10 Powerful Lessons on Customer Service-From a Car Dealer?

by Howard Litwak

As a Certified Business Coach, Howard specializes in helping Business Owners, Executives, and Managers Improve their ability to set and achieve goals, develop success oriented thinking and habits and refines their skills. He believes that success in business is driven by individuals and teams who have the right combination of these things. Howard has clients that span across 30 different industries. When you meet him, you'll immediately see why he has been so successful across so many business sectors. He mixes big picture thinking, with practical, results oriented actions, and an ability to challenge peoples thinking in a positive way so that they can take different actions. And he is pretty fun to be around. Howard's approach pays rich dividends for clients who put a premium on professional competence, continuous improvement, being the best that they can for themselves and their customers, and will do what it takes to break out of the "status quo."

"The purpose of all business is to attract and maintain customers." Peter Drucker

"There are only two roles, regardless of business or industry:

  1. Serve your customers to the best of your ability
  2. Prepare to serve your customers to the best of your ability"

Ray Overdorff

It's hard to argue with either of these statements. Yet this is exactly where many businesses drop the ball. Wouldn't you agree that poor to mediocre service is the norm these days? You probably need not look any further than your own recent experiences to know this is true.

Positive customer experiences are so few and far between that when you deliver one, people remember. Let's call this competitive advantage, shall we?

That advantage starts with the stories your customers tell about you and your business. Your people create those stories- the customer simply retells them. How the story is told is up to the customer but the content is up to you and your organization.

Think about buying a new car. When you park it in your driveway, your neighbor is going to ask where you got it. That conversation is going to happen. The question every business should answer is "Is that conversation going to happen in a way that we purposefully design?"

Have you ever asked yourself what stories YOU and YOUR PEOPLE are creating? Maybe you should!

My wife and I just had an amazing customer experience with a car dealer, Toyota of Clifton Park. This is significant because we all have preconceived notions of how that transaction is supposed to go, right?

There are some powerful lessons here you may be able to apply to your own business.

My wife wanted another Rav4 after three years. "Happy wife, happy life" as they say. We decided to take a look at the newly remodeled car while we were in for service at the dealership we purchased the first one because we had been having good experiences with them over the last few years.

LESSON 1: Building customer loyalty is a continuous process

The dealership had been completely remodeled during the last few years. As we pulled into the lot, it was attractive. Everything was in order, and it was clean and appealing. This ensured the experience began on the right note at each visit.

LESSON 2: Customer Experience encompasses the physical aspect of your store and not just the human interaction

As we wandered the showroom looking for the new RAV, Josh greeted us in a friendly way. We told him we were in for service, and that our lease was up in 6 months or so. We were told the new RAVs were expected in a few weeks. Josh expressed his enthusiasm for the new style and said he would keep in touch.

LESSON 3: Enthusiasm sells!

Soon after, we saw a new RAV on the road and decided to stop back in to see if they were on the lot. Josh was genuinely glad to see us. This simply cannot be faked.

LESSON 4: It helps if you hire genuinely nice people!

We took a ride and liked the new car. We talked about timing. As we still had about five months left on our lease, we all agreed it made economic sense to wait a few months at least before doing anything. We got no pressure from Josh. The numbers just wouldn't work and he knew that. He also seemed to understand that if he didn't push and kept in touch that he had a good chance at earning our business because our lease was expiring soon. Let's call that an active need, shall we?

LESSON 5: "People love to buy, but they hate to be sold." Linda Martin

We stopped back maybe 45 days after that to check on lease specials. (Talk about showing buying signs.) The timing still wasn't right. Again, Josh said he would call us. A month later we got a call from him saying that the lease programs had gotten much better and that we should call him.

LESSON 6: Effective customer touches are critical to the sales process.

We decided to just stop in a few days later on a Saturday. It's important to note that every time we drove up to the lot it was clean (almost immaculate), new looking, and freshly landscaped. In other words: Inviting. All of the models were parked together so it was easy for us to find the RAV line. In other words: convenient.

