Building a relationship is based on trust and mutual respect. Without that, basically we have nothing.”

With it comes a beehive of entrepreneurial activity. Zimbrick’s encompasses a bustling 14 franchises in the Madison region that collectively account for about 15,000 car sales a year. Dahmen, who began his career as a salesman at Zimbrick’s 11 years ago, is in charge of the Buick, Honda, Isuzu, Infiniti, Hyundai, body shop, Goodwrench and Honda service centers. All 320 people who work directly with Dahmen start learning how to spread the love from their first day of training.

Their service centers are considered some of the best in the business. Anyone needing anything from an oil change to a new engine can expect to be treated with compassion.

The proof is in the satisfaction survey. Zimbrick’s Buick service department, for example, scored a complete customer satisfaction score of 75 percent, compared to 69 percent for the country. Its Honda service facility hit 89.8 percent, while nationally, the average satisfaction was at 85 percent. And Hyundai, which rates service departments on a scale of 1,000, totted up a score of 934 for Zimbrick’s compared to a national average of 869.

And it all starts by putting the customer first.

“They have a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety,” Dahmen said. “They’re wondering how much time it is going to take, how much it is going to cost.”

At Zimbrick’s, the goal is complete loyalty.

“One of the things we talk about is a satisfied customer versus a loyal customer. A satisfied customer will shop anywhere,” Dahmen said. “We want loyal customers; positive word of mouth. We want to be first on their mind. When somebody says ‘I need to have my car serviced,’ we want him to hear that Zimbrick’s provides the best service out there. The hardest part about that is wowing the customer.”

And that gets back to loving care service. It starts with the first word they hear and see: “Welcome.”

Employees are taught to welcome everyone to the service area. Doors are marked ‘welcome.’ And it’s all part of a carefully thought-out plan to make the experience a little less intimidating, a little less fraught with worry and a lot friendlier than the competition.

To further help ease the stress, service workers are carefully trained to give customers a full explanation on what they find, what work needs to be done and a good estimate of how long it will take to complete. That takes time and consideration. And to make sure the service area keeps its edge in the service arena, employees are regularly expected to continue their training in their field of expertise.

But there’s plenty more. Zimbrick’s has several waiting rooms available, and each one is designed in its own way to pamper customers and keep bringing them back.

“Our facilities are all different. Some facilities serve juice and coffee and some bake homemade cookies. We have a quiet lounge for reading, a lounge for TV. Some have a fish tank for relaxation. There’s a children’s place; parents can watch kids play in a glass-wall room next door with games, Gameboys and jungle gyms and all that stuff. It relaxes the tone. It’s something to keep them busy.”

Zimbrick’s has also been trying to extend that loving feeling and sense of loyalty online. Customers can register their cars on the Zimbrick’s Web site,, and schedule their service appointments or order a part without having to wait on the phone. They can also opt to get e-mail reminders when it’s time for an oil change and the computer system keeps their information handy so they don’t have to fill out new forms every time they show up.

But the Web is just a tool, something to save time and improve service. It’s a valuable tool, but it’s no substitute for the personal touch expected from the people who work there.

“No Web site ever fixed a car, sold a truck or personally took care of a concern,” is just part of Zimbrick’s mission statement.

“It is our people that make a difference in the buying and ownership experience. The business has changed. It’s become more of a competitive business,” Dahmen said. “But we’re continually focused on the customer. Not on price, but on value. We’re trying to increase the level of perceived value. Customers get a full explanation of what is being serviced. They can go online and get all the information they want. But they want to have that explained, and that’s something a computer can’t do.”

That’s the way it has been during the 40 years since John Zimbrick opened the original lot on the corner of Park and Regent Streets in downtown Madison. And that’s the way it still is as his two sons, Mike and Tom, carry on the business.

In fact, everybody at the service center is trained to shave as much waiting time from the experience as possible. Loaner cars are available, but Zimbrick’s also offers a free cab ride. But the cabs aren’t just a write-off courtesy. The dealership uses the program to harvest valuable information about customer attitudes. Once a year, Dahmen takes out all the cab drivers to a big dinner, when he can find out directly what people are saying about their experience.

“These cab drivers tell a lot about what our customers are saying,” Dahmen said. “And they get an earful of remarks, everything from ‘My day’s great, best service ever or I had to wait.’ And that kind of feedback can be just as valuable as the survey data the manufacturers gather every year.

There are 125 people who work in Dahmen’s service area, but the philosophy is everyone who clocks in does their part to add to the loyalty, increase the loving and bring some more ‘wow’ to the experience.

“You go through a new-hire orientation, a day-long class that teaches about our culture, core values, benefits and who the Zimbricks are. There are frontline skills training and telephone skills. We are really gung-ho on the education side of the business.”

One of the keys to making it all work is to make the feeling genuine. And it starts at the top.

“Mr. Zimbrick’s philosophy is that the Zimbricks take care of the employees, the employees take care of the customers. Every time he sees me, he asks ‘How’s the wife and kids?’ He’s really interested in the family. Mr. Zimbrick is concerned about us. He’s always been that way. He cares about people.”

That kind of attitude lowers turnover and increases car sales.

“Over 6,000 cars are sold a year at my facility, and a lot of that is repeat business. We’ve had some sales people here more than 25 years. We have a lot of service advisers and technicians that have been here a long time. People come back because they get to work with the same team,” Dahmen said. “We look at warranty percentages, how much of the business comes from outside of Dane County versus inside. But we’re not a large company that tracks when a person has spent $20,000 with us in 10 years. It doesn’t matter if they spend $1 or $20; we have to treat that customer well.”

Dahmen has known some of these workers from the time when he was a kid, coming to Zimbrick’s with his dad to buy a new car. Going to work selling cars right after getting his college degree may not have been your average career choice, but it felt right to Dahmen, and it has paid off.

“We just had a person today, 89-years-old, and she was excited, happy. I couldn’t believe it. There are some customers who have bought 16, 17, 18 cars, and they keep coming back.”

Keeping them in the repeat column means keeping up with a tradition of loving and always adding a few fresh twists to improve the experience.

“I always use that ‘wow,’” Dahmen said. “How do we keep wowing customers? How do we have to differentiate ourselves from the competition? What do we have to do in ‘05 differently that nobody else is doing?”

One answer may be on the Web.

“We’re going to focus a little more on the Internet. We feel we have not tapped the potential of that, from sales and service. We have a lot of room to grow yet. We have to do things well and can do better. We want a great product, great service and we need to have our ‘A’ game on all the time.”

And if any employee is having a bad day or feels they can’t keep up their “A” game from the 7 a.m. start time to a 6 p.m. close, colleagues are trained to step in for them.

They do it because there’s a lot riding on every encounter. And nobody knows that better than Dahmen.

“If we screw up one time, what’s the chance of a customer coming back?”

Vol 2, Issue 1



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