Automotive manufacturers have been sending out customer satisfaction surveys to vehicle owners for decades. These “How did we do?” questionnaires fill thousands of mailboxes every day. After I bought my last SUV, I received three of them: one wanted to know about my buying experience and the two others asked me to evaluate my latest service visit.
No doubt these surveys have made dealerships more aware of customer perception. No doubt they have lead to improvements. No doubt they reveal weaknesses and give managers insight on how to be better mentors and coaches. But has this mountain of data really brought about lasting change at the dealership level? I’m talking about the kind of change that causes the customer to take notice and view dealerships in a more favorable light.
Unfortunately, recent studies commissioned by DriverSide and conducted by Kelton Research show that dealerships still have a long way to go (see pie chart). Let’s look at three key areas and see what the data reveals.
When vehicle owners were asked which service providers would produce the highest quality repair work, only 40% said dealerships. Almost two out of three said locally owned repair centers and light repair centers would do a better job than dealership service departments. How can that be? You have factory trained technicians with expensive tools, the latest technology available to diagnose every issue, state of the art OEM parts, and an extensive database of technical service bulletins; yet, most people believe the corner garage will do a better job.
Action point: I would suggest you post photos and credentials of each one of your technicians. Place it in a high traffic area and include years of service. Do the same thing for your advisors and parts personnel. Make it a thing of beauty, a showcase of excellence. At the top of the display, engrave something like “Over 750 Years of Automotive Excellence!”
Keep it current and update it as personnel changes occur. Don’t forget to post it on your website, also. You’ve spent your entire career assembling a top-notch team of automotive professionals, now it’s time to crow about it!
Value for the money
The Kelton Research study found dealerships scored the worst in the area of perceived value. Survey results showed 75% of vehicle owners believe they get more value for their money at an independent garage. Let me be quick to remind you there is a difference between value and price. Value is the combination of several factors: quality, convenience, customer service, price, professionalism, etc.
I took my daughter’s 2009 Trailblazer to a local tire store just to test this “price vs. value” theory. A plain, no frills oil change was almost 50 bucks! My local Chevrolet dealer advertises $19.95 oil changes all year long.
You know this already, but I’m going to say it anyway: dealership services are very competitively priced and are loaded with value. So why do we have this value perception issue? One reason is because people often do their oil changes and preventive maintenance at fast lubes and independent garages. They only come to the dealership for catastrophic failure, which requires highly specialized technicians and OEM parts. Translation: It costs a lot of money.
Action point: Since preventive maintenance is always cheaper than catastrophic repair, you should put a major emphasis on selling maintenance services. This spreads out the cost of ownership over the life of the vehicle. I’ve actually heard people at the cashier’s window say, “Every time I come here it’s over $700; my goodness, you people are expensive!” For example, investing $85 in a brake fluid exchange service is a lot more pleasant than $1,000 for an ABS module.
I would highly recommend you make a simple “Scheduled Maintenance Service” card that lists about a dozen of your basic services such as tire rotation, fluid exchange services, and fuel injector cleaning. Give this to every customer, every time. This card becomes part of your overall consumer education strategy to change the value perception issue.
“I’m just a number!” That’s how most people perceive dealership service departments. Seven out of ten people surveyed said they believe independent service centers are most likely to develop ongoing relationships with them. It’s no secret that people want to do business with people that they like. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Let’s compare your dealership to the service centers within a 10-mile radius of your service department. Your facility is more accessible, cleaner, newer and has better lighting. Your Wi-Fi is faster, your magazines are more current, your TV screens are flatter and your coffee is fresher. You have online scheduling, express drop off, Saturday service hours and clean customer shuttles. Yet 74% of the buying public likes the competition better!
Action point: See to it that all your personnel are well trained in basic people skills. Frankly, this is the stuff we learned at mothers’ knee. Greet people with a smile, look them in the eye, say please and thank you, listen when they speak and act like you genuinely care. Have your advisors slow down long enough to build rapport with each customer. If your advisors are seeing more than 18 customers a day, it may be time to hire another advisor (some experts say 15 customers are too many). Another advantage to seeing less cars per day is that it lets the advisor dig deeper in the discovery phase of the write-up, thus leaving less money on the table.
In summary, you are not a helpless victim of a misunderstood industry. No, my friend, you have the ability to implement all of these action points and be victorious over the circumstances.
You may not be able to change the perception of the entire dealership network, but you can change the perception of your dealership in the eyes of your precious customers!
Take the time to e-mail me and tell me about your success. I really care and I can’t wait to hear from you. My personal thanks to Michael Moskowitz and the research professionals at DriverSide for letting me use their data. If you would like more information, you can visit their web site at www.driverside.com.