By Guy Allman, chief executive at BTC
Richard Branson’s book Screw Business As Usual has been food for thought: what he says about customer service can and should be applied to the automotive industry.
The premise is this: “customer care begins with employee satisfaction”.
In his book, Branson emphasises that a business’ success is highly dependent on staff satisfaction. Customer and shareholder satisfaction is the end result.
Customer care begins with staff satisfaction
Too many dealerships in our industry cut corners and throw their service advisors in at the deep end before they have even been trained on how to sell a certain service or part.
Look at it this way. If you ask a decent, honest employee to do something they don’t understand, approve or believe in, are they going to be satisfied? If you ask them to do something they are uncomfortable with or incapable of doing, will it make them happy? Probably not.
It’s therefore essential that you engage with your staff properly on every initiative. Get them involved from the start. Give them the whys behind the whats so they can voice their concerns and fears.
Doing so means you can identify what can be done to overcome those fears early on so, when launching a new initiative, you will have a team that is fully behind it and therefore believe in what you are working to achieve together.
We see staff in some of the largest dealer groups being asked to call customers to get authorisation on a vehicle when they have zero belief on what they are supposed to do - only for it to deliver zero results.
Fundamentally, someone who doesn’t believe in what they’re selling is totally transparent to the customer in their attitude and unlikely to make a sale. On the other hand, staff who fully understand and believe in their products definitely sell more and satisfy more customers. Overcome negative perceptions and you have happy and successful teams.
The right training
Dealers need to invest in personal development. It is not enough to train your staff on how the buttons on an EVHC (electronic vehicle health check system) work for example.
Educate them so they fully understand what they are selling to the customers and the value in the proposition. Give them the tools and skills required to get the message across in the best way, demonstrating that the customer’s care is the number one priority.
What’s more important, in fact essential, is that your staff understand what the competitor’s offering is and why it doesn’t compare, as well as what sets your dealership apart from the rest. So when a service advisor does make the call for authorisation, they are totally happy and comfortable with what they are saying to the customer.
The importance of feedback
Another starting point when investing in staff satisfaction is showing that every employee’s opinion really counts. Ask yourself how much time you spend asking your staff for their opinions on what they sell, the systems they work with, and the rewards they have.
Don’t overlook the efforts of your teams. Consider rewarding them correctly for the effort they put in. It’s the recognition that is the real incentive. If you don’t go the extra mile, don’t expect them to do it in the workplace either.
The more people feel valued, the harder people will work. Show interest in their daily lives - ask when their birthday is and give them a day off for example - and reward them with a personal sacrifice. Richer Sounds is a great example of company that does that well. Every year, employees that perform well can take up the offer of holiday homes in locations such as Paris and Barcelona.
In the customer’s shoes
Branson’s ethos on staff satisfaction is a good mantra for managers to adopt in the motor industry. Care about your employees, and they will care about their customers. Happy staff will be happy to look at the world through the customer’s eyes.
It is not uncommon for a service advisor to delete a customer record because they think the work identified by the technician is too expensive. Here, they are making their own personal judgements. This is the wrong attitude from staff.
With a customer-focused attitude, satisfied employees will instead demonstrate a duty of care to the customer. If they understand the implications of not having work done and really care for the safety and ongoing costs of ownership for the customer, they will have the confidence to advise the customer to get the work done.
Service advisors would choose to explain what work needs doing, why it is important and that they are getting value for money. The point is that they are coming from a caring point of view, not a profit maximisation point of view.
It’s about listening to the concerns of a customer and overcoming them - just like you would listen to your staff. And that is where every dealer should start.