With the major shift into leasing certified pre-owned vehicles by several OEMs and major financial institutions, many dealers have predicted a decline in service contract sales. However, according to an article in Automotive News, they would be wrong to do so.
Due to an influx of low-mileage pre-owned vehicles, captive finance companies and others have started to embrace certified pre-owned leasing programs. Lease customers haven’t always been the best candidates for service contracts – especially high line leases, as many of these vehicles come with free maintenance. However, the length of many leases and, more importantly, the length of loan terms have increased.
This is an indicator that many consumers who opt for extended term loans, or leases, would certainly benefit from service contracts as they will either 1) still be in their lease when the free maintenance expires; or 2) hold onto their vehicle for an extended period of time, far longer than in the past.
According to the article, while new vehicles will still outpace used vehicles in service contract penetration, there’s no need to worry about a decline in service contract sales. In fact, both new and used vehicle service contract penetration has increased among prime borrowers, with the gap between new and used vehicle service contract penetration decreasing from seven percent in 2007, to just 0.5 percent in the second half of 2016.
Many buyers – prime and sub-prime alike – increasingly see the value of a steady monthly vehicle expense without the worry of a hefty service bill. Yet there are many finance managers that don’t present service contracts as aggressively to prime borrowers for used vehicles as they do to sub-prime — they assume the customer won’t be interested. While this may historically be accurate, the CPO leasing movement, along with extended loan terms, have substantially altered the rules of the game.
Consumers have warmed up to service contracts and have come to understand the benefits for convenience and financial stability. And, as new car margins continuously decrease due to manufacturer incentives, competition and increasing pricing transparency via third party sites, dealers increasingly rely on their F&I departments to increase profits through back-end product sales. Yet many F&I managers have been trained – via customer interactions and their common sense – that certain customers don’t need or want a service contract, but that is where the shift has occurred and there is opportunity aplenty!
Perhaps in the past service contracts didn’t make sense for certain buyers. However, these days, increasingly car buyers ARE investing in service contracts — both for purchasing AND leasing.
The key to any successful selling process is consistency. Train your finance managers not to assume anything. Present, show the value of and sell service contracts to every customer, regardless of lease or purchase. According to the statistics, they will thank you for it, and it’s a win-win for the customer and your dealership.
Many businesses, including the automotive industry, have a strong focus on creating a better customer experience through technology. In fact, technology has transformed the customer experience across all industries. Consumers can buy a multitude of products online and have them delivered, in some cases, in an hour. Technology has even advanced to the point that consumers can buy a used vehicle completely online, taking delivery via a vending machine.
However, sometimes technology ceases to enhance and improve the customer experience and starts to degrade it.
Technology has certainly transformed how we do business but, in the end, do consumers really want a complete purchase interaction with absolutely no human involvement? No. What they REALLY want is an easier, more efficient and transparent buying process. Technology has assisted in providing that, but we can’t forget that people buy from people.
It is important to always remember that we are in a “people” business. Let’s look at it from a consumer car buyer perspective. Thousands – perhaps millions – of pages of information are now available online for consumers to access free of charge. Studies indicate that the average consumer visits 24 touch points prior to coming into the dealership, with dealership visits averaging under 2 percent of those visits. As a result, many assume that customers know more than the salespeople do when they show up at the dealership… and they may be right.
However, the problem is the customer still doesn’t know EVERYTHING. No website can illustrate to a customer how a car FEELS, SMELLS or DRIVES. In addition, even the most knowledgeable customer visiting your showroom very likely still has questions to ask and expects answers.
A recent study by the Harvard Business review reported that, “emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. These emotionally connected customers buy more of your products and services, visit you more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to your communications, follow your advice, and recommend you more – everything you hope their experience with you will cause them to do.” The study outlined how using an emotional-connection-based strategy within an organization can increase these types of customers, reduce attrition and increase customer advocacy. All of these things are exactly what car dealerships need to differentiate themselves from their competition.
I’m not being original when I say that the battle for consumers in the car industry will be in differentiation. Just don’t forget that it’s all about the people – your employees, leadership and customers.
