Recently, I wrote a blog article about Disney’s approach to customer service that was received with much enthusiasm. I’m personally a fan of Disney business practices and strategies and have attended their programs. I also encourage all of my employees to study their materials and have integrated their culture into MPi.
The reason is simple. Disney is beloved by the world – not just by fans but also by their employees. This “circle of life” takes many things to happen right for it to continue and grow. Employees must buy into their philosophy and put it into practice consistently which, in turn, makes the customer experience exemplary. This perpetuates not only keeping current brand evangelists but in creating new ones.
The core of Disney’s philosophy is, at its very basic level, that businesses are a show. They don’t have employees; they have cast members. These cast members are on stage every time they come to work. Bad days and personal problems are left at the door. One very powerful tenet they teach in their book, “Disney U: How Disney University Develops the World’s Most Engaged, Loyal, and Customer-Centric Employees”, is that “the combination of friendliness and a compelling product or service is a powerful competitive differentiator.” Neither one by itself is sufficient.
Walt Disney’s philosophy is that the “best is never the best.” Everything must work in harmony and everything can be improved upon. Walt was always in-tune with what was going on at Disneyland. He frequently walked the park and interacted with guests and cast members to see how their experience was and if they’d encountered anything that was a challenge or made their day less magical. Does your management team do this? Whether it’s the dealer himself, the general manager or any of your management staff, one of the most valuable things you can do is to walk your dealership. Interact with employees and guests, say “hello” and see how their experience is going. Look for positive experiences that can be used as examples and pay even closer attention to negative experiences that give you the opportunity to improve.
Consistency in your operations is key to maintaining an exemplary customer experience. As their program teaches “be willing to change or be willing to perish.” Having an established, consistent training program and enforced policies based on those teachings is one key. Are your employees following your dress code? Are they bringing their baggage to work? Are your employees empowered to make changes or fix problems or do they have to wait for direction from management? Is there a member of your management team in charge of maintaining this training program and are you making sure management is enforcing the policies you adopt? Disney’s customer experience is anchored in their employee training, buy-in, willingness and understanding of their expectations. Without employees becoming actors on a stage while at work, customers won’t experience the “magic” and the whole house of cards crumbles.
Disney understood that businesses, in general, would encounter ups and downs coinciding with the economy. His experience in business taught him that many organizations, when confronted with hard times, have to start making budget cuts and one of the first programs cut typically involves training. The auto industry is no exception. In the last 5 years, we’ve gone through some very steep ups and downs with the economy. Dealerships are constantly cutting programs during rough times and adding services as business improves. Disney had five basic questions a business should ask itself when confronted with a downturn in business.
- How do you do more with less?
- How do you keep employees engaged and motivated?
- What can you do to reduce employee turnover?
- How can you improve customer service?
- How can you differentiate yourself from your competition?
According to Disney’s training, “differentiation is the ultimate goal: how to stand out as the employer of choice, vendor of choice, service provider of choice – the whatever of choice.” Simply developing a superior product is not sufficient anymore.
Customers have many choices today in regards to their vehicle purchase. The market is saturated with same brand dealerships, every dealership sells used vehicles, and customers have even more choices in regards to service. In the eyes of a consumer, an oil change is the same no matter where they go. How can you create a culture and atmosphere that differentiates your dealership then?
The first step is identifying the right people to join your team. These people are not necessarily the most experienced at sales or service, for that matter. These are people that have positive attitudes and are willing to learn and buy-in to your philosophy. As an aside, one of the most creative practices I’ve heard of is one that Zappos, which is also known for exemplary customer service, has adopted. Week one into their four-week training program new hires are presented with “The Offer” which is “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you have worked, plus a $2,000 bonus.” Per Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO, only 2% to 3% of people take the offer, the other 97% say no, they choose the job over the instant cash. If someone is willing to take them up on the offer, they know immediately that that candidate is only interested in the position for money. In the car industry, in general, this desire for money is seen as an attractive quality in a candidate. Most sales managers interviewing a candidate love it when the candidate’s goal is to make a ton of money. While I certainly understand why, especially when it comes to the sales department, that answer in itself should not dictate the hiring decision.
Once you’ve identified and hired a new employee, the first thing that you should do is orient them to your dealership and have them complete your own version of a Disney Institute. This training program should include making sure they understand the mission of the company, the importance of creating that magical customer experience, what their roles in that experience are and what your expectations of them in contributing to that experience are, as well as the consequences for not contributing to that.
Good businesses recognize that there is a significant cost in bringing on a new employee versus keeping existing employees happy. This is also true when it comes to new customer acquisition versus customer retention. Following these proven practices, you not only position your company to differentiate itself from your competition but decrease an unnecessary expense.