In life, not everything goes our way. Things happen. Planes get delayed. It rains during a wedding. Life intervenes. In business, the same holds true. If a situation is handled improperly, or is unaddressed, customers are likely to get ignored. With proper attention, however, customers can be forgiving.
Take for example, the story relayed in this article on Business2Community. The author explains how he was a loyal customer of a hotel. On one occasion, he booked the hotel as he had previously had excellent experiences there. However, upon arrival, he found the hotel was under construction. Many of the qualities that he had come to love – such as the contemporary bar – were not completed. He had planned to have some colleagues over at the hotel. However, after seeing it under construction, was displeased. He wished he had been given notice by the hotel about the on-going construction. He may have changed to a different hotel. But, to the hotel’s credit, the one thing that was the same – and ultimately what kept him there – was the hotel staff. Their customer service attitude and familiarity with him as a customer kept his business.
Another example is airlines. Flight delays. Cancellations. Most of the time, these major customer inconveniences are beyond their control. They certainly cannot control the weather. And, it is probably a smart decision on their part to delay a plane that isn’t in tip top shape. Yes, it’s annoying. But, I would argue that HOW they handle it is more important than the situation itself. By being empathetic, accepting responsibility for the situation and apologizing, many customers will understand and continue to patronize the airline. But, I don’t care how many award miles you have with an airline, if they fail to deliver too many times, you will probably find another airline.
I’m fairly certain that situations occur at your dealerships that are beyond your control. Sometimes, things go wrong. And, regardless of how sorry you are, or how bad you feel, you just can’t fix them immediately, no matter how much you want to.
Your customers are, for the most part, willing to give you a second chance. Perhaps even a third. Mistakes happen and how you handle them could be the determining factor in whether that customer stays, or defects to the competition. Take a deep breath, be calm and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. While you perhaps can’t fully solve the problem, would you feel better with the solution you are offering? Once you know the answer to that, chances are that you’ll be able to defuse the situation, calm the customer down and show them that they matter. And that’s all most people want.
The other day, a friend of mine was in the market for a new tech toy. As he researched the different available brands, he noticed a huge difference in pricing – from $325 all the way up to $1800 — but was unable to tell the difference between any of the brand offerings. The features seemed the same. They all looked the same. He read reviews, even those were similar — consumers were generally happy, regardless of brand.
My friend was most interested in the premium-priced brand, because an associate had purchased and recommended it. However, this associate stated that this premium brand was probably the same as the less expensive $325 brand. In an effort to find out why the brand he wanted was priced so high, my friend turned to the brand’s Twitter account. He found daily posts offering a discount if retweeted, so he did. Minutes later, he was messaged with a coupon code offering 10 percent off the purchase. Not swayed, he engaged the brand asking what made their product more expensive. He was given the following reasons:
- It was a better quality than the less expensive brands.
- The other brands were made and shipped from China. Therefore, it would be very difficult to obtain any customer service or warranty work should something happen. One the other hand, their product was made in the United States and came with a one year warranty.
- It offered some additional features that the other brands did not.
These value propositions swayed my friend and he purchased the more expensive model. So, why would someone – all things being equal – choose a more expensive brand, at more than twice the price? For him, it was these unique selling propositions. Not the discount.
In our industry, consumers are constantly barraged with messages about low prices, coupons for service and many other similar offers. Dealerships tend to neglect to ensure that their primary message always reinforce any unique selling propositions. In many cases, consumers are willing to pay more if they feel that the additional cost benefits them. I recall seeing a dealership that had a chalkboard in its service department that listed their service pricing as well as all of their competitors – both franchise and independent. This same chalkboard also listed the reasons why they weren’t always the lower price and the benefits of choosing them over their competitors. They weren’t always the lowest price. However, their thought process was that the information made customers feel more comfortable to make on-the-spot decisions. The customer was no longer left to “think about it,” which is really code for “let me do some research, price shop and get opinions from my friends and family.”
With all the information and resources available to consumers, dealers feel they are in a race to the bottom. It has certainly become more challenging.
Consider perhaps focusing messaging on why customers should do business with YOUR dealership – even if you aren’t the lowest price. You may well find that customers are willing to pay more if they see the benefit of doing business with you versus the competition.
Find your unique selling proposition and make sure that it is broadcast in all of your messaging. As a result, consumers may well get more interested in doing business with you, rather than your price. When that happens, you’ll see your customers explaining to their networks the reason they chose you — just like my friend did to me.
Human beings do have a tendency to overcomplicate things. In our industry, there are so many things that we need to deal with on a daily basis – customers, co-workers, employees, bosses, technology – at times it gets overwhelming. I believe that most dealers understand the importance of customer loyalty and retention. There are plenty of ways to entice customers and gain their loyalty. However, no matter how good the effort, every one of us will see customers leave at some point. Sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes it has nothing to do with you. Regardless of which, sustaining and nurturing customer loyalty can, at times, seem a daunting task.
I came across this quote from an unknown author today and, as I reflected on it, it occurred to me that this was the perfect – and simple – roadmap to customer loyalty.
Respect is earned.
Honesty is appreciated.
Trust is gained.
Loyalty is returned.
