There are many stories of young kids or teens starting successful businesses. And there are as well the simple stories of kids mowing lawns or washing cars to earn extra money while their friends are out playing. A similar story gained national media attention when a 12-year old decided to open a lemonade stand in his neighborhood. He even convinced a neighbor to allow him to display a sign advertising the lemonade stand in his yard. Most people would applaud this behavior. However, apparently, one of the neighbors wasn’t too keen about it. In fact, this neighbor actually complained to the city about this teen’s “illegal business” – 4 times. City officials investigated and stated, “We’re not out there trying to put lemonade stands out of business.” Kudos to them.
This particular neighbor complained because he said the lemonade stand “causes excessive noise, traffic and trash and illegal parking.” Ironically, it appears that his repeated complaints have actually made city officials aware of the fact that he is also operating a home-based business illegally. That’s karma for you.
All businesses, and especially car dealers, have people who just don’t like them. Whether that’s because of a poor experience the customer had, or is based on something the customer heard about, they will exist. Typically, these are the customers that you listen to the most due to fear that other customers and potential customers will hear their complaints. Many dealership managers take these personally and, while some may have merit, their initial reaction is one of anger.
People all have opinions. Rather than dwell on the detractors, change your focus to all of the positive comments you receive from happy customers. To when things have gone right. It’s certainly important to handle legitimate customer complaints, when possible. And these complaints can have a positive aspect – they should be used as a learning tool to prevent reoccurrences of similar problems. It’s way too easy to get sidetracked by negativity and allow it to negatively alter your behavior. If you keep your focus on ensuring that your customers have the best experience possible, you will see happier customers. In this way, just as the community around the boy with the lemonade stand did, your customers and local community will rally behind you when you need them most.
I’m fairly certain that this teenager did not set out with a goal of creating a booming lemonade stand that would rake in a fortune. However, through the media and the assistance of a local radio host who actually committed one of his staff to assist in its operation, business has been surprisingly good!
And it all started with a dream, a little hard work, and a commitment to overcome obstacles.
These days, car dealerships, try to express their individuality from their competitors through value propositions. Almost every dealership has some sort of template or message as to “Why Buy from Us” integrated into their communications with their customers. Some find that they fall short in discovering or realizing what is the truth – customers are not as in love with them as they may think. Customers have their own perception as to what will make a lifelong marriage. Will the dealership realize that its promise hasn’t lived up to consumer expectations and strive to correct it?
Quite often there’s a large gap between a company’s brand promise and the reality as perceived by their customers. A recent article on ZDNet cites several studies that show the disparity between what a company claims to deliver or strives to achieve, and the perception of the same by the consumer. One of the studies cited in the article stated, “…fully 80 percent believe their firm offers a superior proposition. However, only 8 percent of customers held that same view.” This gap is so wide that it leaves little question that many companies are falling short of providing what the customer expects of them – and this leaves the door wide open for the customer to file for a loyalty divorce.
So how can your dealership avoid going to divorce court with your customer and turn the relationship into a wedded bliss – one that could lead into years of happiness and maybe even some offspring (referrals, repeat business)? Like a conversation with your spouse, it all starts with communication.
With your customers taking to the web and social media at ever increasing rates, finding out what they are saying about you is step number one. Engaging with the customer is just a half-step behind. Imagine the customer who brought their vehicle into your service department for the third time for the same repair. Bothered that she had to return time and again for the same issue, she told her friends in the office about her less than satisfactory experiences. She then spread the word on her Facebook wall and posted a message on your dealership’s Facebook page. She then left a two-star review on Google. Six months earlier, when she purchased her car, she said “I do” to your dealership and trusted that you’d be faithful to your promise: great customer service plus timely and accurate repairs.
You brand yourself as the dealer in town that everyone trusts to get the job done right. Yet this wasn’t the case with this customer and countless others that perhaps chose not to voice their frustrations. Some have decided to take their business elsewhere, even if that means a longer drive to a dealership in another area. Others are just waiting out the marriage, hoping that someday it will magically improve.
