|A key point of differentiation for car dealers across the country today is customer service. The one thing the top dealers have in common with one another, and also with the best businesses in the world, is “World-Class Customer Service.” It’s no longer exception; it’s the expectation of every customer who visits a dealership, including special finance and buy here pay here buyers. In order to be competitive today, you must exceed the expectations of your customers.|
There are many elements that can cause a business to succeed or fail, but something that should be copied from every successful business is the "customer experience." World-class customer service is the most dramatic element of your business that builds value for the customer without costing you a dime extra. And, as many of us know, most car dealerships are miserable at creating a fantastic customer experience, and that fact alone creates a huge competitive opportunity for you.
Creating a great customer experience is both incredibly simple and the hardest thing you'll ever do. There is nothing magic or mysterious about it, but you have to turn your mind inside-out. You already spend 100 hours a week focused internally on staffing, sales, inventory, finance, contracts in transit, reconditioning and putting out fires. Carve out a few hours every week to focus on delivering the greatest customer experience ever, and the payoff will be huge.
We all can learn a few things from the companies on the JD Power’s Customer Elite List. When it comes to customer service, these businesses rock. Here are the top 10:
Five simple points each company has in common can be a starting point for car dealers to improve customer service. These ideas are free and will begin generating a payback within 30 days after you implement them.
1. Look at your business from the customer’s perspective. You can't do this yourself because your viewpoint is biased, so are your employees’. Ask friends, family, relatives, acquaintances and strangers to visit your dealership and your competition. Get brutally honest feedback from a customer's perspective and don’t be offended by their feedback. Improve on your flaws, fix them, and discover what makes your dealership unique and sets you above the competition.
Don't focus only on the routine procedures like the meet and greet; everyone does the ordinary ordinarily well. We’re looking for the exceptions that make the business stand out. It's these exceptions and the extraordinary problem-solving skills that make a business rise to the top.
Have a friend call with a customer complaint. Ninety-nine times out of 100, your staff will not be treating the exceptions the same way you, as the owner or manager, would have treated that customer. Why? Because you've issued a policy that they are naive enough to follow to the letter. The point is, anyone can train their staff to follow a procedure, but great companies train their staff to think and empower them with decision-making authority. A customer problem is like a fumble for a football team; it’s everybody’s job to get the ball back.
2. Actively listen to everything that can help you see what the customer sees. Very few people will give you direct feedback. So you have to look deeper for the clues. Active listening means taking and hearing all verbal and non-verbal cues. It means really listening to your customers’ reactions to your sales processes, staff and facility.
When you walk in the door, what is the first impression of your dealership? Then think of your first impression of other good businesses in your area. A florist should smell like fresh flowers. A bakery should smell like hot cinnamon buns, Starbuck’s like coffee. A car dealership should have that new car smell.
Is there music in the background? Is it offensive and loud? Is it boring Muzak? Or, is it the right fit for your environment? Are your customers greeted by a group of hungry piranhas from the joking and smoking section at the front of the store, or are they left alone, unattended to stroll the lot in search of someone to help.
Is a customer’s newly-purchased vehicle prepped and cleaned for delivery? Does it have a full tank of gas? Does your staff enthusiastically and sincerely say thank you? Are your special finance customers treated with the same respect, courtesy and service as you’re A-Tier customers?
You and your team’s number-one job is to exceed each and every one of your customer’s expectations and do so with sincerity to make the customer feel welcome.
4. Don’t just sell cars; maximize the fun. Have you ever wondered if a fast food restaurant paid an extra $1.50 an hour, could they get counter help that came without a cell phone attached to their ear or a snarl planted on their lips? A smile, enthusiasm, manners, and “can do” attitude go a long way with a customer, and you should expect every employee to offer that to every customer who visits your store.
The atmosphere of your dealership should be warm, professional, friendly, inviting and fun. Don’t forget that last word either. It makes a huge difference for your staff and your customers. By relaxing the environment, productivity and customer satisfaction increase exponentially. None of us, especially our customers want to be around people with a bad attitude. A warm, energetic smile with a personality overflowing with enthusiasm is hard to say no to.
5. Improve constantly. If you haven't fixed something in the last 48 hours, you've just fallen two days behind your best competitor. Focus on the smallest improvements that you can find. If your office is ugly or dirty, clean it. If your staff treats customers like an interruption to their busy conversations, fix it. If your logo is boring or your advertising is unappealing, fix it.
There are a thousand ways to turn your mindset inside-out and start running your dealership the way your customers would like, instead of the way that's most convenient. Remember, you're trying to create an experience for the customer that can be described as “World-Class Service.” Customer satisfaction leads to customer loyalty, which increases repeats and referrals and leads to maximum returns, value and customers for life.
Auto retail veteran and F&I products expert Paul McCarthy has joined AUL Corp. as vice president of national sales.