|In “The Book of Lost Things” by John Connolly, 12-year-old David is trapped in a storybook world, winding through a gauntlet of mythical and frightening situations. Though at first he is pitifully dependent on those around him, he ends up leaving that world as a brave decision-maker.|
Back in our own world, a group of California dealerships under the banner of Piercey Automotive and dealer William Piercey decided that the customer should be the protagonist of Service Land. Mike Spagle, vice president of fixed operations for all five Piercey stores, stated: “Customers tend to do business where they feel they’ve had their best experience.”
What exactly makes up the best experience? Usually, it’s that precious ingredient, time. In San Jose, where residents work for companies with names like eBay and Yahoo!, some customers have told Spagle they would pay $50 or more to have their car picked up, serviced and returned—if it would save them time.
Piercey addresses this on a broader level by having all customers’ vehicles washed, even after an oil change, but time is just one element of the scale. If the service doesn’t measure up to a customer’s best experience, the customer will defect. If you exceed or at least match that best experience, you’ve gained a new hero for your book.
What about price, isn’t it more important than time? “We found that, once the services are explained to the customer,” said Spagle, “they are willing to spend the money to maintain their vehicle.” Thus comes the foundational brick of educaton.
The California Integrated Waste Management Board Web site (www.3000milemyth.org) claims that changing oil every 3,000 miles is not only a waste of money, but also generates millions of gallons of used oil that can pollute our lakes, oceans and streams. Spagle agreed. “Oil has progressed over the last 30 years. Today there is a Class 5 oil, ACEA rated, that you can safely change once every 15,000 miles.”
Where does Piercey Auto fit in? It’s developing brochures to fight the old mindset about oil. In late 2008, Piercey will publish its own educational brochures and offer them free at the cashier station, service advisor workstations, in the customer lounge and on all the sales desks in the showroom. “Think of how much money could be saved, and all of the oil that would not go into the waste stream,” said Spagle. “People appreciate being told. By letting our customers know about this, we are earning their trust.”
There are the usual duties: dealing with personnel issues, mining for the latest trends, keeping production up, improving sales and so on. Spagle does all this, but he also runs with the ideas of others. Here’s how it works:
The service directors, who are interacting with customers, constantly collect ideas for improvement. The seeds of these ideas, though frequently shared at the monthly meetings, can get choked by a busy schedule. “This is my niche,” said Spagle, “to facilitate our service people, who have very little free time to do strategic planning, by taking those ideas and expanding on them.”
“Call me, give me the project,” he urges his staff, “and I’ll finish it for you.”
In the fall of 2007, a Piercey service director was discussing how the stores were going to transition from merely selling extra services to presenting service options. That discussion led to DealerLOGIX®.
DealerLOGIX® is a Web-based presentation that rounds up preventative maintenance choices into a simple, visual process. “Our motto is: All the options, all the time,” explained Mark Brandon, founder of DealerLOGIX®.
Step one is to input the customer’s car information. Service advisors invite the customer around the desk to see the computer screen with all options. Then, they review each option together.
Immediately, three service options are presented: Basic, Standard and Best Value. But customers do not just choose one and go. They can remove selections on each of the options – say, for instance, they don’t want their transmission oil changed – and the price is recalculated.
The next screen plainly shows what the customer did and did not choose. The same screen also suggests upgrades (e.g., tire balancing), which the advisor also explains. “The advisor makes a suggestion to the customer,” said Brandon, “but lets them make the decision.” The upgrades are added or subtracted, and the price is recalculated. Before their car is even serviced, the customer now has a printed checklist of all services chosen. “Because they are informed, customers feel better about the decision they’ve made,” Brandon summarized. “When customers are not shown all their options, they never ‘own’ the decision.” When the dealership owns the decision—that’s when the CSI scores may suffer.
Imagine the customer, still in the car, hoisted up into the air. Activity is abuzz as two people work quickly on either side to rotate tires, inspect the brakes, glance under the hood, check tire pressure and make sure the lights are working. The customer gets a printed checklist, and in 10 minutes, he or she is back on the road again. “There’s no paperwork to fill out, no bills to pay,” said Spagle. “The customers I’ve talked to would love to have something like this!”
As mentioned earlier, the directors meet once a month to discuss new ideas. They also take advantage of frequent training programs through Toyota and Honda to keep up to date. Twice a month, Spagle takes classes through I-CAR, which holds numerous training classes in collision repair at college campuses, body shops and insurance offices.
“Fifty percent of all customers abandon their dealership’s service as soon as the warranty expires,” said Spagle, and not just because the contract is over. “They’re also leaving because no one is calling them!” Advisors are required to call a customer before their car is finished being serviced. “If we do this all the time,” Spagle observed, “we reduce our ‘Rate of Customer Defection.’ You lose customers, not so much when you make them angry, but when you treat them indifferently.”
The customer who stays with Piercey long-term has the potential of being, like David, more mature and educated. The customer, after all, is the hero of the story.
Auto retail veteran and F&I products expert Paul McCarthy has joined AUL Corp. as vice president of national sales.