Monday, March 14, 2011

Just for Dealers: So, What Can You Do to Survive in a Collapsing Customer Pay Parts Market? - Part 2

Last week we compared a dealership to a group of cars on a roller coaster. Up front, in sales, they ride in the first car. They are pleasantly petrified when the track falls. They scream. They yell. They even raise their hands off the hand rail as their car plummets down into the unknown. Hey, having your heart in your throat is part of the fun – up front.

Back here in the last car, in service, we like to have a little warning. We see the first car drop out of sight and know our car will soon hit that same drop. It gives us a chance to hold onto that hand rail a little harder. We are ready. Hey, having a little warning is part of the fun – in back.

So guess what? The segment of the car parc in our service-parts sweet spot will soon hit the point where the roller coaster track plummets. Be afraid … be very afraid … unless you have prepared to increase both customer retention and customer conquest. Both topics warrant their own discussion, so let’s focus on retention today.

Think about your favorite sit-down restaurant. What brings you back? For me, it is that I recognize the servers, they call me by name, and my drink & food order requires nothing more than nodding to the question … “the usual?”. Occasionally, based on their knowing me, they talk me into a “special” – and I like it. Sure, excellent food is important; but for me to return, the experience must be just as excellent. The combination is why I pay a premium – and happily return to do so again.

Of course you do excellent work in your service department; but, is the experience just as excellent? Below are a few ideas from very high customer service retention dealerships that might help you answer “yes” even more frequently.

Call me by name.
When I walk into my dealer’s service department, Chris Lutton always says “Hello Mr. Cremins”. Maybe I’m too easy; but, this impresses me. So I asked Chris “I’m only here twice a year. How do you always remember my name?”. Easy, he just sees me drive up and puts my front license plate number into his computer and … up pops my name. Chris calls me by name. I like it. I go back.

I’ve since discovered that my favorite hotel in Milwaukee has the bell staff look at my luggage tag when I get out of the taxi and communicate my name to the front desk staff … who never fails to say “Welcome back Mr. Cremins” when I walk up to register. I like it. I go back.

Stagger appointment times to allow appropriate time with me at drop off.
“So Chris” , I say, “How come you always have a few un-preoccupied minutes to spend with me?” Easy, he staggers appointments in the morning to allow time to chat. Chris never looks at a computer while talking to me. Chris … talks … to … me. I like it. I go back.

Begin with my service history and any current bulletins in hand.
Now, I’ll explain this one. Wait. No, I won’t. You should be able to get it just from the title.

While I watch, conduct a very quick multi-point inspection that includes tire wear and battery life, among others.
My wife loves this one. She goes in to the dealership for service and her Service Advisor (note that she isn’t a Service Advisor, she is my wife’s Service Advisor) takes out the multi-point inspection form from her last visit and says “Well, last time we told you that you were likely to need a battery next time. Looking at the battery test this time, you don’t – unless it gets really cold. Do you want to wait, or just do it now?” She gets the same update on tire wear, brake wear, and other predictable maintenance items. It is honest, transparent, and builds trust. She likes it. She goes back.

Your shuttle operator is a conduit of the voice of the customer and “nips problems in the bud”.
I’m biased on this one because I used to drive service shuttles during the summer when I was in high school, and I literally heard it all. When the shuttle talk begins to get a little ugly, the shuttle driver can save your bacon by doing something – or burn your bacon by doing nothing. Assign a BDC (Business Development Center) person to drive the shuttle. Do not assign the lowest paid person on staff with a driver’s license.

If I’m getting a loaner while my car is in for service, give me one that is at least as nice as the car I’m leaving in your care.
Don’t give me the smallest, smelliest car with cigarette burns in the interior. And don’t make me feel bad about taking a loaner for the afternoon, day, or overnight if that works better for my busy schedule. If you are really smart, give me the newest model or higher trim of the car I just dropped off, or a different model that is one step up from my current ride. I will see it in my driveway or parking spot at work, I will love it, and then I will want to buy or lease it when it’s time to trade in. (Your friends up front will thank you, and you’ll see me back in the service lane with my new car in no time.)

Allow me to check if my vehicle is ready without my having to talk to a Service Advisor.
Let me “see” into your system for the status of my vehicle. Don’t put me on hold. I said, don’t put me on … dang! I don’t like it. I won’t be back.

Communicate with me, in the manner I wish to be communicated with, as the vehicle progresses through service.
Don’t wait until you are completely done to tell me the status of my baby. Keep me up to date as my baby moves from place to place. “We’re at five centimeters Mr. Cremins!” I’m interested. I want to know.

No really, let me know when my vehicle has made it into the stall, when you are ordering parts, when the work is complete and you are waiting to have it washed, when it has been washed and I should come get my baby. I’m interested. I want to know.

How to let me know? Don’t page me over the loud speaker system (why do you even still have a loud speaker system?) because I might have walked across the street for a doughnut after the sales meeting has ended and the doughnuts are gone. Don’t call and leave a voice mail because I might be sitting ten feet away in the lounge watching Jerry Springer. Ask me if I want updates via text, phone, or email (just so you know, I prefer that you alert me by text). I would like it. I would be back.

Allow me to see and review the work done before I show up at the store for pick-up.
Is what you’ve done to my vehicle a state secret? No one but your cashier can tell me what was done? Really? Email a copy of the invoice. Post it on a secure page, just for me, on your website. Draw a picture and fax it to me. Just don’t make me stand in line with three other people while the first person in line waits at 5pm for a Service Advisor to explain his bill. I don’t like it. I won’t be back.

Let me pre-pay and use express pick up instead of standing in line.
Do the above and this is an option. It’ll save us both time and aggravation. And it makes me feel special, which means I’ll be back.

My Service Advisor is my cashier.
I love Canadians. Ok, I love my wife; but, I really like Canadians. My experience in Canadian service drives is that my Advisor is my cashier. We laugh, we cry, my bill is thoroughly explained, I pay, I like it, I go back.

Like my dentist, set my next appointment now.
My dentist’s staff knows that I like first thing in the morning on Fridays. So before I leave after each appointment, they ask if an appointment in six months on a Friday morning is suitable. I say yes. I go back.

By the way, they contact me a week in advance – by text because that’s how I like them to communicate with me (see a couple of items up) – to remind me and ask if that day and time still works for me.

If you are going to wash my vehicle, do a good job.
Ok, I’m picky here too. I spent several summers detailing cars at the dealership and want mine done right. When done right, I am a generous tipper who has surprised the heck out of wash guys with twenty bucks – a big time surprise for a wash guy. When done wrong, I don’t like it. I don’t go back.

How about a little training for the wash crew? I mean, really, just a little training please? Oh no! That’s not a buffer is it? Ayyyyyyy!

Add them up.
None of these ideas are world changers; but add them up, and they make me go back. You, I’m sure, can do much better than my little list. So … do it.

Jay Cremins, a principal at Carlisle & Company, specializes in dealer operations and OEM Field development. Before joining the consulting ranks he enjoyed a previous life in the retail world, starting at age sixteen washing cars and moving up the ladder into dealership management positions. In addition to project work, Jay has presented featured workshops at a half-a-dozen NADA conventions, as well as international meetings on five continents.

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