By Tim Rose, Tom Sharpe and Jeremy Bennett
Innovative thinking, empowered staff and a culture of change underpin the customer service on display at Pebley Beach, the winner of AM’s Excellence in Aftersales award in 2015.
Managing director Dom Threlfall said to achieve success dealers need a freedom to tailor their approach, but this is not always encouraged by car manufacturers. He also believes all workers must be engaged in order to raise standards – his staff regularly meet to discuss improvements without a senior management presence dominating.
It was a view shared by Linda Moir, former head of event services at London 2012 Olympics and ex-director of in-flight services at Virgin Atlantic. She said the best ideas – “magic touches” – were those thought up by staff who have regular contact with customers.
In both Virgin and London 2012, she said it was empowerment and pride that brought success. Virgin Atlantic staff came up with a bedding-down process that saw customers taken away from their seat to a lounge to have the area prepared for sleeping, returning to find a complimentary teddy. At London 2012, Moir rallied 15,000 volunteer ‘Gamesmakers’ who engaged with visitors and entertained them – one rapped the daily sports news, others created a toilet paper finishing tape for children to race through.
At Pebley Beach, Threlfall said tactics included electronic welcome boards that display customers’ names on arrival. He said the concept, borrowed from hotels, had brought a “wow factor”. A telephone system linked to the dealership management system (DMS) meant service and reception staff can identify a customer when the phone rings and give a personal greeting. The system also gives staff the option of putting the phone down on an internal call to take a customer call and Threlfall credits it with the conversion of 46% of calls into an appointment.
Threlfall advised dealers to always walk their customers to their cars after a car purchase or service rather than giving the impression that the deal is done and it’s time to move on to the next one. He added: “For the salesman, the sale is the high point, but to the customer it is the handover. Make it special, put it on Facebook, film it.
“If a customer is satisfied with a dealership’s sales, but not their service, there’s a 17% chance of them returning. Those satisfied with sales and service will return 93% of the time.”
Threlfall said being seen to remove tape from the door sill when a customer is taken to their car following a service – placed to preserve the owner’s seating position – was a touch employed by his technicians to communicate an attention to detail.
“For the salesman, the sale is the high point, but to the customer it is the handover. Make it special, put it on Facebook, film it” Dom Threlfall, Pebley Beach
Lessons have also been learned from a survey of how waiters and waitresses can boost their tips. Threlfall suggested personal touches such as a hand-written ‘thank you’ on receipts and “appropriate personal contact” could prove positive.
Pebley Beach’s policy of deferring as much amber work as possible may be alien to some operators. Threlfall said: “People aren’t in the habit of seeing us, so defer the work and they will come back. It’s a dangerous game to play because they could just go to Halfords, but I think it’s a great trust builder.”
Ditching unnecessary wiper and bulb checks and sign-written courtesy cars were other tactics aimed at winning over customers. He said: “Sign-written courtesy cars. Why would a customer want to drive one? If we want them to advertise our business we should be paying them.”
Threlfall believes dealerships should be working harder than ever to make sure their customers are happy. “Our average customer visits 1.76 times a year, so we need to do all we can to keep people coming back to us.”
At Cambria Automobiles, monthly digital workshops, specialist staff in each dealership and key performance indicators (KPIs) all help it to serve customers better in the digital world. Marketing director Ian Godbold told delegates Cambria has a digital specialist at each of its dealerships, required to merchandise the vehicles correctly – with multiple images, quality video and unique, stand-out descriptions. They are targeted on speed to market – if a car brought into stock is not PDI’d, valeted and marketed online within 48 hours, that gets escalated to head office. They’re also targeted with producing SEO-rich content.
Cambria had a vision of improving its customer experience online through video. Godbold said since Cambria added videos of every car for sale its Net Promoter Score (NPS) had improved, feedback is positive, the group is achieving double-digit conversion rates from click to lead in the website, and dwell time on a full vehicle detail page has doubled as consumers are engaging for longer.
Sales staff are also able to engage the customer better, and Godbold said the proportion of no-shows for appointments has fallen as a result. Godbold said 45% of consumers who come to its vehicle detail pages are watching a video.
AutosOnShow marketing director Rachel Price said consumers’ expectations are being set by other industries, and it’s important for the automotive industry to match those expectations, by starting to consider in a more digital way what the customer is looking for.
John Miele: 50% of consumers will go elsewhere if they don’t get a response within an hour
Speed is of the essence
Consumers want good service, fast, and dealers that fail to deliver could be headed for a crisis, said Carwow.
Using data from more than 11,000 car purchases made through its website in the first quarter of the year, the company’s sales director John Miele said only 25% of customers bought from the cheapest dealer.
He compared five of Carwow’s dealer partners, selling the same brand, in a 30-day period. The best performer made 20 sales with the lowest average discount – 7.6% . It responded in just 12 minutes. The worst performer discounted heavily, but responded too slowly.
Miele warned that 50% of consumers said they will go elsewhere if they don’t get a response within an hour.
“You could retain more margin if you care more about the leads you get,” he said. “Respond more quickly and be friendly and informative and you won’t have to give away so much of your margin.”