The technology is there to help make the process more efficient, NOT to replace people. Consumers will never have an emotional connection with a vending machine. So, as alluring as that type of buying experience may SOUND, being a great place for people to visit; with great people to interact with; that take good care of your customers; and ensure a superior customer experience; will always win the battle.
Customer loyalty is something every business needs and desires. Some companies are spectacular at accomplishing it, while others struggle.
According to a study by DMA, perhaps we’re missing an important fact… not all loyal customers are the same.
DMA’s “Customer Engagement 2016” study, takes customer loyalty a little further. It narrowed the pool of loyal customers into four groups: Active Loyals, Habitual Loyals, Situational Loyals and Active Disloyals.
It’s rather interesting to take a look at this:
Active Loyals – According to the study, “Active Loyals” contains customers that are loyal to your company for both routine and special purposes. In the case of a car dealership, this would obviously include those that purchase cars from you and those that also service, with you regardless of any “deals” your competitor may have. They trust you, enjoy your service and don’t look elsewhere when they need anything related to their vehicle service or purchase needs.
Habitual Loyals – These are customers that may or may not have purchased their vehicle from you, but are your regular service customers. However, when it comes time to purchase their next vehicle, they will shop you against your competition to make sure they are getting a good deal. They’ll probably still buy from you, based on their previous great experience, but it’s not a guarantee. Treat them right. Be fair when it comes to a new purchase and you’ll win their business.
Situational Loyals – This group is the opposite of Habitual Loyals. They will shop elsewhere for service or parts if presented with a compelling offer. But will return to you when they’re ready to buy a new (or new to them) vehicle, due to the experience you provided. Of course, the lifetime value of a loyal customer is significantly higher when they are servicing with you, so this group is incredibly important to nurture and, hopefully, transfer into the group of Habitual Loyals. Service revenue is more consistent and vehicle margins are continuously decreasing so gaining this group’s loyalty in service is important.
Active Disloyals – This group has no loyalty whatsoever. They’ll bounce from deal to deal without the slightest concern over loyalty or experience. Sure, if they have a bad experience, they’ll probably not return. But regardless how great an experience you offer them, chances are it won’t change their minds. All hope is not lost, however. Just because these tend to be frugal people, doesn’t mean you can’t earn their business. While they may be the most unlikely to be loyal, people change. The key to winning this group’s business is consistency in marketing, customer experience and competitive pricing.
Customer loyalty is a finicky thing. Is it possible to narrow down customers into one of these four groups through data analysis? Perhaps. Transactional records and behavioral patterns can help you identify these people, but it will never be 100 percent accurate. In addition, these groups of loyal customers are dynamic. Individual customers can bounce from one category to the other with one single misstep or perceived wrongdoing.
Customer experience is really the buzz word of today. It pays dividends to pay attention to all your customers and ensure that they have the best possible experience at your store – regardless of how loyal or disloyal the customer may be.
If you’ve ever worked in automotive retail, you know that there are constant internal struggles going on between employees and their departments. The structure of most dealerships actually encourage this – similar to how a salesperson’s pay plan incents them to sell cars.
The most obvious friction oftentimes occurs between sales and service. While in theory, everyone is on the same page, how many times have you heard a sales or used car manager complain about what they feel are excessive reconditioning costs on a newly acquired unit, decreasing potential front end profit? I’d guess that’s nothing new to you. Used car managers are paid based on the profits they bring in on sales. Service managers are paid based on service revenue. So each has their own motivation for maximizing one or the other.
Well, does it have to be like this, or is there a better way?
Automotive News recently ran a story reporting a Mercedes-Benz USA initiative that will immerse corporate executives within retail dealerships so they can better understand how the decisions they make on a corporate level impact operations at the dealership level. Similar to the butterfly effect whereby a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world, eventually causing a hurricane on the other, decisions made that impact others can have consequences that the decision maker can’t predict or would never see.
This initiative also aims to help corporate executives identify and fix problems with customer experience, processes and financial considerations, including co-op money and incentives.
By putting their executives in dealerships, Mercedes-Benz isn’t doing anything new – at least in business. Most businesses – especially those in the hospitality industry – require cross training as part of their management curriculum. Restaurant managers will, throughout their training, work in each and every department in the restaurant – from cashier, to greeter, bartender, server, cook, etc. By having the knowledge of what it takes to do the job, as well as how difficult it is, the manager is better able to prioritize tasks in times of need and also identify traits that would make for good employees in certain positions. In addition, the manager can be sympathetic and more objective when making decisions, whether they be departmental, or more specifically position or staff-based.
