Every good dealer has a number of ‘Ambassador’ customers. These customers are ‘off the scale’ satisfied and will go out of their way to let the world know how pleased they are with the dealership’s service, attitude, personal attention, and overall value. Then, there’s the handful of dealers who have customers that raise the ‘Ambassador’ bar to an even higher level. I call these customers ‘Passionate Fanatics.’ These are the customers that will not only go out of their way to ‘sell’ your dealership to everyone they meet, these folks will get into a virtual fist fight to defend you against any negative criticism!
Several years ago, I wrote an article on ‘Ambassador’ customers that went over very well with quite a few dealers judging by the feedback and subsequent follow-up conversations regarding the successful implementation of ‘Ambassador’ programs. As I pointed out, these ‘Ambassadors’ are not necessarily the customer that provides you the highest overall gross per sale or even the customer that buys the most vehicles from you, but rather customers whose expectations have been greatly exceeded. Customers who truly love what you do, what you stand for, love their relationship with your business and trust you implicitly, referring everyone they meet to your business.
Identifying ‘Ambassadors’ (and Passionate Fanatics) is a worthwhile marketing investment for every dealer. For starters, ask your team members…not just sales, but every department to help identify ‘our most satisfied…and happiest customers.’ The frontline folks know who is unhappy, who is happy, and who is ‘very happy.’ Reports from initial delivery surveys, unsolicited letters of thanks, phone calls, conversations with service advisors, F&I people, receptionists and even unexpected positive social media posts are all avenues of discovery.
“Customers who truly love what you do, what you stand for, love their relationship with your business and trust you implicitly, referring everyone they meet to your business.”
Several years ago, over dinner with a dealer friend we talked about his internal customer service department. I asked what they did and he told me they were primarily firefighters putting out brush fires with authority, responsibility and budget to try and make folks happy. We discussed the concept of taking some of that budget and doing things for customers who have had issues, but actually ‘like us.’ On analysis, we deduced that approximately 30% of our complaints were from people who would never be happy no matter what we did. 40% were just looking to get a fair solution and 30% were ‘loyalists’ who wanted us to be aware of a problem because they cared about reputation and their relationship without business. By the end of our dinner we decide to put more of that ‘fix’ budget into the ‘loyalists’ bucket. Since that time the dealership has enjoyed higher overall CSI in both internal and factory measurements.
I learned the concept of developing Passionate Fanatics when I owned a restaurant several decades ago. I found that no matter what I did for some customers who complained, I could never win them over. I had to let them go. But I found that when I did something special for a regular customer who often expressed satisfaction, came to my restaurant on a regular basis, brought friends and gave gift certificates, my actions of gratitude would win our business even greater loyalty. These Passionate Fanatic customers loved us, wanted us to do well and be profitable.
Once I asked a Passionate Fanatic customer why he and his wife were coming in to eat only on Wednesday evenings. His answer blew me away. He said he realized that during the summer months, we had heavy tourist business on weekends and he’d rather dine on a night that would actually help us rather than just building up a longer wait line on a weekend. That’s love, folks.
Imagine if you had a customer come to buy a car from you on a Wednesday morning because he didn’t want to take the time of a salesperson on the business Saturday afternoon…since he knew he was going to buy from you anyway. Here’s something interesting. Many of my ‘Ambassdors’ became ‘Passionate Fanatics’ when they would refer friends to my restaurant and we would subsequently welcome those referred customers with a cocktail on the house.
‘Ambassadors’ might write great reviews for you on DealerRater but a Passionate Fanatic will go out of their way to challenge a negative review even enlisting other friends and customers in the process. Ambassadors will do a great job on a customer testimonial for your advertising, but a Passionate Fanatic will ‘sell’ you with ‘from the heart’ passion you can’t write a script for. And speaking of taping customer testimonials, line up some of your Passionate Fanatic customers, turn on the camera and watch what they say. It will be the best advertising you will ever create to tell your story.
A Ford dealer friend in the Northeast has a list of about 300 customers he labels his V.I.P. Ambassadors. Several times a year he holds special events to honor them. Often he will buy tickets for all of these customers to a spring flower show. Several times he has hired a hall and a popular local band for an ‘Oldies but Goodies’ dance night offering free admission for his VIPers, and a cash bar that benefits the local Kiwanis.
In the Midwest a Lincoln dealer offers free windshield wiper inserts to his VIP list every year. Installed by salespeople at a special barbeque-welcoming event.
Some dealers are now experimenting with bar-coded/proximity labels that notify the dealership when the vehicle is on the dealership property. Everyone loves being appreciated. Imagine how your ‘Ambassador Customer’ would feel if the little gold window sticker on the back window initiated a personal greeting from someone at the dealership, especially in the service lane. And imagine the additional sales opportunities.
Sometimes it is nothing more than just a simple recognition and formal Thank You to the people who love you the most as demonstrated by their loyalty, their good words and their trust. Recognizing the marketing power of your very best customers may help you grow your business and your bottom line in ways you can’t even imagine. Because it will create a positive atmosphere of service in all departments by all team members. My friend Bert Boeckmann, one of the greatest dealers in automotive history says: “It’s always the same basic thing, treat customers right. Always have a servant’s attitude. If not, please go work for my competitors.”
In closing, I’d like to wish you and your family a blessed holiday season, and a spectacularly successful 2017!
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