Today’s consumers are fickle and more demanding than ever. Why wouldn’t they be – they have countless service and product providers fighting over their limited spend in an environment that has never been shy to remind them that the customer is king.  To top it off, customer loyalty is more fragile than ever as consumer choices have increased.

For the automotive industry, the brittle landscape of consumer loyalty has dealership professionals living on the edge of calamity.  One misstep could see a longtime customer defecting to a competitor – and the consumer will not lose a second of sleep in the process.

Currently, dealership profits are dropping in sales; and service is forecast to take an even larger role in a dealership’s bottom line. Therefore, customer retention becomes much more of a priority. To thrive, it is critical to a dealership’s long-term success to retain a loyal customer base – that means providing a great customer experience. Keep in mind, however, that having a loyal customer and retaining it are two very different things.

Just because a consumer continues to come in, doesn’t mean they are loyal. Your dealership could just be convenient… until it isn’t convenient any longer. Whereas, a loyal customer would continue to do business with you — even when it becomes inconvenient.

What steps can you take to ensure that your customers are loyal and continue to frequent your dealership for their future service and car buying needs?  And, taking it a step further – what creates the kind of loyalty that gets these more-than-satisfied customers to turn into “brand advocates?”  Those that sing your praises to friends, family members, social media circles and just about anyone in their circle of influence who happens to be searching for a trusted dealership?

Of course, the foundation to earning customer loyalty is a great customer experience. Store leadership should cultivate a culture where a great customer experience is not simply a goal, but an expectation. However, you can’t simply mandate that employees provide a great customer experience — even though you may think that mandating great service is that easy.

Why can’t you just wave your almighty arm and demand that employees deliver great service or architect it through well-thought out processes that promote great service? Because, for a customer experience to not only be great, but consistently great, each employee needs to buy into the culture and own every interaction.

When employee mentally transitions from customer experience as an expectation, to customer experience as their personal responsibility, customer visits become more meaningful. The formula for great service really can’t be defined by processes, because every interaction is different, every consumer’s expectation is unique.

The only consistent variable is that great service is frequently perceived as very “personal” to the consumer.  That’s what elevates common courtesy to a higher level of individual care – UNcommon courtesy!

Most customers can look at a dealership staff member that’s helping them and gauge if they’re sincere in their service — or if they are just “doing their job,” simply carrying out orders.  What about when someone is having a bad day? It happens… and customers know.

But wait! There’s more!

It’s not enough to get employees to own the guest experience. They must also be empowered to fix problems when they occur. There is nothing more frustrating to an engaged employee attempting to fix a customer service problem than having no power to do anything about it.

Top brands such as Disney, Zappos, Apple, Ritz-Carlton, etc., understand this. That’s why they are leaders in the customer experience arena; and why they have been able to stand as pillars of customer loyalty.  They have earned that reputation, despite being enormous companies where the personal” in personalized service can easily blend into the backdrop.

Step back from your dealership for just a minute and become a customer. Is your dealership customer experience as good as you think it is? Would you be happy and eager to continue the relationship if you were a customer?  How would your dealership add up if you went incognito for the television show “Undercover Boss?”

You might find be surprised by what you find. Don’t stop there. Ask your customers the same questions. I guarantee you will be surprised by the answers. Challenge yourself to look at other industries and determine whether some practices could successfully be adapted to the automotive environment.  Typically, the organizations with the strongest customer service profile are those that also treat their employees exceptionally.  In other words, look beyond programs and processes – it’s about culture.

The good news is that earning customer loyalty may not be all that difficult. Rightly or wrongly, our industry has such a horrible public perception that, if you take a few simple steps to ensure a great customer experience, while also empowering employees to fix problems on their own, you will find customers easily “wowed” and eager to return.

Start your customer experience initiative now. Get your entire staff engaged with each owning the guest experience. Empower them individually to fix problems and you’ll be well on your way to earning that loyal customer base that is so important, not only for the present, but also for the future of the dealership.

Author: Chris Miller

Chris Miller is President of Recall Masters, a leading provider of automotive recall news, data, training, and communications. Privately held and based in the San Francisco Bay area, the company is dedicated to helping automakers and their dealers expedite the repair of recalled vehicles and make the roadways safer for everyone. Christopher has more than 17 years of experience building software to automate marketing communications. He has worked with marquee brands including HSBC/Household Automotive, Washington Mutual, Residential Pacific Mortgage, ServiceMagic, Monumental Life Insurance, Mercedes Benz USA, BMW/Mini North America, Volvo North America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Moxy Solutions, and Costco Automotive Group.

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