In the past, automobile dealerships only had to compete with one another. As you drove down the road or flipped through the TV channels, you'd see one dealership with an inflatable gorilla out front to advertise that weekend’s tent sale as the owner of another dealership paraded around in a giant cowboy hat shouting about how their salespeople knew how to “round up the best car deals in town!”
Dealerships in today’s world face more than just competition from the dealer across town; they also have to contend with digital disruptors like Carvana and ride rental platforms like Uber and Lyft. With all of this pressure, many dealership owners are choosing to break free from the pack by developing a new, more customer-focused strategy.
We detailed the basics of this Customer Centric Process last month, providing an overview on how dealerships can change their organization’s perspective and sales growth in the long-term by working to fill each customer’s needs. We also discussed how implementing this process throughout the different parts of your organization can help you build value.
In this third part of our “Customer Centric” series, we’d like to discuss the “car person” perspective versus the “consumer” perspective — and how bringing the two worlds together can help boost your customer retention rate and your bottom line.
The Importance of Introductions
One key part of the Customer Centric Process involves making sure your salesperson takes the time to close every deal the right way. In the past, this meant a handshake and walking the customer to F&I before heading back to the sales floor to scout for the next potential customer. This short-sighted approach doesn’t help build customer relationships, which means that your dealership is constantly on a costly and time-consuming hunt for new customers.
In the Customer Centric Process, the close of a deal requires three things: an introduction to the finance department, walking them back and introducing them to the service team (while explaining the benefits of having certified technicians and a complimentary maintenance package) and ensuring they’re scheduled for their first service appointment, and giving them a thorough demonstration of their new vehicle’s features. This final step should include an explanation of things such as how to connect their phone to the car’s radio, how to adjust and fold down seats, and how to install car seats if the family has children.
Why do so many dealerships neglect these steps? This is part of the disconnect between the “car people” who work at dealerships and customers who feel as though they’re stepping into an unfamiliar world in which people may take advantage of them by selling them things they don’t need. A dealership employee knows where the service department is, what the complimentary maintenance package includes, who works in F&I, and all the features of the latest cars. It’s essential for them to stop for a moment and try to see things through a new customers’ eyes in order to better understand why introductions and demos need to take place.
It’s important that there is a process in place to ensure that this all happens; it’s also important that it happens consistently. Although it may be an extreme step, some dealerships have implemented rules that tie (for example) 5% of a salesperson’s commission to completing each of these three steps rather than simply discarding a customer and moving on to the next sale. While implementing this kind of process may take a bit more time than the drop-the-customer-and-move-on approach, dealerships that think in terms of building customer relationships tend to have more repeat customers and referrals – an excellent strategy for long-term growth and value.
Building Trust Through Filling the Customer’s Needs
In the first part of this series, we discussed focusing on the customer’s needs in helping them select the vehicle that’s right for them (rather than the one that will generate the most profit for you). This perspective and focus on relationship-building must continue through the F&I department and each time the customer returns for service.
In F&I, customers need to feel reassured that they’re only being sold products that make sense and are valuable to them. By taking the time to thoroughly interview the customer, the F&I staff person can consider the customer’s personal and financial needs to build a menu that perfectly suits them. This will help prevent the customer feeling as though they were taken advantage of or calling later to cancel products because they experienced buyer’s remorse.
Building trust should also be a key part of the service experience at every dealership. The service team must excel at doing things right the first time around. This means finding potential issues by doing a multi-point inspection when a vehicle comes in for complimentary maintenance, as well as correctly identifying, diagnosing, and repairing issues when a customer brings their car in for a complaint.
Diagnosing and fixing items correctly the first time helps build customer confidence and a relationship between the technician, service advisor, and the customer. This way, when the dealership advises the purchase of a product or service (new tires or an alignment, for example), the customer will trust that they actually need it and aren’t being sold something unnecessary.
Going Customer Centric? Customers Will Take Note!
Kicking off an approach that’s oriented towards bridging the gap between the “car people” on your staff and your customers won’t happen overnight, nor will it generate instant results. Going Customer Centric is a long-term strategy that will help break your dealership out of the hamster wheel of chasing new customers during every 30-day cycle.
Customers will feel valued when your staff takes time to put them in a vehicle and a financial plan that suits their needs. They’ll feel comfortable returning for their next vehicle when they know you stand behind your products and work to fix issues right the first time around. They’ll give you excellent Customer Experience Transformer (CXT) scores so you can monitor the success of the changes you’re making. They’ll refer friends and family.
Prospective customers will notice, as well. They’ll see the difference between your advertising (focused on serving the customer) and your competitor’s (giving away a free plate of BBQ with every test drive). When they research your dealership and see profiles and videos of your staff on social media, they’ll already have a familiarity with everyone as they walk through the door. Rather than feeling hustled, they’ll know they’re appreciated.
The Customer Centric Process may take time, but it will make a difference — to your staff, your customers, and to your bottom line.