The Bible is the source of the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12). The Platinum Rule is the reality of customer expectations in the 21st Century: “treat others the way they want to be treated.”
The spawn of a hundred different automotive marketing entities in the past 10 years is proof that all automotive customers are not being treated as they want to be treated, in terms of selection, negotiation, financing, delivery, and follow-up. And obviously, the investment community is in sync with hundreds of millions in funding for scores of entrepreneurs who claim to know the secret of how customers really ‘want to be treated.’
The good news for traditional automobile dealerships is, they are still in the driver’s seat. State franchise laws have given some cover to new vehicle dealers, and in most cases, customers still show a preference for used vehicle purchases from new car dealerships, primarily because of experience, service, trust and brand loyalty. But that is changing, as makers like Tesla make advances in direct selling, and increasing consumer confidence in the overall quality of used vehicles, coupled with professionally branded used vehicle superstores erode used sales at new vehicle dealerships.
The even better news for traditional automobile dealerships is they are well positioned to meet the challenge of every competitive faction if they do five things:
Listen to your customers…Both internal and external.
Your employees are your internal customers. You’ll be amazed at how much they can help you improve your operation and your bottom if you just find a way to engage them and listen. Your external customers will be happy to tell you how they want to be treated if you engage them on a personal level, listen to their ideas, and those thoughts with your team. My friend Ted sells several hundred Hyundais every month. He and three of his managers, each call at least five customers a week to discuss their experience, asking if their expectations were met and how they might improve. They don’t use Survey Monkey, they don’t let an outside service call and they don’t send a form letter. They call, often in the evening when they know the customers are home. The owner also spends at least two hours a week talking with customers in the in the service lounge, often inviting them for lunch. That, my friends, is LISTENING.
Understand your competition!
Anything that True Car, or Fair, or Carvana, or Car Lotz or Swap Lease or any other automotive entity can do, you are in the best position of all to do it better. Not everyone wants to buy a car online and have it delivered to their door, but if they do, why can’t you do that? Of course you can! If a customer wants to consign his or her car, why can’t you do that? Have you taken a look at Car Lotz website? Is there anything they offer that you can’t do better? And who has the better, most trusted proven brand in your marketplace… you or a new entry? They won’t eat your lunch if you don’t let them.
Treat your internal customers like you would your best external customer.
Your team is your greatest marketing asset. You want a good attitude and people who are actually happy with what they are doing and feel like their life is on the right track. A substantial part of your marketing focus should be treating your team the way they want to be treated. Ironically, that often means a more disciplined atmosphere and more and better training. But you’ll never know unless you ask.
Advertising and marketing are all about communication. In the last 20 years, those efforts have become much more interactive, allowing the chance for the potential buyer to not only listen but to talk back and ask questions. The Internet has opened up unlimited research opportunities for customers. While some dealers only see the information age as a decline in grosses, others understand the best customer is the most informed customer. The best customer is also the most engaged customer. Whether you bring a customer in your communication sphere through a digital ad, a radio or TV ad, a letter or an email, the process needs to be refined at every stage. There’s nothing worse than sending a form letter to a customer who has asked for specific vehicle information. At some point, the communication becomes direct and personal, with a choice BY THE CUSTOMER of how they want to pursue that communication, whether it be text, phone or email, with consideration of THEIR schedule and THEIR timing.
The total experience.
I shared some thoughts on experiential marketing in last month’s column, and if you missed it, or would like a copy, email me and I’ll send it along. Now, more than ever, in virtually every demographic and sociographic identity, the total experience is critical to closing a deal, gross, overall satisfaction and brand loyalty (being your brand…not the factory). You need to look at your operation through the eyes of the customer. How do they perceive the treatment? Consider your signage, vehicle display, directions, showroom, greeting, lighting, background music/noise, overall cleanliness, the comfort of furniture, etc.
A Chevy dealer friend of mine has a ‘ladies day inspection’ several times a year. He invites the spouses of six male employees to visit the dealership and rate their experience on a form which becomes the basis for a facilities meeting that has generated a lot of improvements.
One idea that resulted from this was to put a button on the wall of customer restrooms with a sign that says, “We take pride in keeping our restrooms in excellent condition. If you think the room needs service, please press this button.” The buttons light up at the receptionist so the restrooms are kept spotless without constant inspections throughout the day. But at the end of the day, nothing is more important than the perception of a welcoming ‘feeling’ by the customer and recognition of their importance and appreciation of their choice to shop the dealership.
Author: Jim Boldebook
JIM BOLDEBOOK is Founder of CBC Automotive Marketing, an advertising/marketing agency working with some of America’s most successful dealerships. He has been in the broadcasting, advertising and marketing fields for almost 50 years. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org