Everyone wants to be respected. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a customer, the business owner or a porter. Respect in a business organization is the foundation for everything – company culture, employee loyalty, and customer experience – to name just a few. If managers don’t respect their subordinates, a hostile environment is created where nobody wants to work. This in turn stifles productivity and negates motivation. Disrespect will make that $20 spiff worthless. In fact, that disrespect could easily result in employees performing poorly on purpose so as to cause the manager to fail.
Sadly, the auto industry is perceived as one of the least trusted of all businesses. The stereotype of the used car salesperson has transcended time and become one that dealers have found difficult to overcome. A policy of treating both employees and customers with respect and honesty can help create stronger bonds and also improve customer perception. A customer may expect a salesperson to be deceitful, but can be won over through honesty. Don’t promise things you’re unable to deliver. Customers desire transparency and in today’s world of online research, there are many resources for the customer to easily find the information they desire. So, be up front in the transaction. Customers may not like the answers you give them. But, if they’re honest answers, they will respect you for it.
If your employees or customers don’t trust you, you will never earn their loyalty. Chances are that you’ll have to prove that you can be trusted and believe me when I say that customers will challenge that trust and look for third-party validation – whether that’s through a price confidence site, a CarFax report or simply an online payment calculator. If everything checks out, and the customer knows that you’ve been honest with them, you will begin to earn their trust and build loyalty.
Companies increasingly invent new and creative ways to earn loyalty from their customers. Every year we hear of companies pulling off interesting and creative ways to gain exposure and foster loyalty through acts of kindness, goodwill or just being fun. For the fourth consecutive year, Uber became the ice cream man. It seems that every year for the past four years, Uber holds what it calls an “ice cream social.” On this day, the Uber app opens up a new feature – rather than simply being able to choose which type of Uber you want, on that day you can order up some ice cream. For $25, Uber will send one of its drivers to your house, workplace or wherever you wish and hand deliver five ice cream treats in a goodie bag all from an “Uber Ice Cream” branded vehicle. Needless to say, people went crazy over this on social media. Just search the hashtag #UberIceCream on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean. This annual event has been an excellent way for Uber to engage its customers in a fun way while reinforcing its branding and generating buzz.
Car dealers can use the same idea to engage their community. No, I’m not talking about delivering ice cream for $25 but rather finding creative and fun ways with which to provide an unexpected surprise for a customer. A dealer in North Carolina holds “Free Gas Friday” every week. This amounts to no more than a sales manager and second employee (to film) driving around town armed with balloons, a goodie bag filled with a dealership shirt and hat and a gift card for $25 in gas until they find a vehicle bearing their dealership’s license plate or sticker. When they find somebody, they cause a big scene thanking the customer for their business and awarding their loyalty with the prizes. Since they make sure that they start this quest at lunchtime, more often than not the person they find is in the midst of eating lunch at a restaurant or other food establishment. Simply by being in public and raising a little ruckus, they gain positive exposure for the dealership and return to the dealership armed with some excellent video content for social media use. This content is by far the most engaged with on their social media accounts and adds some fun into their dealership’s personality.
There are many paths to earn customer loyalty. They are, however, becoming harder to navigate as customer loyalty becomes more fragile through new technologies centered around price or convenience. Dealerships should look for unique ways in which they can engage their customers and their communities. Small things like this can generate buzz and exposure while not only directly affecting a single customer but also indirectly affecting many others. And a little ice cream on a hot day or some free gas will almost certainly score your dealership some brownie points.
Today’s customers are fickle creatures — one misstep and they never return. So, how is a dealership supposed to identify true customer loyalty if it can’t simply be judged by repeat business?
According to an article in Inc., the Disney Institute’s opinion is that businesses today need much more than a simple repeat customer. What they need is a brand promise. This is similar to a unique selling proposition, just more comprehensive. Disney states that a brand promise is “a succinct statement of the tangible and intangible benefits provided by the ideal brand experience… in other words, a brand promise is a statement of how you want the customer to feel when they interact with your product or service.” The company further states that there are four main things customers want from a brand promise: They want to feel important, the promise must be credible (i.e. the customer must believe the promise is possible), it should be exclusive and it should be differentiating.
Customers are constantly bombarded with generic overly broad marketing messages. When every marketer yells the same thing, the message gets tuned out. Wal-Mart advertises low prices. What makes one Wal-Mart any different from the next? Nothing. Consumers will simply go to the one that’s the closest, or most convenient. Car dealerships that promise the same things are in danger of potentially losing a customer simply because they are all perceived as the same.
Auto dealerships today use all sorts of unique selling propositions in their marketing efforts. Free car washes or oil changes for life, guaranteed low prices and great customer experiences, to name a few. If you really look at your unique selling proposition, how different is it compared to the dealership across the street, or your nearest competitor? Almost every dealership will claim they’ll beat a competitor’s price apples to apples. Many have perks for buying at their dealership. According to Disney, these broad selling propositions just don’t cut it. Successful dealership marketers tend to understand that each person has their own individual “hot” button. Some consumers are price shoppers. Some look for great experiences — which could mean anything from transaction time, to customer service, to ease of buying experience, to amount of inventory, to convenience in service.
In order to emotionally connect with your customer and create a brand loyalist, rather than simply a repeat customer, you must find your niche and stop trying to be everything to everybody. Research what your competition is offering, what their message is, and make sure you have something else.