LESSON 7: Make it easy for your customer's to buy from you

We knew the trim level we wanted, looked at available colors and settled on a specific car. As we pulled up to the showroom, Josh came out to greet us with a big smile and handshakes. But we weren't going to buy unless the deal was so good we couldn't pass it up. That's the way this game gets played, right? We got right down to the numbers. The new payment was lower than when the car first came out but still more than we were currently paying. The conversation was low pressure, like talking to a friend. "What makes sense here?" Josh asked. "If you wait, the lease deal might change but you won't have the payments left on your car. It's a chance." I was pretty clear that I don't like to just throw money away. We'd wait. After a talk with the sales manager, the deal got a lot more attractive. Okay, we were getting closer. I had one more sticking point. The lease turn-in was not in perfect shape. I wanted to make sure we didn't get a turn in bill from Toyota. Josh took care of that, and the deal was done.

LESSON 8: People buy from, and recommend, people they like and trust

As we were filling out the paperwork, I asked my wife where she wanted to go for lunch. "Want to get a pizza?" Josh said, "Oh you like pizza? We'll have a pizza for you at your delivery Monday night." What? I've done quite a few car deals over the years. I have never had anybody offer to buy a pizza for dinner. WOW!

LESSON 9: A "WOW!" experience is the story you want your customers telling about you

Our experience was so exceptional that I decided to talk to GM Michael Raucci. He was happy to talk with me. I found out there are several principles he consistently follows and they have tripled his business during the last seven years, from delivering 60 cars per month to 180. They are simple, common sense, and powerful. I believe that success leaves clues. See if you can find a few. Raucci told me he believes that if you do the right thing by your customer, you don't have to worry about anything else, "Whatever we need to do to accommodate our customers, we do," he said. This culture of doing the right thing by the customer has proven so powerful that Raucci does no advertising. The dealership gets new business from word of mouth and repeat customers. "It's all about customer service, following up, and doing meaningful work in the community with various organizations and foundations that we choose to support," Raucci explained.

LESSON 10: You can create competitive advantage by serving the customer to the best of your ability.

Raucci trains his people, from service to sales, that people want to like you and that, if they like you better than the competition, they will most likely do business with you. (See lesson 8.) He has a policy of not hiring anyone with experience in the car business for either sales or service. Everyone he hires needs to have a good attitude, be a good person, want to help people, want to better themselves, and have great customer service skills. Then he trains them the way he wants. He knows that quality performance and quality service starts with a positive attitude. For the last 20 years, Raucci has succeeded by following what his mother told him when he said he was going into the car business. "Don't be a car salesman. Be yourself" "My customers love me. They're like family. We love our customers. We love what we do here. I'm passionate about people. I love it." And it shows in the experience. It certainly was not left to default. Imagine you treated each customer like a member of your family and they rewarded you with being part of your family. (Of course, a little pizza never hurts either!)

If you think there is room for improvement in this area, I challenge you to take these lessons and turn them into action by thinking through the following questions. Implementing customer loyalty strategies are one of Paradigm's areas of expertise, so don't hesitate to contact me! (518-664-5033 or HLitwak@ParadigmAssociates.US)

  • How would you rate your process of building customer loyalty on a scale of 1-10? What would it take to be better?
  • What is your overall customer service philosophy? How effective is it? How consistent are your people at executing it?
  • If you were to map each step of your entire customer experience, what story are you creating for your customers? What do you do well? What do you need to do to improve here?
  • Do you hire for enthusiasm and passion? How do you train and reward for attitude?
  • Rate all of your people who deal directly with customers on a scale of 1-10 for how effective they are in dealing with people. What do you need to do to improve?
  • Are your people selling or helping your customers buy from you?
  • How effective is your organization's follow up system? Do you provide value at every step of the sales process?
  • How can you make it easier for your customers to buy from you?
  • How effective are your people in creating trust? How do you train for this?
  • What is your rewards and recognition system? How does it support the behaviors you want?