by Kerry Dowling
One of the first acts of most businesses in response to the global pandemic was customer messaging. This was especially true of car dealerships. Keeping customers apprised of your ability to service their needs was paramount. As we moved further along into this new normal, dealers had to make major changes to the way they service customers. This meant an entire reimagining of how store(s) would operate and the way team members would now conduct sales and service. Digital presence became key to survival and dealers stepped up, embracing technology as the tool to keep their business going. The ability to advertise and close online sales became the guiding principle, as did developing new contactless ways to sell cars and service existing customers vehicles. Communicating with and listening to customers became more important than ever before. Dealerships have swung into high gear with across the board messaging aimed at alleviating customer concerns and addressing their needs. As customers venture online, and more recently, back into showrooms, dealers need to make sure that they are delivering on the promises they’ve made.
Are You Delivering On Your Promises? Customers want to believe your messaging. For many it is the sole criterion upon which they rely in choosing you. If you have expressed empathy and concern for their well being they will expect to see this in action-both online and in person. This makes it critical that every member of your teams understands and executes the new protocols. Your messaging must be consistent from the advertising to the actual customer experience. The more you’ve promised your customers, the more diligent you must be in seeing that those promises are carried out in every facet of the business. Consistency in messaging must extend to customer experiences at every contact point in your store. All it takes is one break in the messaging chain to convince a customer to look elsewhere. On the other hand, your ability to deliver consistently on your messaging will result in retention of your existing base and acquisition of new customers.
Are You Listening? Customers have always wanted to be “heard” and that is only magnified during tumultuous times like this one. No one knows better how customers are feeling than your employees. Are you listening to them – not just your sales teams, but every department who interacts with customers? What processes are in place to respond to staff and customer feedback and suggestions? How fast is your turnaround time in implementing new processes? How do you insure that every employee is up to date on current messaging, protocols, processes and, very importantly, the “tone” of your operation so you can avoid the broken link?
Are You Responding? Is a unified process in place to respond to customers who express dissatisfaction? Do you have the mechanisms in place to respond to these customers to show them that they are being heard? The more personalized the response, the more likely it is to resonate with the customer.
Is Your Data Collection What It Should Be? How you collect and use data has never been more important. Are you collecting and retaining customer data at all points of contact? Is this customer “record” readily available to any employee who may need it during contact with that customer so that subsequent contacts build on previous ones rather than being a “start over”? Are you able to use your customer data to develop programs and processes that address your customers wants and needs?
Are You Taking Care Of Your Loyal Customers? How are you recognizing customer loyalty? Have you made special efforts to reach out this base and assure them that you are here should they need you? Have you used your customer data to segment your base to provide more customer specific value added services? For example, customers who bought within the last 1 to 3 years will have different needs than those who bought in the last 4 to 6 years and those who bought 7 or more years ago. Have you customized offers, incentives, services for these groups to show your appreciation?
Are You Using This Downtime To Reexamine and Fix Ongoing Customer Service Problems? Every business has areas that need improvement. Too often these issues remain unresolved due to the daily pressures of running a business and, let’s be honest, because they seem to difficult or expensive to fix. Now is the time to address them! Are service lines picked up by the second ring? Are customers bounced around because phones are not picked up? Are there lines at your service department? Do you deliver the serviced car to your customer at the service area or ask them to walk through a huge parking lot to find their vehicle? Is parking an issue at your store? Are customers kept waiting too long, either on the phone or in person, to conduct their business? I ask these questions because I experienced all of the above at my last dealership-a large and very successful operation on the east coast. I also experienced the complete opposite when I moved to the west coast and brought my car to my local dealership for servicing. Night and day. Bottom line, nothing is worse to a customer than getting the white glove service at the time of the sale and then feeling unimportant at every encounter thereafter. This is the perfect time to reexamine these issues and do what you can to resolve them. Let customers know you hear them by communicating about changes you’ve made to make their lives easier.
People will always need cars. Cars are a significant purchase. Most people prefer to spend money with businesses that are fair, transparent, and there for the long haul. People like relationships. It makes them feel more secure in their purchase. Remember that your response during this time, the actions you take, the changes you make will likely remain long after the pandemic is gone. This is a pivotal time for defining your brand and showing customers what you are willing to do to ensure their loyalty. Your ability to get your message out there and your ability to deliver on your message is the key to building long term mutually rewarding relationships.