Customer service – condition critical

Customer service is the most critical part of your business. Get it right and you have a customer for life. Get it wrong and you won’t have a business for long.

Customers spend more time online

We heard a lot of talk at the recent tradeshows about the importance of creating a seamless customer experience between your instore environment and your digital presence. Customers spend increasing time researching their options online before making a purchase and the trend is only going up. In fact, customers spend more time online these days than they do at the dealership.

Today, dealerships can remain open 24/7 with the right online presence and a sound marketing strategy. With 38% of credit applications submitted after the dealership is closed, the pressure is on to sell non-stop.

Every part of your dealership, from sales to financing, must adapt to the digital revolution to compete. Customers have grown to expect a polished digital presence. How you manage it will either fuel or deflate the perception of your brand.

The dealership is an extension of the website

Marketers spoke about emulating some of the online tactics of the big car shops – namely, ease of navigation, transparent pricing, limited CTAs, and improved interfaces. In the current digital retail space, a website is no longer a mere extension of the dealership – the dealership is an extension of the website.

The dealership experience is evolving just as quickly. Subtle changes make a big difference. Customers are now “guests”. A higher tolerance (or flexibility) is acceptable for mechanical issues and partial payments. The “Collections” department now falls under the “Service” department on in-store signage. The goal is to convey respect, build trust, and make customers more comfortable and willing to transact.

Enhancing the quality of touchpoints

Whether online or in-person, it all boils down to touchpoints – the interactions between your business and your customer along their buying journey. Identifying and optimizing customer touchpoints is a key exercise for every dealership:

  • How are customer calls received at your dealership?
  • Does the customer navigate a maze of electronic voicemail, or do they speak to a courteous human being?
  • How long do they wait on hold before being transferred to the right department? 
  • How quickly are their calls returned?
  • What is the sales journey?
  • Are you turning website visits into conversions?
  • What technology are you investing in to facilitate a better customer experience?
  • Are your ads and tone of your social media customer-centric?
  • How are customers received at tradeshows and at in-person events?
  • What’s the customer’s F&I experience at your dealership?
  • Do you have a policy for handling complaints? Diversity issues? Claims?
  • What’s your follow-up plan after the sale?
  • Are you willing to risk change?

Crafting an optimal customer journey is easier said than done. It requires an unfiltered look at your dealership and the self-awareness to address weaknesses wherever you find them. Start by reviewing your company culture and the values that shape the business. Every decision should be evaluated through that lens. Hire people who reflect your core values. Create policies to ensure consistency across the board. Commit to quality, honesty, and fairness.

Understanding the customer

Once the foundation is set, turn to the customer’s pain points instead of your selling points. Sure, it’s nice that you’re a family-owned business for 35 years, but it has nothing to do with the customer’s needs. How are you helping customers solve their problems? Focus on ease, simplicity, and time-saving measures at your dealership. Enable your customers to do as much or as little as they want online.

  • Why should a customer buy from your dealership?
  • What’s your value proposition?
  • Does everyone on staff buy into it?

Give the customer what they want: a fair price, transparent information, a time-saving process, and a consistent, pleasant purchasing experience. When you get it right, you get rewarded with referrals 80-95% of the time.

As I write about customer service, I must confess it’s something we strive to improve every day. As a start-up, we’re not at the end zone yet. We did, however, recently invest in automation technology to help make dealers lives significantly easier. Now it’s a matter of educating, marketing, selling, and promoting it in line with the goals expressed above.

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