For dealerships, understanding the expectations of customers is what makes a great versus good versus mediocre customer experience.  -  IMAGE: Getty Images

For dealerships, understanding the expectations of customers is what makes a great versus good versus mediocre customer experience.

IMAGE: Getty Images

As a result of digital engagement opportunities, there have been significant changes that have rapidly evolved the automotive customer experience. Consumers simply won’t settle for good enough. A large majority do their own research and due diligence, knowing exactly what they want and expect from a dealership. For dealers, understanding the expectations of these customers is what makes a great versus good versus mediocre customer experience. All having a huge impact on your dealership’s culture and on your profits.

Vehicle performance and price is still of primary importance, but a positive customer experience has become critical as well to make an initial sale, to start a relationship, and to make that person your customer for life. Today’s buyers have set higher standards for dealers and the dealership experience, both online and in the store. New consumers are looking for connected and virtual experiences that are efficient and timely. No one wants to spend hours in the dealership to purchase a vehicle. Research, in fact, suggests that after 90 minutes in a dealership, the purchase experience declines along with the customer’s ratings.

Disengagement, not driving customer loyalty to a store, makes the entire sales model precarious. There needs to be a more data driven approach to sales and after market sales that focuses on the customer experience. Customers want to develop a relationship wherein they feel assured that their needs are being met. Staff expertise, service drive accessibility, data privacy and protection are all key factors in today’s purchase process. 

Anticipate Your Customers Needs

Does your sales staff make customers feel valued? Do they listen to and understand their needs? Do they show immediate action and provide solutions? Understanding the customer experience is a core business strategy for dealerships today. 

It’s essential that customers are provided with factual information, especially about financial issues. Make it personal. Building a strong connection by training your staff to listen and get to know the customer. Salespersons need to earn their trust. Be transparent. Provide legitimate assurances. 

The sales force needs to have a thorough understanding about the products being sold, the vehicles, how financing works, ancillary products, F&I product benefits, and more. For internet sales and required return calls/texts, is your team doing their homework before speaking to customers and getting back to them in a reasonable and timely manner? Did you know that a sale is seven times more likely to occur if a customer is responded to in less than 60 minutes? 


Risk Reduction for Dealers

As a dealer, you should evaluate the level of support you are receiving from your partners and consultants. For example, skilled, knowledgeable representatives should be providing you with support by way of F&I training and service training. Are your employees being trained effectively on how to handle customers, claims, and more? 

How often do you see your representative, your trainer, and when are they present at your dealership? 

Are they experts, helping your organization with everything from conducting interviews and staffing, to claims, to choosing the proper reinsurance structure to fit your long-term goals? Regardless of whether you sell the factories programs or reinsure through a third-party administrator, you’re sending money to someone. What are you getting in return? Are they working for it? You expect excellence and hard work from your employees. The partners you choose should be held to those same high standards. Continuity is important. 

Strive to attain great support. Like your customers, you shouldn’t settle for less. Align yourself with someone who knows your business inside and out. Can see issues coming up and solve for them strategically and soundly. Will analyze your processes, your products, can help you define and develop areas within the business. Provides an action plan and importantly, local support. Flexibility. Timeliness. Being there and being present. 

Further plaguing dealers is the issue of becoming noncompliant. Deal audits must be consistent on a monthly ongoing basis, with an in-depth quarterly audit process. Your F&I partners who are not fulfilling this obligation are not providing you with optimal service. Look for a partner that provides monthly finance meetings, recaps with management verbal and written, asks what dealers’ agenda is and how can I help, understanding your goals, objectives and setting expectation and road map on how to get there.

When aligning yourself with a partner, check references, ask your colleagues for recommendations. First and foremost, your partners need to set up your dealership and your staff for success. 

Training Your Staff is Important and Ongoing 

Untrained staff will have a negative impact on customer service. Support by way of once-a-month finance only training is simply not enough. Your staff needs training to include sales skills, customer service, product knowledge, internal systems and processes, technology, and automotive compliance. 

Training is most effective when it is pre-planned. As a first step the needs of the dealership and its customers need to be identified, and how they relate to the functions of specific departments and individuals. That is the best way to assure they are managing your customers akin to your vision and are developing relationships for your brand. 

Michael Fiorini is a regional manager for Vanguard Dealer Services.