How many times have you hired a General Manager and made them work as a porter for a few days? Probably not too many. Well, think about this for a second – one thing that’s consistent across every new or CPO manufacturer survey is the cleanliness of the vehicle upon delivery. Don’t you think it would be valuable for a GM to know if there is friction in that process that is extending the time it takes for porters to clean the vehicles properly; or if the dealership is staffed adequately to handle volume; or if the porters have the supplies they need to do an excellent job? Absolutely it would.
Now let’s revisit our first example. What if you had the service manager work with the used car manager for a week – visiting auctions, inspecting potential trade-ins – and then had the used car manager work with the service manager? Do you think they’d both have a better understanding of the challenges they both face? I bet they would.
The same logic applies to every position in your dealership. Do you want salespeople to understand why the F&I process sometimes takes so long? Let them shadow an F&I manager for a couple days. Perhaps they won’t complain about why it’s taking so long for their customers to go into sign paperwork anymore. Or, even better, maybe they’ll figure out ways to speed up the process on their end, thus making the entire experience smoother and more enjoyable for the customer.
Regardless of how many years of experience your managers have, unless that experience is at your specific store, your processes, staff, resources and facility vary by individual and by department.
Consider adopting a training process embraced by almost every other retail sector in existence. You may well find that you create a closer and more efficient team and a better working environment which, in the end, will translate into a better customer experience. And the end result of that is more money in your pocket.
A little over a year ago, the founder of a credit card payment processing company made an unorthodox move that resulted in some very mixed reactions and a whole lot of media attention. Dan Price, founder of Gravity Payments, cut his own salary by 93% (from $1 million to $70,000 per year). He did this so he could pay every single employee the exact same amount – $70,000, regardless of if they were the janitor or the receptionist, or how long they had worked there.
The story is not completely perfect and does come with some bumps in the road – his brother (and co-founder) sued him and there was also much speculation in the media about how successful this move would be.
However, it seems to have been a good decision in the long run. According to this story on HumanResourcesOnline, revenue and profits have doubled; new customer inquiries jumped from 30 per month to 2,000 per month; customer retention rose from 91% to 95%; and only two employees quit. Add to that the 4,500 resumes the company has received since this initiative and it would seem that the company is thriving with sales, happy customers and very happy employees. In fact, the employees are so happy that in July 2016, they collectively bought their boss a $70,000 Tesla!
I am pretty sure that any business would love to enjoy similar demand, growth and employee engagement to that of Gravity Payments. However, few businesses are in a position to pay every employee an annual salary of $70,000.
However, the point of this story is really that this particular leader’s personal sacrifice was the ultimate act of appreciation. One that immediately showed his employees that he valued them. In response, the employees increased productivity and worked even harder to ensure their customers were happy. The Telsa, while a grand and generous gesture, was simply a small part of this story. The message here in essence is that engaged employees who feel valued and trusted are the cornerstone to your business’s success.
While many people assume that money motivates everyone, several studies in fact prove that simply showing an employee they are valued and appreciated motivates them more than any amount of money ever could.
Another great example is Doug Conant, the previous CEO of Campbell’s soup. When he took charge he did a tremendous amount to change company culture, including making a commitment to celebrate employees at all levels for their individual contributions and achievements.
During his tenure, he wrote over 30,000 handwritten thank-you notes to individuals that worked for the company. Past employees still contact him to this day and express how much that gesture meant to them. A single, handwritten note showed that employee that he appreciated them and their individual achievements. In so doing, he made these employees want to work harder, better and achieve more.
In our industry, where with each passing month sales staff are on a continuous roller coaster of hero-to-zero, it’s more important than ever to ensure that employees feel appreciated, valued and recognized, not just because of their sales numbers, but also for showing up and working hard. Even something as simple as personally handing out paychecks and thanking each employee can instill a sense of worth and show employees how much they are appreciated.
In doing so, perhaps… just perhaps, they’ll become more engaged, more productive and you won’t have to have a continuously running “Help Wanted” ad.