The title of this blog post originated from a thought-provoking interview with Chad Mitchell, senior director of digital communications at Walmart. In the interview he lays out a philosophy that every industry – especially automotive – should embrace. The main point he makes is that our digital and physical world is evolving at light speed and, the car business especially, tends to find itself far behind leading brands when it comes to customer experience, communications and… well, adopting new things.
As an industry we tend to sit back and wait for “new” things to be proven before we even try them. That “sit back and watch” strategy typically finds us scrambling to catch up when that new thing punches us between the eyes and we realize that we need to be doing (or adopting) this “thing.”
Think about it — there was a time dealerships didn’t believe they needed a website. Now we’re arguing the effectiveness or necessity of social media platforms, advertising, online sales and F&I transactions — along with in-store technology designed to expedite transaction times. And while we do that, the competition is embracing these new tools and attracting consumers.
Mr. Mitchell isn’t suggesting that businesses drop their tried and true core processes, but states that they should, “try things quickly and be willing to shift and go in a different direction. Don’t be afraid to take chances and learn.” For a leader in an organization as big as Walmart, one would think that perhaps caution would be the better part of valor and, the most prudent business decision. One can only imagine the challenges an organization as large as Walmart experiences when it comes to customer experience, loyalty and reputation. With so many locations, customer touchpoints and the sheer volume of customers, Walmart has challenges on a store-by-store level and overall as an organization. It’s certainly possible that employee interaction and the customer experience at one location can differ from another, simply due to management, staff, location and resources. Well, the key to success, according to Mitchell, is to determine what new endeavors require more care. And, in the retail business, he states that the one thing which should be at the top of the list is customer experience and loyalty.
As consumers get groomed by major brands to expect certain types of transactional experiences, they naturally expect those same frictionless experiences from other retailers they do business with, including auto dealers. Conquesting the competition is sure to become more prevalent for forward-thinking organizations that adopt new technology and offer an easier customer experience and transaction. That’s why most major automotive groups produce and roll out technology, products and services designed specifically to nurture customer loyalty.
It would be a wise decision for us all to pay attention to what’s going on in the world and not drag our feet when it comes to trying new things. While change can be scary, it’s also inevitable. It’s much better to be leading the pack than trying to catch up with it. This doesn’t mean that you should abandon the things that have earned customer loyalty. Core values and tried-and-true processes that your customers love should always be handled – and changed – with care.
Mitchell makes a great final point in the article where he states, “We don’t want to break the heirloom china; we want to break the paper plates.”
Don’t be afraid to try new things, adopt new technology or change processes. Just be prepared to react and alter paths should you find something either failing or succeeding. By doing this, your business should be more future-proof and in-line with customer expectations and, in turn, enjoy greater customer retention, loyalty and acquisition.
Anyone who gambles – whether they are a casual gambler or a professional gambler – realizes that casinos aren’t in business to lose money. In fact, casinos must generate a ton of revenue just to keep the Las Vegas strip lit up 24 hours a day. It really doesn’t matter which game you choose to play. Every game is designed to be in the house’s favor; although some offer a better chance of winning than others. According to this article, blackjack has the best odds and slot machines the worst.
Why would I bring up gambling odds and the fact that casinos are in business to make money not lose it? A recent study was commissioned by Caesar’s Entertainment – owners of casinos in four continents for over 75 years – and was conducted by the Harvard Business School. Based on the results of that study, Caesars Entertainment said “the best way to engage our customers in our sustainability journey is by engaging our most valuable asset: our employees.” They go on to say that the “customer loyalty and satisfaction…is directly linked to employees’ level of participation in sustainable activities at work.”
To create employee engagement, Caesars Entertainment created the CodeGreen strategy in which they enlisted employees to donate both money and time into conservation projects. They then share the results of these efforts not only with employees, but also with customers. In doing so, they found that it created a “positive impact on customers’ perception…” In fact, revenue and customer satisfaction levels both increased in direct correlation to the percentage of employee participation.
In reality, casinos are no different than any business. They need to generate revenue and continuously find strategies that assist them in that goal. Successful businesses recognize that customer satisfaction is key to revenue growth. While creating an outstanding customer experience is definitely important, many businesses focus solely on that. They neglect the other components necessary to a successful growth strategy as I outlined in last week’s blog article.
Employee engagement programs don’t have to be as detailed and global as asking employees for donations or volunteer hours. There are some very simple activities that you can hold for your employees that are just as effective but take much less management.
