More and more dealerships seem to be renewing their vows and focusing on the level of service they provide to their customers. Sales and service industry leaders speak with great enthusiasm about building long-term customer relationships by providing a “truly exceptional service experience and creating a real world-class customer service culture.” It all sounds good, right? But what’s been your experience as a customer? Are you consistently delighted by the level of service you receive? Has consistent has it been? Successful dealers and the “new normal” in our industry requires that dealership organizations should definitely look into the any ways to help get it all right.
Why is providing a truly exceptional customer service experience so important? Dealership profitability requires it and customers demand it because if we are to justify our existence in our industry, we really have no other choice! Providing good service is just not good enough anymore. Customers expect a truly exceptional service experience just like managers and dealers expect and demand truly exceptional performance!
What drives and makes up for these differences?
Here are ten best practices and processes that separate the successful dealers from the not so successful.
- Listen intensely! The best operating dealerships and service organizations use both internal customer and external customer measurements of service value and delivery. Internal measurements allow you to respond immediately with appropriate feedback and coaching. But only external measurements can tell you how your customers truly feel about the level of service you’re providing to them. Without valid external customer feedback, it’s easy to think you’re providing a truly exceptional level of service when you’re really not. Listen to the customer voice and the surveys. They can provide a wakeup call the dealership needs to focus on what is of most importance to your customer!
- Put your service employees first: Like the many “inverted pyramid” models and service concepts stating the key and most important person in the service business is the customer. The next most important person is the front-line employee who directly serves that customer, then the person who supports that customer-facing employee. Successful leading dealerships and service organizations have come to realize that the most important person in the business is actually the front-line service representative. I know it may seem a bit odd to put your internal customers (employees) ahead of your external (customers) however, remember that if your (internal customers) employees aren’t happy, then your (external) customers never will be!
- Train for skill, hire for attitude: If you don’t put an emphasis on constant and never ending training, then you shouldn’t put an emphasis on hiring! World class organizations like the Ritz-Carlton serve some of the most demanding people all over the world. If we look at their business model, we can certainly see that it takes a very special kind of organization, people and training to meet the needs of the demanding people they relate to as guests at their hotel. Our industry must realize that we cannot train people to be that way; but we have to do our best at hiring people who have that servant leader quality and train them on process. Providing a truly exceptional service experience is something that can be taught, and it all starts with wanting to serve people well. We can’t teach people to be the kind of people who will do whatever it takes to provide a truly exceptional service experience–they must want to do it. This is true then for Ritz-Carlton, and it’s true for every dealership and service organization.
- Be of service first: There is a saying in the industry that sales sells the first car and service sells the rest. I beg to differ. I believe that a truly exceptional service experience sells all the cars even in sales! What does your initial training curriculum look like? How long is it? What does it cover? How do you measure it? How do you test it? How do you drive it into the hearts and souls of your people?
We’ve seen service and sales training programs that included tapes, analysis paralysis, three to four weeks of intense instruction, brand old material with a new cover on it put on a shelf to be dusted off once in a while and some that was never even opened. If you don’t make a commitment to training, what kind of message does that send about the importance of training and customer service in your dealership and about members and your organization?
The best operating dealerships and service organizations put customer service early in their initial training. Then, as they cover best practices and operating systems and procedures, they build in the application, practice, drill, rehearse and reinforce with precision those service skill sets and role play situations. These dealership organizations understand that what representatives don’t practice in training they will practice on real live customers. That’s outright dangerous! Training by design sends a clear message about on-the-job expectations and the importance of providing a truly exceptional service experience to every customer, every day, every time, without fail and no exceptions!
- Emphasize the “WOW” experience and not the “WHOA.”: To provide a truly exceptional customer service experience, the front line must address two sets of needs. One set of needs relates to the specific business reason why the customer is talking with you. These are the “technical needs” or “taking care of the customers concerns. ”
To address these needs, dealer representatives have to provide information, answer questions, solve problems, resolve situations, make recommendations, provide options and a solution. And they have to do this the first time, on time, every time.
The other set of needs relates to the communication and interaction with the customer. These are personal needs or “taking care of the customer.” To address these needs, dealer service representatives have to be courteous, personable, solution providing individuals. They have to be truly concerned and eager to serve. They have to recognize unusual situations and respond appropriately. And, when necessary, they have to take the initiative to do something over and above to help the customer.
The best operating dealerships and service organizations understand that if they want to create a truly exceptional service experience, they have to take care of both sets of customer needs. And they have to meet the customer’s personal needs first. In other words, we don’t fix cars…we help people! They have to take care of the person before they take care of any situation.
- Do service right the first time, on time, every time: The best operating dealerships and service organizations put extra efforts into answering questions, resolving issues and solving problems the first time that they talk with a customer. The best operating dealerships and service organizations also emphasize the importance of service recovery. They recognize that a mistake or problem is really an opportunity to fix something that is broken. And they empower their service representatives to do whatever it takes to resolve these mistakes or problems and keep their customers for long periods of time. If you don take the actions to fix why you couldn’t or didn’t do it right the first time or fix it right the second time, don’t worry. Your former customers have already found someone else that will!
- Know what the customer expectations are: Many successful operating dealerships and service organizations are staffed with a new generation of young representatives which I refer to as generation “Y Not’s.” Some of these people have not been given the proper level of training to provide a high quality level of value added service. This could be due to the fact that many of them probably never experienced what would sum up to be a good level of service themselves, let alone a truly exceptional service experience.
- Create excitement and celebrate success: It’s really not too difficult to provide a truly exceptional service level that meets a customer’s needs. It’s not even difficult to provide truly exceptional service level that goes above and beyond and exceeds the customer’s expectations. It’s not difficult to do it for just one or two customers however it is very difficult to do it 60 or more times a day, 6 to 7 days a week, for 12 months a year in many dealerships. The best operating dealerships and service organizations recognize the importance of adapting the training necessary to maintaining a high energy environment where people can feel excited and have fun. It’s hard for service representatives to provide WOW service in a mediocre operating environment.
- Fix what’s broken: A truly exceptional service experience depends on a combination of many factors coming together to be successful–the main three are: people, processes and best practices or systems.
The best operating dealerships and organizations treat every problem or complaint as an opportunity to improve. Other dealerships expect their service representatives to compensate for their inadequacy by covering up mistakes made in customer service by abusing processes and making excuses.
Service representatives can always apologize to customers for a temporary problem or an unusual situation. On the other hand, what are service representatives supposed to do when they are continually asked to explain the unexplainable or defend the undependable?
- Listen to the voice of the internal customer the (employees): The best operating dealers and service organizations recognize that their employees are truly their number one asset and their greatest resource. If they want to know how customers are responding to a new policy or a change in pricing, they ask their employees. And they take their answers seriously. The best operating dealerships and service organizations also regularly meet and survey employees about their supervisors and managers performance. What are they doing to create a truly exceptional service experience? Then they listen, learn, and keep working until they never get it wrong!