Do Your Customers & Staff Feel Welcome?

By Desiree Homer

If there ever was a more pertinent time to be reminded that the automotive industry is in the ‘people business,’ it’s now. Sandy Schwartz, President for Cox Automotive, leading 25 business segments and essentially 30,000 employees, knows a thing or two about the human element in the industry right now. In a recent DNT podcast, Schwartz says, “it’s time to be human at your core!” And it goes beyond the community connection and seeing your dealership through a pandemic, an economic shutdown, and a civil rights movement. When Sandy Schwartz talks about creating systemic change in how we engage and communicate with internal staff and customers alike, the industry listens.

The Safety Side of Taking Care of Your People

The first step dealers can take involves evaluating the safety of staff. Of course, it means developing a best practices guide for keeping employees healthy during a pandemic. Being a safe place to work is about backing your team’s ability to do their jobs well, and with minimal risk. Some dealers are assigning internal task forces to manage the mitigation efforts and safety of the teams. Others are carving out new remote and staggered schedules to minimize exposure risks. Masks, disinfection, and social distancing may continue to be the new normal in the months to come.  

Safety also means creating an environment that is safe beyond physical health and wellness. Valued employees will tell you they feel safe and secure based on their perceived value within your organization. They feel valued because they are included within the organization, are allowed to grow, and, most importantly, are heard. Does your dealership foster an environment that promotes a safe space for voicing concerns, opinions, and objections? Sandy Schwartz talks about the challenges with today’s semi-remote working conditions, as it applies to how dealer owners and managers can continue to be connected with their teams. He suggests that getting authentic with individuals within the group, regardless of their position, will provide valuable insights about how your teams feel about their voice within the organization.

What Your Customers See, Say, and Feel About Their Experiences with Your Dealership

As a dealer owner, you realize that it can cost up to five times more to attract a new customer to your dealership than it does to retain an existing one. The customer journey and experience will determine how well your retention efforts work. In today’s virtual retail environment, it can be harder to connect with customers. Your teams used to engage in conversation, shake hands, and laugh over coffee. But the pandemic has put a serious damper on those efforts.

Sandy Schwartz talks about the new way dealers are doing business and reminds his teams that while there is a digitization movement, there are some things that don’t change. The community connection is always important, and Schwartz shares his continuous support of local engagement. Schwartz also discusses how imperative it is to avoid a knee jerk reaction to current conditions and challenges. The best way to be welcoming and inclusive to all of your customers is to offer a safe and minimal risk journey to buying from you. “We’ll never be Zappos,” Schwartz says, referring to the shoe retailer’s business model of ordering shoes, and never having to engage staff. In the car business, regardless of the changes to the methodology, it’s always going to be a ‘people business.’ How you make those customers feel welcome at every stage in the sales or service funnel, will keep them coming to your dealership long-term.

It’s always a best practice to keep lines of communication open for both employees and customers. Consider taking steps to ensure everyone has a chance to be heard and voice preferences, and you’ll always know what to add, move, or change accordingly. It’s equally essential to remember the power of a ‘thank you.’ Thank your teams for riding out this storm and being resilient. In doing so, they’ll feel valued. Thank your past and present customers for continuing to support your dealerships. Sandy Schwartz believes it’s the resilience of the people that makes today’s challenges manageable.