Earning customer loyalty in today’s society is especially tricky. As almost every retailer now has a loyalty program, it’s difficult to stand out and make your customer truly feel special and appreciated. Earning loyalty isn’t simply about giving something away. It’s about creating and nurturing a relationship that builds a brand advocate who will continue to patronize your business and also help with your acquisition efforts through recommendations and word-of-mouth. For the customer, the true test of how much a business values their patronage – and typically the moment when most businesses fail – is when a problem arises and they need assistance.
Nowadays, most consumers are used to getting trapped in an automated phone system’s multiple layers, offering every option except the one they want – a REAL LIVE person. Most customers don’t expect businesses today to greet them by name, or have instant knowledge of their past transactions. They simply want to know that the business is there for them and that it will help them. Unfortunately, frequently customers instead feel frustrated. They get bounced from rep to rep, or department to department, without that rep having the power to help them. And, even more frustrating, each step of the way they have to explain their problem again to the new person.
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to show your customers that your business truly cares is to treat each one as a VIP. There are countless stories of customers defecting to the competition simply because someone didn’t pick up their extension, and they went straight to voicemail. Train your staff to take ownership of each call that comes into your dealership. If the customer has questions, they should check that the person the customer needs to reach is available. And that they are the correct person to answer the question before transferring the call. Don’t shoot the customer off into phone limbo. Train your staff to brief any employee they transfer the call to about the customer’s issue. Then the customer no longer has to constantly repeat themselves. It’s very easy in a busy showroom to transfer calls around, page salespeople, then place customers on hold. But that’s exactly what will send those customers elsewhere.
Stores with BDCs are in an incredible position to create a concierge-like VIP service for customers. To create a relationship with a customer, you have to become a resource for them. If your customer’s vehicle is broken down, you could simply tell them to call AAA and have the car towed in, and/or give them the number for the manufacturer’s roadside assistance program. Another option is to offer to place that call for the customer — stay with them until the service answers, offering any information (like the dealership’s address) that the operator may need. Which do you think the customer will be more impressed with? Which do you think would result in that customer’s vehicle at your shop, versus your competitor? I realize that not all of this is realistic at each dealership, it’s the general idea of customer care that I am trying to relay.
Instead of answering the phone with a question of “This is Mike, How can I help you?” try a simple change to “This is Mike, I can help you.” Take ownership of that customer until their need has been fulfilled. You’d be surprised just how appreciative and impressed your customers will be. That is how you differentiate yourself and earn a customer’s loyalty.
An interesting study conducted by MaritzCX and published on CustomerThink relays how dealers should care about – and invest in – the creation of a better customer experience in their stores.
While customer experience can be vague, and in the past has mostly been measured through surveys and CSI scores, MaritzCX conducted a comprehensive study to show dealers the only factor that affects the bottom line – and that is revenue. The study’s results illustrate that when a dealer climbs one level in customer satisfaction (i.e.: from “satisfied” to “very satisfied”), sales volume increases on average by 329 vehicles per year, adding $64,000 in additional sales profits. In addition, the same customer experience improvement in service increases revenue by $41,646 per year. According to the study, “combining additional sales profits and service profits reveals a potential incremental gross profit of $106,315 per year for the average dealership.” By contrast, when the customer experience moves down a level, the study found a decrease in gross profit of $191,624.
Customer experience is currently a hot topic with dealers and vendors. However, many dealers are hesitant to spend lavish amounts of money on showroom improvements, or luxuries without a concrete answer to the most important question most dealers ask – “What’s my ROI?”
The MaritzCX study was able to capture the monetary benefits for dealers investing in an improved customer experience. It certainly falls in line with what loyalty experts have been preaching for years. Customers that have a consistently great customer experience tend to spend more money with the dealership and also refer their family and friends. This referral activity provides dealerships with increased exposure and opportunities that they may not have had otherwise. This represents additional revenue producing possibilities in both sales and service.
Brand loyalty is increasingly difficult to achieve — and brand advocates are even harder to capture. Dealerships that continue to operate as is, without identifying customer pain points in their experiences – whether those be service or sales – risk losing business to either competitors, or independent service repair facilities. Ensure that conditions are optimal to provide that great experience on a consistent basis to each and every customer. This will help maximize the potential of the customer being loyal and of capturing their future business, directly or through referrals.
In the end, part of every customer’s buying process involves making the decision who they want to purchase a vehicle from. Treat your customers right, provide a great experience and take the time to really show them you appreciate their business. This then acts as a catalyst for all of your other brand enhancing activities – high CSI scores, increased online reviews and word of mouth advertising. Neglect customer experience at your own peril. Today’s consumers are far less willing to put up with a poor experience and will very quickly take their business elsewhere. Improve your customers’ experience in your store and ensure that they are well taken care of. Foster brand loyalty and create brand advocates. Your bottom line will grow because of it.
