According to Harvey Mackay, “Southwest Airlines is successful because the company understands it’s a customer service company. It also happens to be an airline.” While almost every major U.S. airline has declared bankruptcy, Southwest Airlines has generated profits for the past two decades. Customer service and cross training are the two key factors. In the automotive retail industry, we have seriously improved customer service with CRM technology. One of the places we have ignored is the accounting office. They still rely on the DMS system for their only technology and get very little CRM training. How can you use training and technology to improve customer service in your accounting office?
Let’s start with cross training. When a Southwest plane is running late, you’ll find flight attendants cleaning the plane, ground crew checking in customers, and gate agents lugging oversized baggage. In contrast, if you walk into a dealership accounting office and have a question about payoff on a trade-in, a typical response can be “you have to wait for Betty to get back from lunch.” A dealership accounting office often lacks staff or resources to help our number one customers; the other employees.
Each moment that a salesperson or technician is in the accounting office waiting, is time they are not fixing or selling cars! What about when a real customer calls? At a customer service phone training course that I attended, the instructor turned off the lights and said, “please hold.” She asked us to stand up when it had been too long. After only 20 seconds, she turned back on the lights and every attendee was standing. It is not uncommon for an accounting office to put a customer on hold for 2-3 minutes while they try to find out when a customer’s plates were mailed.
“How can you use training and technology to improve customer service in your accounting office?”
An easy solution is to hire more office staff and start cross training. Many dealerships can’t afford this, so how can you use technology to provide better customer service? The first step is to look at the tasks that an accounting office must perform and see if they are doing tasks at the best time. There are over 320 tasks to be done (email me if you want a list) and if you tried to do every task every day, you’d never get done.
One factor is frequency; daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. What about some daily reports like the heat sheet, vehicle inventory or DOC; the daily operating control? If your managers are too busy to look at the reports you issue daily, but desperately need them on Wednesday morning before the manager’s meeting, move those daily tasks to weekly or monthly. As a dealer you might say, “I want my managers looking at those reports every day!” But if we’re piling reports on their desk or cluttering their email accounts, that doesn’t mean they will look at them. Why not add these to your DMS dashboard so they see vital information when they log in? For your customers, put notes in an unused field in the F&I deal screens about plates, titles, and payoff info; anything a customer or sales manager asks about.
How do you cross train so there is always a backup person to answer employee and customer questions? You might consider office CRM task software. It enables each clerk to document for training their tasks and other clerks to study those tasks to see if they can learn. Accounting clerks, controllers and office managers can be paid a month-end bonus (if the statement is done on time) based on the skill level of the task and amount of tasks they are the primary or backup person. I can email you a copy of this bonus calculation. If you are a CFO supervising multiple dealerships, you can be notified if one of your dealerships forgets to file the sales tax report today or deposit payroll taxes – before penalties start happening. As a dealer, you can quickly log in from anywhere and answer that question, “Are we doing that?” For controllers and office managers, they can determine if they need more staff, better cross training or merely change the frequency. Training itself is a difficult task to perform, so why not use technology to cross train your staff?
Author: Sandi Jerome
Sandi Jerome is the owner of Sandi Jerome Computer Consulting. Sandi founded DealerStar, a web-based DMS. She is a former CFO, System Administrator, Fixed Operations Manager, and Controller with over 30 years experience in the auto industry.