In the world of customer experience, retention and loyalty, a lot of focus is placed on customer satisfaction. The general thought process is that the better the customer experience on a consistent basis, the more likely a customer is to continue to do business and remain loyal.
However, according to an article on Business2Community, the authors of “The Effortless Experience” reveal in their book that customer satisfaction does not necessarily translate to customer loyalty. In fact, they found the same level of interest in returning for repeat business in both customers whose expectations were exceeded, and customers whose expectations were simply met.
If exceeding customer expectations makes no impact on a customer in terms of loyalty, then why do we try? Well, the authors don’t state that businesses should NOT provide a great customer experience and fail to go above and beyond when the opportunity arises. Rather, they suggest that this does not necessarily impact whether a customer remains loyal.
Customer loyalty is a fickle thing and all it can take sometimes is a really good loss-leader coupon from a competitor to conquest a loyal customer away from your dealership.
In their book the authors suggest that it’s not the degree of customer experience that influences loyalty the most, but just how easy the business makes the experience for the customer. Consider businesses such as Amazon. Look at how easy they make it to shop with them – one click transactions, same day delivery, ordering by voice command – the list goes on.
All too often, businesses make it difficult for customers to do business with them. The harder it is, the more likely the customer will go elsewhere. Consider analyzing your current processes to reduce as much friction as possible and make the car buying and vehicle service process easier for customers.
Sure, there are processes in buying a car that take some time – such as the finance office. But there are also technologies that reduce that time and make it easier for a customer. The same goes for the service department.
Any decrease in the effort required by your customers will improve their experiences — simply because they can conduct business with greater ease – and that will translate into real customer loyalty, repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations. And that is a great thing.
Dealerships have forever tweaked pay plans to satisfy bottom lines and keep employees happy. Many employees in the sales department can make more money from a single sales commission than any technician can make in a day. There are even some salespeople that are so productive that their paychecks can exceed those of their sales managers – and sometimes that leads to friction and resentment.
One would think that any manager would be thrilled if a salesperson, or other commission-based employee, made more than they did, since most dealerships pay structures divide the profit incrementally up the chain, meaning if this salesperson is killing it in commissions, it only increases the manager’s paycheck as well. However, because of the percentage differences, sometimes this can create conflict.
Recently, the movement has been away from commission-based pay plans and towards salary based. While that’s still in play, it hasn’t worked out for some dealers.
What’s the problem?
First, the reasoning behind why some dealerships have switched to salary-based customer consultants, versus commission-based salespeople, has to do with marketing. The ability to tell a customer that salespeople don’t benefit financially from profit hopefully eases the customer’s mind and establishes trust in the salesperson as a helper, not an adversary. The problem is that it is so ingrained into consumers’ minds that negotiating price is expected and necessary, that it really doesn’t make a difference. That’s why some dealerships which switched to salaried employees are switching back.
For employees, especially aggressive and productive ones, switching to a salaried position is similar to a demotion. Car sales positions have historically been advertised as a “make as much money as you can” type position. By switching to salaried positions, these producers tend to move on to other dealerships in order to maintain their level of pay. Keep in mind that this switch doesn’t just involve salespeople, but also management.
No longer does a manager get jealous that a salesperson is making more money than they are. However, in the end, are they making as much as they could have been? This creates higher employee turnover.
And from the customer side this turnover then affects the customer experience. If every time a customer comes into a dealership their salesperson and/or management has changed, how can rapport ever be established?
Let’s examine a non-industry movement that’s happening – one a little similar to the movement in the auto industry– no-tipping in restaurants. According to an article in the New York Times, there has been a movement to include tipping within the prices on the menu.
Of course, in order for restaurants to do so, and continue paying employees what they had been used to earning, they had to raise menu prices across the board. The psychological effect this had on their customers was not pleasant. According to the article, regular customers came in and were displeased with the price increases, especially on what the article termed as “welcome items,” such as coffee, a glass of wine with their meal, or other small things. And, frontend staff (similar to the salespeople) made over 500 percent more than the back of the house staff (such as the techs or service advisors), which caused tension among the staff. The end result was that the no-tipping policy in fact just served to increase resentment that the back of the house had with the front of the house staff. It also turned away customers who didn’t approve of the price increases, even with the no tipping policy.
Regardless of whether your dealership is commission-based, or non-commission based, keep in mind that the disparity between employee salaries can cause friction between staff. The need to increase pricing, or maintain a no-haggle policy in order to afford the salaries that used to be supported by individual salespeople, service advisor or departmental gross, can lead to customer dissatisfaction.
In theory, one price stores with salaried employees may sound good but, while some stores do great with it, historically, it hasn’t worked out well for many dealers. In the end, it is important to find a balance between compensating employees fairly, (in comparison to your competition) while maintaining pricing for sales and service that are competitive. Otherwise you risk losing more than you may have expected to gain from the transition – and that loss includes both employees and customers.