Some examples of employee engagement activities include:
- Employee picnics or luncheons
- Movie nights
- Internal dealership newsletters
- Monthly and annual staff awards and recognition
- Team building activities
- Holiday parties
- Celebration of employee birthdays on a monthly basis
All of these will help you accomplish the goal of having more engaged employees. Engaged employees are typically more satisfied with their positions. That translates into higher retention and customer satisfaction.
“Happy employees mean happy customers. And happy customers mean a happy business.” Caesars Entertainment couldn’t have said it any better!
What activities does your business run to engage employees?
How are employees creating a positive impact on customers?
I’ve written many articles about the different types of loyalty and how each can affect your business’ growth and revenue. However, I’ve never written an overview of how all these components fit together in a holistic manner. Hopefully, this blog article will help put the pieces together so that you better understand these concepts more globally.
Internal Service Quality:
It all begins with your internal service quality. Components of this include:
- Workplace design – A well-designed dealership will maximize space to create a more efficient environment for employees and customers.
- Job design – This doesn’t just include job descriptions but practicality. Ensure that the right employees are responsible for things that they have the knowledge and experience to handle effectively. And that all positions complement each other and generate the most efficient work-flow possible.
- Employee selection and training – By having a hiring process that enables the best selection of employees with the highest chances of success in a given position, you can create a team of people that are effective. Experience and knowledge must be considered along with a candidate’s ability to work well with others. Ongoing training also assists in maximizing employee efficiency and productivity.
- Recognition – By recognizing employees, you reinforce positive behavior and provide other employees with examples to follow. This also assists employees in better understanding your expectations of them, and it lets them know that they will be recognized for good work.
Paying attention and implementing programs and processes for these areas, can help increase employee satisfaction. Employees that are satisfied with their jobs tend to be more productive. This can then create a need for fewer employees, thus lowering your fixed expenses for staffing, reducing employee turnover and increasing employee retention.
External Service Value:
External service value should include a results-oriented service concept focused on providing an excellent customer experience through efficiency and communication. Customer recognition programs, such as loyalty programs, reinforce to the customer that you value their business.
If employees do their jobs in the most efficient manner possible, while the company rewards that hard work by providing a great work place, a positive environment is created. In this type of environment, employees care about customer service and experience which translates to higher customer satisfaction.
Higher customer satisfaction then leads to an increase in customer loyalty and customers become brand evangelists. Loyal customers are essential to any growth strategy. They generate revenue from repeat business in service and sales. They also lead to increased retention and generate customer acquisition through referrals. All of this, of course, leads to revenue growth and profitability for the dealer.
My goal has always been to help dealerships see value in each of these areas and assist them in improving through education. Every one of these components is equally important.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that you are only as strong as your weakest link. Usually this saying is in reference to a team. What I’ve outlined is no exception other than it is also applicable to your processes. A weak link in process can be just as damaging as a weak link in your team. Take a moment and do an honest assessment of these areas of your dealership. The pieces for the puzzle are all right in front of you. It’s up to you to complete it.
Have you accessed your dealership? What changes did you make?
How does your dealership recognize employees to promote employee retention?
I came across an excellent blog article recently that discussed the different forms of loyalty that exist in the car business. In this article, the author described three levels of customer loyalty: brand loyalty, dealership loyalty and salesperson loyalty. He described these three different types of loyalty as follows:
Brand loyalty: The focus here is on customer loyalty to a specific vehicle brand. Manufacturers’ entire marketing efforts are designed to retain current owners and convince owners of competing brands to switch. They use many different ways to build this loyalty including quality comparisons, performance, safety, comfort and practicality. This is important for brand market share but also just as important in assisting franchises by driving customer interest and traffic.
Dealership loyalty: Loyalty to a dealership is built through providing an excellent customer experience, treating customer right and being consistent in efforts to recognize and reward frequent and repeat customers.
Salesperson loyalty: Salespeople that stay at a specific dealership for any length of time have the ability to develop relationships with customers that can last a lifetime. They can even get to the point where they no longer have to assist new customers as their referral and repeat business keeps them busy with a constant, steady flow of business.
These are all valid and excellent points. The author of the aforementioned blog placed these different types of loyalty in order as sort of a funnel from the top down. I believe that it’s important for dealerships to recognize the importance of all of these areas but to also realize that, from a business point of view, there is a definite hierarchy that management must recognize in order to create a loyalty strategy that maximizes success.
This is the order I believe accomplishes this best.
