A college buddy of mine relocated to the Deep South many years ago. We’ve stayed in touch with each other and in a recent phone conversation he was telling me about his car-buying experience earlier this spring.
Let me tell you at the outset that he is not a gear-head, a car guy, nor a dealership aficionado. He’s just a typical customer that buys a new car about every ten to twelve years.
In short, the overall buying experience was excellent. The salesman was a ten-year veteran of the dealership, he found just the vehicle that my friend wanted, and the manufacturer incentives made the selling price attractive.
The delivery process was informative and frankly, exciting—the vehicle’s connectivity, multi-media accessibility, and creature comforts blew him away. He and his wife took delivery during their vacation, so they were unhurried and treated the delivery like a date. Their thinking was, “Hey, if we’re gonna spend $50,000 then we want to enjoy the experience and live in the moment!” This was only their third new car in over 30 years or marriage, so why not make the most of it?
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but just a gentle reminder for those of you that “live at the dealership”: buying a new car is a big deal for most Americans. It is an event. It is a milestone.
The salesman did a seamless handoff to the F&I sales person, whose presentation was informative and not pushy. They were given options and choices in a non-threatening, open environment.
They drove off the lot feeling awesome with a car that looked great, smelled fabulous, ran quietly, and practically drove itself. And they all lived happily ever after! Ah, life is good.
Good for everyone except the technicians, good for everyone except the service advisors, good for everyone except the parts guys. Good for everyone except the service manager and parts manager. None of these people will ever see my friend unless he has some type of vehicle failure that’s covered under warranty.
Good for everyone except the general manager and the dealer principal. They’ll never make any money off my friend because new-car gross is very low (or even sometimes results in a loss).
Good for everyone except the general sales manager and the sales staff. They’ll never get a chance to sell my friend another car; chances are they’ll never even see him again!
Why does everybody at the dealership lose? Because my friend never got introduced to anyone in the service department! He wasn’t taken to the service drive, didn’t meet a service advisor, wasn’t shown how to approach the service drive, wasn’t instructed where to go for quick-service…I think you get the idea.
Furthermore, he wasn’t taught the value of factory-certified technicians, factory-manufactured parts, or specialized lubricants and fluids only available at the dealership. Nope, there was none of that kind of talk.
There are going to be somewhere around 17 million new cars sold this year. I’m guessing that most of them get delivered just like my friend got his delivered—with no sales-to-service handoff. Most new car sales department personnel leave it to fate as to whether the customer ever finds his way back to the service department…ever.
So who is the biggest loser in this oft-repeated story? The customer! He may never get to experience the peace of mind knowing his vehicle was serviced by a factory-trained technician. He may suffer the pain and expense of catastrophic component failure because he didn’t have access to the wise advice of a factory-trained service consultant. He may even abandon the brand because he’s “had nothing but trouble with this car since the warranty expired”… caused by a lack of maintenance… caused by a lack of being informed about maintenance…caused by having a new car salesman who didn’t take the time to introduce him to the service department!
So why am I making such a big deal about this? Because it’s a big deal!
That’s why an AutoMD survey a few years ago showed an astounding 83% of respondents said they would not have chosen the dealership for service if their vehicle hadn’t been under warranty! These were folks who were in the dealership database as active service customers. This was not just some random survey. Think about that. Basically, 8 out of 10 people are saying when the warranty expires, they are running from the dealership as fast as they can. Ouch.
Furthermore, 67% said they have more confidence in the ability of independent garages to fix their cars than dealerships. That is just wrong. (Oh, I’m not doubting AutoMD’s survey; I’m just saying, how did dealership let this perception creep into the collective mindset of so many consumers?)
It starts at the point of new-vehicle delivery. That’s the best time to get consumers trained about the importance of world-class preventive maintenance that only your service team can provide. Your technicians are the best and customers will experience the greatest driving pleasure if they follow the advice of your technicians—right from the start.
Here are some quick action points for you to consider implementing:
- Make sure there is at least one representative of the service department at the dealership whenever the sales department is open—including evenings and weekends. (Okay, I just heard a collective groan from 17,000 service departments across the country…but folks, this is important.)
- Tie the new car commission to the sales-to-service handoff. No handoff, no commission. If that’s too radical, then withhold $100 of their commission if they omit the handoff. (Concerning verification, you’ll come up with some way to verify compliance. Why not involve your sales staff in designing an accountability strategy?)
- Train the advisors what to do when they are introduced to the new car buyer. For example: setting the first appointment, presenting the owners’ manual to the customer, explaining the service reception check-in process, giving them a service menu, etc.
- Explain to all dealership personnel the vital link between sales and service. The sales department sells the first car, the service department sells the second car. You are all in this together—sink or swim—it’s a team commitment.
- Apply all of the above to used car buyers, also. These folks are notoriously disloyal to dealerships and need a clear introduction to your service team and a clear invitation to have their cars serviced at your shop. This is especially true if they bought a used car from you with a different brand. They will never come back unless you let them know you service all makes and models—and remind them they’re part of “the family.”
My thanks to Steve Santospago. He wrote an article in an automotive publication about a year ago where he referred to the AutoMD survey and it inspired me to research the topic in more detail myself. You can check out AutoMD and their wealth of industry information and surveys at www.automd.com. It’s good stuff.
Author: Charlie Polston
Charlie Polston is an Automotive Customer Retention and Profitability Consultant with BG Products, Inc. Charlie has been with BG’s Fixed Operations Division for over 34 years.