In dealing with the customer experience, all too often the conversation centers on the customer’s buying path from initial contact through the sale. What many businesses don’t think about, however, is that the sale is only the start of the relationship. Customer loyalty is built through a consistent customer-centric experience. In the retail automotive space, this is more important than ever when dealing with customers in the service drive, as potential revenue in service outweighs sales by far. One way dealerships can begin to foster a relationship and lead the customer down the path to customer loyalty is through new car owner clinics.
Vehicles today contain more technology than ever before, with manufacturers increasingly installing many of these technologies even on base model vehicles. By the time the customer has finished paperwork in financing, oftentimes they are simply ready to leave. They then tend to get rushed through the delivery process and the features of their new vehicle are not covered in enough detail for the customer to truly understand and appreciate their use. And have you seen the average user’s manual? They are huge! Few customers have the time to really go through and learn all the ins and outs to get the best out of all the new vehicle’s features. This can be frustrating to new car owners, especially those that aren’t technologically savvy.
New car owner clinics offer many benefits for both dealerships and their customers. First, it gets the customer back into the store with fresh eyes and ears. Dealers can then spend the needed time reviewing the car’s features and assisting the customer in setting up things they have found challenging. In addition, it provides the dealership the opportunity to introduce the customer in a more formal setting to the management team and service advisors. This allows for a more comprehensive introduction than perhaps existed during the delivery process, when a brief introduction may have occurred.
Facilitating these clinics on a normal schedule can provide increased opportunity to bond with these new customers when they are not worn down from the sales process. In addition, it allows management and service personnel dedicated time to focus solely on these new owner’s needs, wants and questions, when they are not distracted with their daily tasks or duties.
Some dealerships make these formal affairs, offer catered food and beverages, but that is not a necessity. Dealers that simply set aside the time to spend with customers will find that these new owners appreciate it. It demonstrates that the dealership is still there to assist them after the sale. Simply extending the offer to customers, making them aware that these clinics are available and that they are welcome to attend, shows your customers that you care, regardless of whether they choose to attend.
If you’re not already holding new owner clinics, think about trying this. You’ll be surprised at who shows up, and how much they appreciate your efforts.
Now let me explain.
In our industry – as well as life – we continuously talk about transparency. Let’s be brutally honest here. Sometimes honesty isn’t the best policy. Is it always that way in real life? If your wife asks you whether she looks fat, you know you’re always going to say “No.” How about those times you go to a friend’s house for dinner and, well, it’s not exactly great. Do you tell him or her? Of course not. You politely say it is good, make a valiant effort to clean you plate and then pick something up to eat on your way home. We like to call these instances of non truth “white lies” and justify them with the knowledge that, in some cases, it’s better to tell a lie than to upset someone by being honest.
Are there parallels in the business world? Of course there are. I’m certainly not talking about deceiving a customer in a transaction, or lying about something of substance. What I’m talking about are those instances where a lie actually preserves a relationship – similar to the goal of the white lies I previously described. When you’re interacting with people, just because they’re customers doesn’t change the fact that they’re human beings. That customer that comes in and needs a lot of help getting financing because their credit is horrible doesn’t need to be beat up and embarrassed. You never know if there’s a co-signer waiting in the wings. You may know for a fact that they aren’t going to get approved anywhere. But you tell them you’ll try. Perhaps you present their file to some of your sub-prime lenders. But ultimately you call the customer and let them know you can’t help them. Think about this though… Some of the most loyal customers began as special finance customers. When one comes through your doors that you can help and they leave with a car, they will just about kiss you. Not only will they be forever grateful, they’ll send every person they know to you. It’s no different with people with excellent credit. It’s all about treating them with respect and providing an excellent buying experience.
There are times when little white lies can actually improve your customer’s experience. For example, imagine a customer calls a week after trading a vehicle in and says they believe they left something valuable in their vehicle. Perhaps this vehicle has already been detailed and cleaned, or even wholesaled out. The fact is that YOU know there is nothing in the vehicle. You could tell the customer you won’t (or can’t) check for them. In which case they’ll be upset, OR, you could tell them you’ll check and call them if you find anything. Which path do you think will be more conducive to maintaining the customer’s satisfaction?
Our world would probably become chaos if everyone could do nothing but tell the literal truth. Customer loyalty and experience sometimes requires telling the customer what they want to hear simply to let them save face, spare their feelings, or satisfy their needs. Keep in mind that there is a fine line but, for the most part, if you treat people right and use your conscience to make decisions — just as you would if your wife asked you a question that it would be unwise to answer honestly — you’ll find yourself making more friends and keeping more customers.