Last month in the December 2011 issue of Digital Dealer magazine, I wrote a column titled “Building Trust Online is an Entire Dealership Effort.” There is more that needs to be brought to light around this concept. The premise of the article was twofold. First, the job of building trust doesn’t belong to one department, it belongs to everyone. Given the widespread use by prospective customers of various rating websites and the fact that customers interact with various dealership personnel, any one could influence a new customer. The second premise was that building trust online requires total buy-in to a culture of customer satisfaction embedded in the dealership.
In some dealerships, the culture is “winner takes all.” It is a shortsighted approach to grab a deal at all costs, whatever it takes to achieve sales or service numbers. I’m not just talking about pricing. Although pricing is crucial, due to the competitive market and how aware customers are of pricing information and special incentives, it is important to have complete disclosure with car shoppers. Dealership staff should steer away from incomplete or ambiguous answers to customer questions in order to make a sale. In other words, don’t get the customer to say “yes” now, and then deal with the devil after the car is delivered or serviced. This type of approach, although less prevalent than years before, still exists and brings with it a myriad of costly issues, including potential legal ramifications, less referral business, lower CSI, higher costs for employee retention and high employee turnover. Sooner or later it becomes uncomfortable for ethical sales personnel to be forced to treat customers in a manner that go against their values, forcing some of them to move toward a new job.
On the other hand, other dealerships function under the opposite culture. These dealerships host an atmosphere where anything within reason is acceptable to ensure, regardless of the issue, all customers leave feeling they were listened to, understood, respected and responded to in such a way that it is impossible for them to feel anything but valued, translating into a long-term relationships. In this type of dealership, the benefits extend far beyond having another satisfied customer eager to sing your praises.
In these dealerships, employees are excited to come to work and have a chance to share the benefits of doing business here with the next customer. These employees are proud to announce in public where they work because they are sure of the dealership’s positive reputation in the community. They are given latitude to do the right thing, foster ongoing long-term relationships and are more likely to follow-up with past customers to drive future business. In this type of dealership salespeople don’t fear answering the phone because it “might be another fire to put out,” but are excited because it’s more likely a past customer calling to make another car purchase because of their positive past experience. I have been fortunate to have lived in this dealership and witnessed salespeople staying for their entire career with customers dropping in just to see “friends” and have a cup of coffee.
The question really boils down to “which dealership are we” or “are we sometimes one and sometimes the other?” The question needs to be asked and truthfully answered before you can possibly begin to build and translate “trust” online. It must start within the dealership walls and lived by all employees. Remember that 80% of today’s car shoppers are being influenced by the experience of others before they meet your dealership’s sales team.