It's Not About You

Aug 31, 2012 | | 13113 |

It's Not About You

By Adam Shiflett

It was just an average weekday at a high-end strip mall. Most stores were empty as clerks either tried to look busy for their bosses or held down counters with their elbows. The occasional customer walked around; some entered stores, but for the most part, it felt like an old Western street before a gun fight.

Except for one store.

The Apple store was jam-packed with people. Their faces were fixated on computer screens, phones and MP3 players. Every employee in the store was talking to someone, and in some cases, a line of customers was forming to talk to the next Apple store employee.

This is a common theme. Every time I have stepped into an Apple store I’ve seen the same scenario play out. No matter what time, day of the week, or location of the store, they are full of eager customers trying and buying. So what’s the secret sauce?

Apple is laser-focused on the customer experience. From the products the company develops, to the packaging, every aspect of how the customer experiences the brand is evaluated and aligned. This approach is in stark contrast to their competitors, which continually talk about price. It’s why Apple has dominated the phone and MP3 markets.

The back office – Your customer service golden ticket?

Most of the time, when we think about ways to improve the customer experience, we think about store layout. Should I change the coffee? What if we put out a new banner? Do we need more wi-fi hotspots? These are important aspects of a customer’s experience, but companies truly focused on the customer experience go far beyond the basics.

There has been a fundamental shift in customer expectations. A lot of this change is a result of the Internet and the instant access to information it provides. Your customers don’t want to wait to get responses. They expect you to follow up instantly – and if you don’t, they’ll move on to your competitors just as quickly as Google can “find a [insert name] dealer in…”

This is where customer experience begins. It starts with your ability to react to their needs. If you don’t have the answers, or the part they are looking for, they can find it somewhere else quicker than you can say “lost sale.” Overcoming this obstacle takes systems, it takes process, and it takes an organized back office.

It may seem strange, but excellent customer experience starts in your back office. That’s right – those areas of your dealership you steer your customers away from. The rows of bins, old parts and filing cabinets make or break how the customers feel about your business.

Recently, I went in for a new set of contact lenses. I visited a new office; the professional staff and doctor helped me select the right contacts and informed me that I would be contacted as soon as my prescription was in.

Three weeks later, I had not been called. Anxious to have my vision back, I called the office. The assistant that answered the phone asked for my name and put me on hold. Then she came back on the phone and asked my name again.

Next, a male voice came on the phone and asked my name and what I was calling about, and then he put me back on hold. When he came back he informed me he did not understand what I wanted and could not find my file – and promptly put me back on hold. A short time later, the female voice came back on and informed me they found my contacts and I could come in to pick them up.

Instantly, my otherwise positive opinion of the doctor’s office vanished. Instead, I felt like a cog in a system that only cared about taking my cash. All that money on furnishing the new office and professional clothing for the staff was wasted because the office had not invested in processes to take care of customer orders.

What’s in a name?

Everyone who works in your dealership should feel confident in their ability to serve the customer, without having to do everything alone. No singular employee can sell a new car, process the paperwork, order the accessories, install the add-ons and prep the unit for delivery. It would take more time than a customer would be willing to wait.

It is important to have effective communication between departments, along with tracking and a central tool to reference the information. With these in place, your staff can work effectively and handle customers’ needs in an efficient manner. The right control and processes will result in consistently positive customer experiences.

Not collecting customer contact information is another major failure in customer service. You want your customers to come back, right? If you have not collected their information, how will you treat them when they come back and say: “I bought something from you guys and need another one. Can you look it up?” Blank stares will not equal dollar signs on your bottom line.

At the time of purchase, adding customer information can seem so time-consuming, but it enhances all other future interactions with that customer. Collecting the customer’s information improves that customer’s experience the next time they visit and can help you build loyal customers. 

Have them at "Hello"

The lifetime value of a customer is never captured by one purchase. Over the years of car ownership, you can spend thousands of dollars on parts, accessories and repairs. As a dealership, your goal is to keep as much of that additional “spend” inside your business. You need to start building that relationship from the very first interaction.

Increasing per-customer lifetime spending takes proactive work on your side. Ask yourself the question: “After a customer buys something from my store, what happens next?” If you want to build more loyal customers, you should have a clear answer to this question.

Customer relationship management (CRM) tools can create follow-ups and surveys automatically. Today, systems have been created that allow for automatic triggers to be created. These triggers could send off e-mails, create “thank you” cards, or print happy birthday letters. These tools help you create personalized customer experiences for every one of your customers without investing in staff to track the information and produce the responses.

Every experience is a lifetime opportunity

You’ve seen the stats. You know Americans are keeping cars longer and buying fewer new cars. But you also know that a lifer will come in, like clockwork, every year for maintenance. The goal of a CRM system is to anticipate these customer needs over their lifetime and proactively contact them at crucial times.

Getting in front of customers’ needs makes a more loyal customer and increases your bottom-line. Before they have a chance to shop around for the best repair price or where to trade-in, be there with the service special email or the three year follow-up call.

If you think it sounds like an annoyance, you’d be wrong. Customers want to have a partner – someone who cares about their individual needs and treats them like they are the most important person at the dealership. With the right CRM strategy, you can deliver that type of service over your entire customer base.

When a customer walks into your store they generally have a single goal: They need a part, they need a repair, or they need a new car. You need to look past that.

Every customer who walks into your dealership represents an opportunity to create a lifetime customer. The value they bring can support your business for years to come, if you capture it.

Focus in on the customer experience, but understand it is more than just fresh paint and clean windows. Providing a good customer experience at your store extends outside your doors. Make the experience about them, the customer, and not about you.


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Adam Shiflett