Dealership loyalty: By far the most important type of loyalty to a dealership must be loyalty to that dealership. This is the only type of loyalty that a dealership can directly influence. Dealerships must build a base of loyal customers, and then service those loyal customers in order to survive. The less customer retention a dealership has, the more focused on customer acquisition they must be. A solid and growing base of loyal customers will assist dealerships in growth and make customer acquisition less important. If your dealership has a 30 percent defection rate, it will always need to replace that 30 percent with new customers, just to maintain the status quo. Decreasing defection through customer retention allows a dealership to grow. Dealerships will only accomplish this through providing an excellent customer experience in all departments. They can also reinforce and reward repeat customers through rewards programs and recognition.
Salesperson loyalty: Dealerships can assist in this effort by building employee loyalty. Providing a great work environment, with basics such as training to help increase the salesperson’s abilities, along with a company philosophy that reinforces positive attitudes and behavior, can decrease your employee turnover and increase longevity of employment. This allows relationships to be built and serves to reinforce to the dealership’s customer that your dealership is a great place to do business with. Ultimately, however, dealerships cannot control an employee. Turnover does happen, and the last thing any dealership wants is to lose customers because they are more loyal to a salesperson than to the dealership. Too often salespeople take their customers with them which is why dealerships need to focus on retaining their staff.
Brand loyalty: Manufacturers focus almost entirely on brand loyalty and conquest. A dealership’s sales revenue is dependent on both new and used car sales. Most dealerships carry multiple brands in their used car inventory and would be more than happy to sell a customer a pre-owned vehicle of a competing brand. Not only is brand loyalty affected in this manner but a recent study by ADP showed that 63 percent of online shoppers began their research with the intent of purchasing a specific brand. Only 20 percent of those shoppers actually ended up purchasing that brand. While a dealership can certainly reinforce brand loyalty through new car sales and leasing retention, this is where they have the least influence.
The bottom line is that every dealership must focus on loyalty at all levels, but just as in all facets of business, focus must be prioritized to maximize efficiency. Place the order of importance on items where you have the most influence at the top, to those that you have the least at the bottom. By doing so, a dealership can maximize its efforts in creating a loyal customer base that will sustain the dealer and assist in its growth.
What order do you believe accomplishes “a loyalty strategy that maximizes success” best?
What is your dealership doing to reward repeat customers?
The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain has an exciting customer service policy that empowers every employee with $2,000 to satisfy any guest without approval. This isn’t a one-time power but it’s per incident. Some business owners like the general idea but express concerns about providing employees with this much freedom. They worry that employees will either abuse the empowerment or simply use it as a first course of action rather than effectively assessing each situation to determine whether another course of action could achieve the same goal. It’s certainly disconcerting and scary to give your employees unsupervised access to your wallet.
The ability of an employee to satisfy an upset customer on the spot is essential to diffusing and potentially rescuing a customer relationship. The reason this is so powerful is that most customers don’t expect employees to be so empowered. This is also why most upset customers immediately ask for a manager, rather than explain their problems to the first employee that attempts to assist them.
An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that businesses empower their employees within boundaries. It further suggests that if the situation calls for a solution outside of those boundaries, the business should then require that its employee involve management. This is preferable to having the employee tell the customer there is nothing more that can be done, and potentially losing the customer’s business. This approach takes into account that, “employees often lack the experience, judgment, and discipline necessary to achieve this without breaking the bank.” But it still allows them the leeway to make some decisions on the spot.
The key to the success of a program of this type is “giving them a framework within which to operate… and feedback about how they are performing within that framework.” This empowers employees to WOW customers while minimizing abuses. At the same time, it ensures that larger issues which cannot be resolved within this framework get escalated to a manager. It also helps ensure that the employee doesn’t brush the customer off without satisfying them.
Customers don’t expect perfection. What they do expect, however, is for a business to make right a mistake. Many times, management fails to hear about issues because employees don’t escalate them. All too often, the first time management hears about an issue from an irate customer is via a bad review on Yelp or similar review site. This situation is avoidable. Whether you choose to give your employees free rein financially a la Ritz-Carlton or choose a more moderated form of empowerment as suggested by the Harvard Business Review, implementing some sort of empowerment on the employee level is a powerful way to retain customers and put out fires before they spread.
Which method works better: giving your employees free rein financially a la Ritz-Carlton or choosing a more moderated form of empowerment as suggested by the Harvard Business Review? Why?
How is your business empowering employees?