There’s a customer-facing aspect to nearly every industry; with that said, in many cases, the customer experience holds little weight. Technological advances have replaced a portion of cashiers with machines, which certainly not without kinks, provide the same kind of service you’d need to buy groceries and other smaller items.
However, this trend of automation has yet to advance beyond the food industry. The fact is, as people invest more time and money into a purchase, there’s a greater degree of potential risk. There are more costs and benefits to weigh. The dollar menu is predictable, but guitars, cars, and houses are much less so.
Naturally, there are pretty high expectations for how a car dealership treats its customers. Potential buyers need to be reminded of the value propositions of the vehicles they’re considering. Yes, consumers are doing research and some of them know exactly what they want from their next vehicles. Even so, there is still a perception that salesmen may employ shady tactics to secure a deal. And, while the sale itself is a large milestone, the customer relationship doesn’t end there. Service and parts are certainly necessary, especially if something goes wrong in the first few days after the sale closes.
While we aren’t inside the dealerships we partner with, we are necessarily connected to their internal ecosystems, which means we deal with busy people who have high standards and work in a fast-paced, pressure-driven industry.
What does that mean for those of us who have direct interaction with the dealers? Essentially, it means we have to understand what exceptional service looks like. If a poor first impression can cause a customer to walk away from a deal, a bad site launch or a general lack of communication can sully a relationship. Enough of these issues can certainly lead to cancellations. And, if a customer at a dealership can spread word of a bad experience, so too can our dealer partners.
So, what are the components of exceptional customer service? Here are five elements we believe are essential to maintaining a strong relationship with our clients.
If a shopper submits a lead on a website, most dealers set the standard to respond within five minutes. That timeframe reasonably assumes the shopper still has access to her phone or computer.
That’s something we should try to replicate. No, we can’t do everything at once, but we live in a world of constant communication and have come to expect prompt responses, especially when we have major issues. Even something as simple as, “I’m looking into your issue and will keep you updated,” goes a long way. A real person becomes associated with the issue, rather than an abstract queue. The dealer feels supported in the event of trouble, and that helps build trust.
Relentless Outreach (Within Reason)
If you submit a car lead, expect to be called and emailed pretty quickly. In fact, it feels like the communication won’t stop. Considering the shopper might not have any previous experience with the user, it does feel a bit excessive, but the dealer’s relentless pursuit says a couple of things about their business model. First, that they have something to sell. Second, that they aren’t quitters and one try is not enough, especially when making contact is essential.
While even our sales team isn’t that ruthless, the truth is that in many cases, the dealers we work with need our communication. They want support updates or campaigns created. Likewise, we often need more information from them to make sure their marketing efforts are executed according to their goals. While not every minute detail warrants three calls, for larger items, we can ensure we’re making a proper effort.
Know What They Want
The customer relationship begins with the sales process. While most of us don’t have “sales” in our job titles, we’re all selling something, even if it’s just our own abilities and competency.
The best salespeople figure out what the client wants, be it overt or latent. While personality may be a huge driver for sales success, active listening is just as important. Few people want to be sold to, but many don’t mind buying something. The decision comes from an alignment of the proposition and the customer’s wants.
What does that mean for us? First, we should be asking questions. Whether we want to encourage a customer to adopt a new element of marketing or simply adjust their strategy a bit, we can’t read minds. We need feedback. We need to know what they want to accomplish, their target areas, their main competitors, and what sets them apart from competitors. Likewise, we need to know who else they have worked with and the pitfalls they’ve experienced with other providers.
We can try to tackle this without any wisdom, but it often proves problematic, comes across selfishly, and doesn’t get too far. Giving the client options based off what they want puts the power in their hands.
Even though a car salesperson might be the main player in the initial customer experience, he or she is certainly not alone at the dealership. Management, service, parts, BDC representatives, and receptionists all work together to complete the customer experience. While a new customer might not work with all of these departments, others certainly will. Though some of these roles are fairly invisible to many customers, they certainly contribute to the dealership’s success.
Our team is much the same. While the digital marketing teams might interact with the dealership on occasion, much of their work is behind the scenes. Dealers don’t need to know the complexities of their pay-per-click campaigns; they just want to know things are working. For the more customer-facing roles, we ensure that things are indeed meeting their standards, and we work to collect feedback for the other teams.
Naturally, this is not a simple process. We each work with a different subset of dealerships. Further, some people may hand off their relationship with a dealer to another team member. While there are some constants for the dealership, the team behind them at any given moment might be changing. Internal communication is essential to keep things running smoothly.
A winning strategy is no good if not implemented fully; the best efforts we put forth are diminished if our attentiveness to the dealer’s needs is broken. A relationship is ongoing and changing. A dealer partner might be content one moment, but compliance problems, data tracking issues, and any number of other problems could arise without warning. One missed key issue can be even more detrimental than a bad first impression; it’s humiliating for us and the rapport we’ve built up can be completely destroyed if the issue is large enough.
Exceptional service doesn’t stop because our relationship with the dealer doesn’t stop. When they succeed, we succeed. When all is well, we share in their joy. When trouble comes, we share their urgency. Whether our roles are proactive or reactive, customer-facing or behind-the-scenes, we all have a responsibility to set the standard of service for the industry.