Sonia Williams, digital sales executive at Sutton Park Group, a Midlands-based dealer with six franchises, understands how critical speed of response was.
“User reviews on the site made it clear that being available from 6am until 11pm was important to them,” she said. Williams has sold cars at 10pm and on Christmas Day.
“This may seem silly to us, but not to the customer who wants to buy a car – who feels they have the right to buy a car – at this time.” If she couldn’t respond, she said an acknowledgement of the call, with an explanation (a “thank you” or “I’m picking up my child from school”), is still a positive response.
“The only reason a customer would go to a dealership now is for a test drive,” said Williams.
Marketing Delivery managing director Jeremy Evans warned that not making the best use of customer data can prove disastrous.
Many salesmen fall into the trap of moving on to the next enquiry after three or four days, marking their previous lead as “lost”, but Evans urged dealer management to make contact with the 75% of leads who do not buy a car. He said: “45% of those we contact are still in the market.”
“Social listening” on Twitter and Facebook is also essential, said Evans, adding that online comments and survey responses must be noted and addressed.
Evans said: “Sometimes you can’t win, but you must move fast, even if it is to deliver a simple apology.”
A new approach to KPIs
Dealers’ key performance indicators (KPIs) need to change to support the needs and expectations of a new generation of customers, warned Catherine Hutt, principal consultant for automotive and transport, at Frost & Sullivan.
Catherine Hutt said dealers
need to change how they
So, while traditional KPIs could include revenue, sales volume and conversion rates, a mixture of in-store and ‘off-store’ indicators such as brand awareness, customer digital engagement, customer age, lead response time, the satisfaction levels of vehicle configurability and the number of virtual versus physical test drives will be of increasing importance.
Hutt emphasised the importance of dealers and manufacturers working together in this new landscape to “further evolve their
strategies from brand awareness to digital replication of sales processes”, or an acknowledgement that not only marketing will be digital, but also retailing.
Among the things they need to work on, she said, were the ability to remotely help customers select a car, online full or partial payment online, online finance pre-approval or full approval and fixed-price selling.
Hutt gave a number of ‘mega trends’ that Frost and Sullivan had identified will affect the automotive industry, such as its prediction that 19% of total retail sales will be online by 2025 and more than 4% of all new cars will be sold online. In preparation, manufacturers are expected to spend almost £3.5 billion this year on more than 100 digital stores globally.
Hutt said future dealerships will be strategically located in city centres, with showrooms 15% to 20% smaller than the current average by 2020 and limited display stock.
The importance of leadership
Reaching the goal of excellent customer experience requires clear and strong leadership.
Jo Causon, chief executive, Institute for Customer Service, warned that chief executives spent lots of time looking at the company’s financials. But financials show you where the company has been, while customer experience data tells you where you’re going to go, she said. It’s an indicator of how well a business is performing.
“We are facing into some of the most challenging and complex times. Customer expectations have fundamentally shifted, the environment in which we’re working is much tougher, and we have a real opportunity to differentiate in the experiences we create,” said Causon.
Gary Barrow: ‘Leading by
example is the most
Boards need to focus far more on reputation and trust, because customer service strategies drive those. The top performers measure the right things, things that matter to the customer, she said.
Leadership, people skills and engagement have become more important, but there is still a disconnect between the board level activities and ownership of the customer experience, she said.
“Customer service is not a function or a department. It’s not what the contact centres or your frontline staff do, it is absolutely every part of an organisation. Whether we’re measuring customer experience and holding people to account in whatever roles we have will be increasingly important.
“There are pros and cons in any type of organisational structure, but the thing that makes the greatest difference is the leadership. And where the leadership is genuinely focused and measuring the importance of customer service, it doesn’t matter how we structure our businesses.”
The army’s modern style of leadership and motivation may provide lessons to franchised dealers, said Captain Gary Barrow, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran.
Before it defines exceptional customer experience, a business must first consider how it motivates people to serve customers to the required standard.
“It’s a set of shared values, the sense of being part of a team, and a sense of not wanting to be the one that lets the side down. That’s how we build a fully functional team,” said Barrow. Staff need to have trust in their leaders and in their team that they can cope with anything.
“If you want someone to do exactly what is in their job description and no more, payment is enough. If you want them to go above and beyond, there must be something more.”
The military has core values, said Barrow, to which recruits sign up. Those values then become theirs. The leadership framework reinforces those values at every stage: “Leading by example is the most fundamental aspect if you are to get buy-in from anybody,” he said.
Leaders must push people out of their comfort zone, to allow them to grow, and to fail without becoming a failure, he said. Micro-managing will get the job done correctly, but won’t allow staff to flourish.
Along with motivating, punishing is also important. “A standard you walk by and do nothing about is a standard you accept,” he said.
Andrew Grant, vice president in automotive at MaritzCX, advised delegates to ensure a “closed loop” process around customer experience measurement.
“When you do something customer experience-related, check with the customer that it was right for them,” he said.
Globally, 89% of companies said this will be the area they are competing on mostly this year. However, 72% of those working in customer experience said the way they are going about it is not proving very successful, he said.