What can you do for this customer? Start with a conversation through the mediums that she has publicly taken to. After you’ve listened to, empathized with and addressed the concern, you can take back what you’ve learned from her (and others like her) and begin to implement strategies to improve any weakness you may have discovered in the relationship. Perhaps you need to educate or train your staff; maybe staff changes need to be made; or perhaps it’s a simply a matter of better communication between the service team and the customer.
While no individual or company will be perfect, if you have not bridged the gap between the customer’s expectations and the reality of your service, you may find the customer walking away after her six-month marriage, instead of riding out some of the rough patches until its time for an anniversary celebration.
It might be time to take a closer look at your dealership’s mission statement. Are you fulfilling your promises and striving to improve. Or have you become complacent? Are you listening to your customers and responding appropriately when concerns arise? Have you empowered your team to go above and beyond the customer’s expectations so that the customer will feel “warm and fuzzy” when they visit your dealership?
It’s time to take a look in the mirror and ask if you would say, “I do” if you were the customer. Or if it’s time to call off the wedding.
With NFL football fans gearing up for another season, DIRECTV is once again offering new customers the 2014 NFL Sunday Ticket for free along with deeply discounted prices and an upgraded DVR Genie on several of the programming packages. What’s the catch? The special prices are valid for only the first twelve months of a twenty-four month contract. And if you want to receive the Sunday Ticket for the 2015 season, you’ll need to pay regular price.
It’s a great deal for a new customer. but let’s imagine that two years ago you signed up for DIRECTV and have fulfilled your twenty-four month contract by paying $66.99 per month. You see the new customer incentives and you give DIRECTV’s “award-winning customer service” department a call and ask to be given the same attractive offer – a discounted monthly rate, updated equipment (that you have to lease from them as well for an added fee), and the NFL Sunday Ticket that normally costs in excess of $300. Your friendly customer service representative informs you that they appreciate your business, your prompt payments and for your interest in continuing to subscribe to their satellite service. Then they inform you that the offer is for new customers only and that existing customers aren’t eligible. There’s a moment of silence on the line as you scratch your head and wonder why your loyalty isn’t being rewarded with anything more than a thank you. You return to the line and ask for a manager. While waiting for your call to be transferred, you simply can’t wrap your head around the fact that new customers will save nearly 50% off their monthly bill for the first twelve months; obtain new equipment and the NFL Sunday Ticket – something that has been on your wish list since the Super Bowl. The supervisor takes your call and you state your case, but unless you have the negotiating skills of a criminal defense attorney, or threaten to cancel, you’re not getting the new customer deal. This sure doesn’t seem like the way to keep customers for long and perhaps one of the reasons DIRECTV seems to be looking for new customers all the time.
With shrinking margins on new vehicle sales, dealers are finding themselves more reliant than ever on service absorption, referrals and repeat business. In today’s world of information, price shopping and homogenization, it’s more important than ever before to focus on retention. You can kill the customer with kindness, provide convenient hours and build personal relationships with your customers through employee retention, but when it comes time to buy a new vehicle, every customer wants a good deal. Customers who have shown your business loyalty come to you with an expectation of reciprocity. Regardless of whether their first experience with you buying a vehicle was exceptional or frustrating, they will not only expect a better experience, but also demand it. They see your sales ads in the newspaper and online just the same as a potential new customer does. In our increasingly regulated business, whom would you rather sell your advertised loss leader to? The new customer you will never see again, or the one that’s been loyal to you for years? I know what my answer would be.
If you’re operating a car dealership on the DIRECTV model, you’re spending a lot of your efforts trying to lure the new customer instead of taking care of the most captive audience you have – your current customer. That loyal customer could be waiting to see just how much of a commitment you are willing to make to them. So whether your loyal customer pays cash for your loss leader, or buys the accessory-loaded luxury SUV and the premium maintenance package – make sure they feel special and experience the new customer treatment all over again.
