I have always enjoyed training salespeople, in particular car salespeople and financial advisors. Both industries have a common thread. They are both male dominated businesses. Both industries have a poor recruitment record when it comes to hiring and retaining women and diverse candidates as well. But here’s the business case for change: businesses with more women in sales, service and management tend to be more successful from a profitability standpoint as well as from the customer’s viewpoint.
So, if you want to sell more, build customer loyalty and drive referrals, then you need to evaluate your culture. Without the right culture your foundation for success in this new economy is shaky.
As a consumer science expert, each dealership I enter I view as a Petri dish. Remember your biology 101 class where we grew cultures? Your dealership experience is a direct result of the culture your leadership bred. Culture can be defined as how the staff behaves when leadership is not present. It’s what is fermented into the fabric of expectations and behavior as a result. It’s what makes women (and men too!) either immediately comfortable or on guard. It’s what will eventually lead her to tell a friend or two or inspire her to come back for services.
The culture you create is what resonates in every touch point to the customer and beyond your control. It’s the key to negating negative stereotypes and differentiating your dealer from the competition. It’s what your customers will come to expect each and every time they visit and what they will grow to trust enough to refer a friend.
Culture starts with a commitment to creating a great place to work and do business. Happy employees are far more likely to make customers happy, so hiring people who possess the qualities that are in line with your vision is critical. If you’re an owner or GM ask yourself this: if your team is capable or eager to deliver the experience you envision for your dealership. If so, you have the making of an extraordinary culture and one that needs to be nurtured. No matter how successful a dealership, there is lots of room for improvement, especially in the hiring process.
I typically recommend that dealers look outside their industry to hire. Consider those who had years of training in the hospitality industry. Have we forgotten that dealerships are in the service business? Or consider teachers. They have excellent listening skills and are adept at reading situations and empowering customers through an educational sales approach. And how about people who work for high end retail department stores like Nordstrom? They are trained well and conditioned to put the customer first. And they are used to retail hours, which are typically far more grueling than dealer hours.
My daughter’s mother-in-law is the men’s department manager at Nordstrom. Her day starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 10:30 p.m. on a good day, and she typically works six days a week and almost every holiday. Her department does exceptionally well and she attributes it to the team she built, their extraordinary customer service and their attention to the little things they do to delight their clientele. She’s a catch! But she is not uncommon in retail.
I’ve trained at hundreds of dealerships, which has allowed me to make hundreds of observations. And what I am about to describe is what I have come to consider a cultural norm at dealerships. A woman walks into the showroom, and the greeter glances as she enters, but is preoccupied handling incoming calls. There are a number of sales associates at their desks, but one is looking down at his paperwork, another is eying his computer, the other is on the phone and another is eating a candy bar discreetly. An F&I person drifts through the showroom, eyes focused on his destination. Minutes go by and the woman remains invisible, her sense of discomfort grows and she starts to wander toward the greeter as her attempts to make eye contact with the sales team was unsuccessful. Every deep seated stereotype is being reinforced and she is starting to consider leaving.
I ask you to walk in the shoes of your customers so you can determine firsthand the culture and protocol and how it reflects the culture you aspire to create, for both the customer and employee. Here’s a simple way to rate the cultural experience from your customer’s viewpoint:
1) Shared values: Do you demonstrate to her that your culture and your personal life fits with hers?
2) Taking ownership: Do you quickly acknowledge her presence and show appreciation for her business?
3) Collective responsibility: Are you quick to step in to make certain any customer in your area has been given some personal attention, even if it is not relevant to your role in the dealership?
So I challenge you to take a good hard look at your culture and ask yourself if it’s what it needs to be to attract female customers and employees. Remember it’s never too late to change. Like bacteria in a Petri dish, it can grow or die in the right environment.
P.S. Have you entered your dealership in the search for the Top Dealerships in America for Outstanding Customer Experience? If not, go ahead and register today, what you learn will be invaluable! www.womencertified.com/topdealerships