Dealerships are well known for their involvement and participation with local communities and many different charities. From sponsoring little league teams, to larger charity initiatives, dealerships have supported and given back to the communities they serve for a very long time.
Cause-based efforts have become increasingly important to consumers, especially to the younger consumers now joining the spending force. For example, General Mills’ “Box Tops for Education” initiative. Founded in 1996, the brand has raised over $719 million nationwide. Of course, the schools themselves aren’t out buying all of these products, the consumers are.
While it is certainly distasteful to always “toot your horn” about how great and charitable your dealership is, there is a right way to do it. Consumers DO want to know what you are doing to give back, it is important to them. Just how important is cause-based marketing to consumers? Let’s look at some statistics from CauseGood,
- When choosing between two brands of equal quality and price, 90 percent of U.S. shoppers are likely to switch to a cause branded product.
- 97 percent of marketing executives believe cause-based marketing is a valid business strategy.
- When quality and price is equivalent, social purpose is the number one deciding factor for shoppers globally.
- 42 percent of North American shoppers would pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.
- 64 percent of shoppers say simply giving money away isn’t enough; they want businesses to integrate social impact into their business models.
- 88 percent of Americans want to hear about businesses’ social responsibility and the most preferred place to hear about these efforts is on the product’s packaging or label.
Feel free to browse all of the statistics. The fact is that our younger generations increasingly seek to do business with companies that support causes. Of course, it’s difficult for companies to market those efforts. In fact, 70 percent of Americans find companies’ communications about their social responsibility efforts confusing.
So how are you supposed to communicate your charitable and community support efforts to your customers?
Whatever cause your choose, be it perhaps supporting and pledging to donate a percentage of sales and/or service revenue to a valued cause, it is not enough to just simply do it. As stated on the statistics from CauseGood, 88 percent of consumers want to hear about these efforts.
Integrate your charitable cause message into all your marketing efforts including in-store signage and in the service drive. It should be tastefully done and the point is to make it widely known that your dealership supports the cause.
In the end, once it becomes common knowledge within your community, and consumers learn about it through all of your marketing channels, they may well start choosing you over your competition. All while you are make a difference in your community. And that’s a great way to differentiate your dealership from the competition and earn customer loyalty.
The customer experience at your dealership is more important than ever before. With start-ups aiming to take away sales by luring customers with promises of a hassle-free buying experience, customers are starting to realize that they no longer have to sit at a dealership for hours. In fact Amazon France just sold a car completely online and delivered it directly to the consumer via truck and helicopter. If you don’t think that Amazon has larger ambitions – well – you might want to reconsider.
With the many start-ups in the market aiming to sell cars, should dealers be worried?
Well, consider these facts:
- Technology – For every start-up that comes along and creates technology that makes the car buying process more convenient, an automotive technology company creates a product that replicates that experience. Any dealer who chooses to utilize that technology can effectively squash that start-up in their market. Customers simply don’t have time to sit at a dealerships all day in order to purchase a vehicle. Increasingly most, or all of the car buying process is now done online. New technologies make the process more convenient (and faster) for the consumer and makes the dealership’s sales department more efficient, allowing them to sell more vehicles with less salespeople in the same amount of time.
- Human Emotions, Senses and Perceptions – Buying a vehicle is an expensive and personal experience. Despite the perception of poor experience, consumers still want to touch, feel, smell and drive a vehicle before purchasing it. And that’s where a dealership has a huge advantage. It is important to get that customer emotionally connected and excited about a vehicle and that connection has a tremendous impact in closing the deal. No online start-up can duplicate that. It’s simply not possible.
- State Associations – Franchise agreements prevent most manufacturers – with the questionable exception of Tesla – from selling new cars direct to consumers. This will undoubtedly be controversial for years to come. However, for now, dealers can rest assured that their associations have their best interests in mind. Franchise agreements afford certain protections and consumers currently have to come to a dealer to buy a new car (at least in the United States.)
Let’s say that in some miraculous way, dealers can’t replicate the online experience and technology evolves to the point that consumers can use all of their senses (via virtual reality, augmented reality or whatever comes next), should dealers then worry?
Perhaps not. Here’s why:
People want to deal with people. That interpersonal experience while buying a large ticket item is still necessary. The key to winning business and retaining the customer lies not with novelties such as vending machines, but rather in the experience the dealership provides in sales and service and in its efforts to improve and show the customer appreciation for their business.
Going into 2017, make a commitment to analyze and improve your dealership’s customer experience through gaining feedback from both your employees and your customers. If consumers in your market demand a more digital experience (whether in full or in part), consider adopting technology that allows them to interact with you on their terms. When they do arrive, ensure that they are treated well and that the process is efficient. In this way you can increase business and thwart the disrupters.