A recent article on the Huffington Post asked why consumers are still buying GM vehicles despite all of the recent recalls. There’s no question that there are many concerned owners of GM vehicles. According to the article, GM has “issued 44 recalls in North American this year, stemming from problems that have been tied to 50 crashes and 13 dealers, [yet] the company recently said its sales for the month of May were up 13 percent from the month before, the biggest May gain in seven years.” Common sense might lead a person to believe that consumers would become more hesitant to purchase a GM vehicle with all of the problems that are occurring. But the numbers indicate quite the opposite.
Loyalty doesn’t always follow reason. As the article indicates, there are many points that make consumers remain loyal in times of turmoil. One reason the article cites is ignorance of the recalls themselves. “Experts say about one-third of people with a vehicle affected by automaker recalls never bring their car in for repair.” Another reason is that people may perceive that these recalls are for vehicles made in the past and don’t apply to recent vehicles (which is untrue).
The last reason cited in the article is the one most likely to be the case: that GM has been successful at creating emotional bonds with consumers over time. Consumers are quick to back companies that have supported them in times of crisis, especially if the situation is handled properly. GM CEO, Mary Barra, has been running damage control well during her tenure. Her public commitment to identify any issues with GM cars and solve the problems seems zealous in nature at times. Many consumers are willing to forgive companies – especially companies of which they are already brand loyalists – if the company is willing to back heir product quality and rectify the issues.
Think of your favorite store. You may love shopping at that store and patronize it frequently. Perhaps one day you have a problem with a product or a bad experience. If handled properly and made whole, your opinion of the business may even increase. People understand that nobody is perfect. All they want is to know that the business cares about them as a customer and values their business enough to fix the problem.
GM has certainly experienced very trying times over the last 6 years going through bankruptcy and requiring the government’s assistance. It will certainly be an uphill battle to regain consumer confidence in the quality of their vehicles. As a society, however, we tend to have short memories. While GM will be forced to be more vigilant in vehicle quality and customer retention efforts, those efforts may prove to reinforce the emotional attachment its current brand loyalists possess and also earn it some new ones.
There are many things that companies can do to earn a customer’s loyalty. However, e-mail marketing isn’t typically high on the list. Consumers get barraged continuously with marketing messages via e-mail. As you go through your in-box, how many do you delete without even reading them in order to get to those you are interested in reading? A very good article on the Small Business Success blog shared some tips on how to write e-mails that will more effectively engage the recipient.
Consider these statistics shared in the blog article:
- Personalized emails improve click through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%.
- Leads who are nurtured with targeted content produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities.
- 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.
In my recent data series blogs, I covered how dealers who use their data to effectively target consumers with relevant messages will increase responses. When relevant messages are relayed to the right customers, they tend to feel the company is more in tune with their needs and wants. They no longer feel like just another address on your e-mail list. As you establish a relationship with the customer, they will begin to value your communications and pay attention to them, rather than discard them into their trash, spam or, worse, opt-out of your marketing.
Targeting segmented customers is definitely something dealers should be doing. However, the content of any email message is equally important. Generic e-mails that are obviously sent en masse will detract from the consumer’s perception that you are actually looking out for their best interest.
In order to increase the chance that a customer perceives your e-mail message as helpful rather than intrusive, try and make your e-mails as personalized as possible. If you have cleaned up your data, it is relatively easy to insert a customer’s first name and the make and model of the vehicle.
At the same time, ensure that any attempts to send personalized messages to your customers are not destroyed by poor attention to details. Double check that there are no improper formatting or incorrect merge fields because of erroneous data in the wrong fields in your CRM.
In the end, it’s not just about using past behavior to predict the future. It’s also about how you can best convey your message to your target group. If your customers only receive helpful reminders and relevant messages from you, you will build relationships that help create loyalty and increase retention.