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Your Most Important Customer: Implementing An Internal Customer Relationship Management System

Building relationships with customers is a fundamental part of this business. No dealership will last long if its employees cannot develop rapport and make a connection with the customer. Have you ever taken the time to clearly define who your customers are? It probably seems like a simple question to answer. Those people who buy products or services from you, right? Yes, but that’s a fairly limited definition. It leaves out a whole section of customers that you may be failing to notice. Your internal customers.

Internal customers are those people within your organization whom other parts of the organization connect with. Your employees are internal customers. What do I mean by this? For example, let’s say that you have a sales consultant ready to deliver a vehicle to a customer (external), but to do so many different things must fall into place. The vehicle must go through your inspection process first. Therefore, the sales consultant has now become a customer (internal) of the auto tech doing the inspection. The auto tech will not even begin the inspection if the paperwork is not delivered from the assistant service manager (ASM). He’s a customer of the ASM. The ASM does not know to prepare the paperwork if the sales manager does not let him know about it. He’s a customer of sales manager. This goes on throughout the entire dealership.

In plain terms, every one of your employees provides a service to someone else even if it’s not directly to the people buying vehicles. While ultimately you are all trying to deliver to the external customers, managing the internal customer relationships is just as important as managing the external ones.

The idea of internal customer relationship management (ICRM) is nothing new. Most large businesses have a formal quality improvement program that will deal with this, but rarely do you see much focus on this in small- and medium-sized businesses. My experience has been that most automotive dealerships put very little effort into managing internal customer relationships. This is unfortunate because the automotive industry has the tools and mindset already built in; you simply have to adapt the techniques you use for external customers to work with your internal customers as well. I won’t try to tell you the best way to deal with customers, as I’m sure you are already working on it. I will, however, outline the three key areas to remember when adapting what you already have in place to meet the needs of your internal customers as well.

ICRM is proactive.
The top sales consultants know that the worst way to sell cars is to wait for the customers to drive onto the lot and then start. The best sales people are seeking out their customers before the customers even show up and asking them “What can I do for you?” This is just as true for your assistant service manager. If the ASM (whose internal customers include the service techs) takes the time to ask the techs, “What can I do for you?”, things will move forward. The answer could be something as simple as turning the written services orders the same direction so the tech can look through them quicker or highlighting the work that needs to be fast-tracked in the computer.

Whatever it is, it takes action to find out what the customers are looking for and by taking action first, rather than when complaints start surfacing (i.e. when the internal customer comes to you), and showing an interest in the work of your customers and coworkers.

ICRM is about people.
How many times have you heard, or said, something like, “This would be so much easier if [insert name(s) here] would just get their act together”? I suspect probably too many times. It is quite easy to fall into an “us versus them” mentality, especially when dealing with coworkers. As a member of managment, it is your responsibility to control this because you know the service department is not trying to sabotage the sales staff nor is the administrative staff purposely trying to misplace paperwork.

You can break this by encouraging the realization that all people make mistakes. You need to proactively seek out solutions to issues (see #1) and treat each other as people and not nameless adversaries in that other department. If that happens, you will achieve more internal customer satisfaction. Develop your employees in a way that they can see and understand the roles of others employed. Oftentimes, people become so focused on their own work that they lose track of the fact that everyone plays an important role in the function of the dealership. Let your administrative team spend some time in sales or service and vice versa, so they can see everyone’s contribution. Remember, you are developing relationships.

ICRM is ongoing.
Relationships take time and work. I’m sure everyone realizes that from their personal lives. It carries over directly to work as well. To develop good internal customer relationships you must always work on them. It’s not as simple as asking a few questions once and thinking you are doing well. You have to keep asking questions, working with individuals, focusing on everyone’s contributions and seeking out new ways to improve. Go back to the sales example. Would you rather sell one car to a customer this year or sell a car to them every two years for the rest of their lives? Would you rather improve your workflow today only, or every day? That is what customer relationship building is about. It’s an ongoing process.

This is a simplified methodology for you to read, think about and possibly implement. If you already have a CRM training program in place, probably for your sales staff, consider adapting it for all of your employees. Every person in your dealership is a vital part of the organization. By making sure all the employees understand this on an internal level, you will find your dealership able to focus the concepts on the external customers better as well.

Vol 5, Issue 3


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