There’s something different about Hendrick Automotive Group that elevates its automotive dealerships above its peers.
The dealership group topped the list of all U.S. publicly or privately held groups in the online Reputation study released in October.
The brand earned the highest sentiment and visibility score to gain a Reputation score of 836, compared to a score of 769 for the second highest overall and private dealership group, Holman Automotive Group.
Hendrick also had an impressive showing in Reputation’s Top 100 Dealerships with eight of its dealerships in the Top 10.
Hendrick Lexus Charleston rose from No. 2 in the last report to No. 1 in the 2021 report, followed by Hendrick Volvo Cars of Charleston in the No. 2 slot. Hendrick Lexus Kansas City took the No. 4 spot while Hendrick Lexus Northlake took No. 5, (BMW of Southpoint (No. 6) Hendrick Lexus Charlotte came in at No. 8 and Hendrick Lexus Kansas City as No. 9. (Lexus of Pleasanton (No. 10)
Greg Gach, president of Hendrick Automotive Group and Hendrick Companies, first thanks customers for trusting them with their business, noting it’s their reviews that put the company in the No. 1 spot for online reputation for three consecutive years. But he adds that values focused on customers also led to these rankings.
“Providing the very best customer service and taking care of people is at the heart of our company culture, and our 11,000 teammates live out these values every day,” he says. “They are why we have both the top-rated dealership overall and the top dealer group. At every level, our people make the difference. We are so proud of them for this amazing achievement.”
Culture Changes Customer Relationships
Upon learning of the Reputation scores, Chad Jernberg, vice president of Customer Experience at Holman Automotive, said, “Holman is—and always will be—a customer-centric business where delivering an exceptional experience remains our top strategic priority. The voice of our customers serves as a catalyst for change, and we’ve made a concerted effort to amplify their feedback across our entire organization in order for our service-oriented culture to thrive and evolve.”
This focus lives and dies on company culture, says Gach. “We see ourselves as not in the car business but in the people business. The people part of our business begins with taking care of our employees,” he says.
The culture of taking care of your own starts with the chairman and CEO of Hendrick Automotive Group, Joseph Riddick “Rick” Hendrick III. “He tells us repeatedly that our people are our most important asset, and he takes that to heart,” Gach says.
So much so that during the pandemic, the dealership group of 93 car dealerships didn’t furlough anyone. The company provided 80% salaries to those employees in areas where health guidance prevented businesses from operating. “We had some dealerships in California that had to close their doors and Mr. Hendrick made sure everyone got paid, which was huge,” Gach says.
Every dealership also hosts monthly luncheons that recognize outstanding performers and give all employees a chance to win prizes. The events develop comradery that carries over to customers. “Employees prioritize people over profits in their customer interactions,” he says. “Obviously, we must make profits to keep the lights on. But if you treat employees well, they are excited to come to work. Customers see that excitement and have a much better experience.”
A commitment toward continuous improvement represents a core value. Here, the automotive group also stands ready to deliver. The Ricky Hendrick Scholarship Fund, for example, has provided education assistance to over 3,200 employees. And Hendrick University provides online training to staff and partner with local technical colleges to help technicians hone their skills.
It’s these efforts that lead to satisfied employees and little turnover. Though the dealership turnover sets a little higher than the management company, Gach reports it is still far less than their peers. “The proof in the pudding is that we have hired many quality people because of referrals from existing teammates. These people enjoy working here so much that they referred us to their friends,” Gach says.
Caring for Customer’s Communities
Customers are drawn to how the dealership cares for its community, Gach adds. The company always provides disaster relief when areas, where it has stores, get hit by natural disasters.
“We have a robust system in place to provide water, diapers, baby food, etc. to teammates and communities affected by natural disasters,” Gach says, noting the company helped areas of Texas affected by the severe winter storm and areas affected by Hurricane Florence.
