<p><strong>Dealers who surprise service customers with unexpected benefits such as free pickup and drop-off are rewarded with enhanced loyalty, satisfaction, and revenue. </strong><em>Photo by yc0407206360 via Pixabay</em></p>

It’s understandable that dealers and their service directors and managers might conflate loyalty and satisfaction. After all, you can’t achieve the highest form of loyalty without satisfaction.

Think of a waiter or waitress asking you about your meal. She asks, “How are your meals?” You say, “They’re great. Thank you.”

But what you don’t mention is that the steak was a bit tougher than your liking, and the side dish too salty. From the wait staff perspective, you’re a satisfied customer. We know you weren’t, but your dissatisfaction didn’t require a mention in the moment. Chances are, though, you might’ve mentioned the steak or side dish in a conversation later with someone else, and it may well have influenced a future decision — yours or theirs — to return to the restaurant.

Such nuances come from what I think of as the three elements of satisfaction: implicit, explicit and latent.

1. Implicit

This element of satisfaction represents what you expect to get from the transaction or service that you don’t have to ask for — you simply expect it. I’ll admit it: I’m one of those guys who expects to have a glass of water poured shortly after I sit down for a meal in a restaurant. As a long-time California resident, I’m aware that drought conditions may require that I ask for a glass of water. Still, I expect it.

In our industry, customers don’t walk into your service department thinking that you’ll fix one thing and ignore another problem. They expect you to take care of the problem with their vehicle, or at least be made aware that there’s another issue that merits attention.

That’s the implicit level: There’s an assumed understanding of what you’ll get. And if you don’t get it, you’ll be dissatisfied.

2. Explicit

This element includes the things that customers specifically ask you to deliver. For example, a customer might walk into a dealership and say, “I want to buy a car. I need it to be red with GPS, satellite radio and a sunroof.” This customer explicitly articulates what he or she wants from the salesperson. If the dealer doesn’t offer a red vehicle with the three specific add-ons or tries to switch the customer to a different vehicle, the customer won’t be satisfied.

3. Latent

This element of satisfaction arrives when businesses deliver things that customers don’t ask for — and may not even know exist. Such exchanges bring moments of delight.

Dealer Ed Witt of Witt Lincoln in San Diego sees these moments every day. For the past decade, he’s offered a free pickup and delivery of vehicles for his service customers.

“I’d say about half of our customers are surprised when they find out they don’t have to bring their vehicle to us, and we’ll provide a car for them,” Witt says. “The other half don’t believe it’s true until the pickup vehicle shows up on schedule.”

But here’s the catch about the three levels of satisfaction: No amount of latent-level activity will make up for missing the implicit or explicit elements that customers expect you to satisfy in your service department every day.

The ideal customer experience fires on all cylinders: You give customers what they normally expect, what they ask for, and what’s new to them. Customers walk in expecting you to fix what’s wrong with their car and find any new potential problems. Once you excel at these fundamentals, you can then add in the latent expectations and “Wow” your customers enough to keep them coming back for the rest of their lives.

Jim Roche is senior vice president of marketing and managed services at Xtime. This essay is excerpted from his book “Fast Lane — How to Accelerate Service Loyalty and Unlock Its Profit-Making Potential.” Contact the author at [email protected].