The Hendrick Cares initiative encourages employees to respond to community needs and step up when they see an opportunity. The company supports local schools and food banks and it’s Hendrick Get Set. Go! Competition funds education projects that increase student access to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). To date, the company has provided 230,000 holiday meals, $2 million to food banks, 5.5 million pounds of food, and $100,000 for STEM education needs.
Hendrick Automotive Group strives to always follow the philosophy of Rick Hendrick, who says, “It’s our civic duty to take care of the people in our community, and a moral duty just for mankind.”
Pushing a Positive Customer Experience
Pandemic lockdowns challenged every dealership’s ability to service customers; Hendrick dealerships were no exception, reports Gach.
Both Brian Johnson, vice president of marketing at Hendrick Automotive Group, and Gach stress their first strategy was to improve their online game. “We had to provide a great experience,” Gach says. “When someone starts the process, you have to get back to them right away, especially with the chip shortage impacting inventories.”
He says it involves understanding how people want to shop and meeting them where they are. For instance, some people want to start the process online and finish in the store while others want to do the entire purchase online. “The most important thing is that you follow up quickly and show that you care about them, want their business, and want them to have a good experience,” Gach adds. “We are constantly training our teams how to best use online tools and provide a better customer experience.”
He admits the shortage of new and used cars has challenged the selling process. With 9,000 used cars available, the company can usually meet customer needs. But if they cannot, they sell deeply into the pipeline. But this process only works with transparency and open communication, according to Gach.
Hendrick Automotive Group communicates regularly with teammates and customers to ensure everyone understands where things are. That also is the pinnacle upon which they build their service centers. “We have to make sure people have safe and reliable transportation,” Gach says. “The key is to communicate with the customer, put them in a loaner if we can, and do our best to constantly touch that customer to tell them how we will do our best to take care of them.”
He adds teammates strive to communicate with customers how they want to be communicated with, whether it’s messaging, texts, email or phone. “We teach teammates how to communicate and answer customer questions quickly no matter what platform they are on,” he says. “We communicate with the customer where they want to communicate and do so as efficiently as possible.”
Navigating the Negative
Though customers put Hendrick Automotive Group at the top of the list for online service, Gach is quick to add “we’re not perfect. Even though we have an outstanding reputation and a great score, we still get negative reviews sometimes.”
How teammates answer reviews—even negative ones—is the key to the company’s success, he adds, noting the company gets managers involved to resolve negative reviews immediately.
“Most of the time it’s because of a communication challenge,” he says. “The customer didn’t know the part was on order or the vehicle was in transit. Usually, we can handle the problem quickly and even get the review upended.”
With plenty of positive reviews, it’s easy to rest on your laurels. But Gach says the company is not afraid of negative reviews because they help dealerships address another core value—continuous improvement.
“One of my lines is, ‘What did we learn here today?’” he says. “if we got a review, how did it happen? How can we prevent it from happening again? Sometimes it’s not something we can control. Those instances help us train our teams on how to message the consumer around that.”
Negative reviews can drive down Google rankings, so it’s also important to encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews. Provide technology that makes it easy for customers to leave reviews, he says.
Hendrick dealerships use Reputation’s communications platform to gather reviews. When customers finish their service work or sale, Hendrick teammates push a link to the customer that they can click on to leave a review.
Targeted top-level training further elevates the customer experience, adds Gach. Hendrick Automotive Group uses its Reputation score to provide consistent training to teammates at every store. The company looks at dealership scorecards, online reviews, and Reputation scores regularly.
“Every dealership knows where they stand and how well they are doing for the month,” Johnson says. “We have teammates at the management company dedicated to this. We have a dedicated team at Reputation that supports the management company and the dealerships. But overall, we just make it a priority to maintain an outstanding online reputation.”
This, he adds, makes marketing the company easy. “It’s social proof that we provide great service,” he concludes.
Ronnie Wendt is the owner of In Good Company Communications and an editor at F&I and Showroom.