Customer care is an all-encompassing element of automotive retail which touches all departments of the business.
Jim Reid, managing director at single site Jim Reid Vehicle Sales (JRVS) in Kintore, Scotland, said that when he started the business in 2003, customer care had to be at the heart of everything the dealership did. Profits would follow.
Reid said: “If you’re not looking after your customers, you’re going to fall flat on your face as a business. The numbers will come afterwards.
“You have to approach things the way the customer wants. You can’t shoehorn customers into the way you’ve decided to do things. You work their way and you have to respect that.”
The best retailers in the industry have changed the way they work, no longer focusing on the pressure sale.
One of The Car People’s key points for customer care is to give customers space and time to think.
Jonathan Allbones, director at the four-site used car supermarket business, said: “Space to think is part of our sales ethos.
“We did some online research of our customers, non-buyers and buyers, and we know customers need that time to think when they’re at the dealership.”
The Car People introduced research hubs in spring last year. They’re spaces for customers to sit with iPads provided by the business to do more research online. They can use the iPads to do some final price checks and look at insurance quotes if they need to.
JRVS is based about 30 minutes outside Aberdeen so Reid made the decision that where customers had bought a car that still had manufacturer warranty left, his dealership would sort that out for customers.
Reid said: “We offer to take the car to the dealership in Aberdeen for the customer, give them a free Jim Reid loan car and drop the car back to them.
“The nearest Audi showroom is about a 45 minute drive away. We want to make life easier for customers so if we can help, then we will. If that customer happens to tell people what we do or considers us for servicing down the line, that’s obviously an added bonus.”
JRVS’s repeat and referred customers account for between 60-70% of business.
Umesh Samani, managing director at single site Specialist Cars in Stoke, said: “For every customer that comes in, we try to make it special.
“I think the biggest complaint you’ll get from customers is that they get passed around from pillar to post. All they want is for the journey to them buying their next car to be easy and simple. You have to make it a hassle-free transaction.”
Reid said he wants the environment in the showroom to be relaxed.
He said: “When people come to our business we treat them like we would if they were a guest in our house.
“You don’t leave people waiting outside the showroom and if someone comes in the door, you offer them a seat, you offer a drink. You have a chat with them, ask them about their day, rather than getting straight to talking about a sale.”
The Car People’s approach to customer care is supported by recruiting and having very specific job roles suited to each part of the customer journey.
Sales people at the showroom are solely focused on looking after customers in person.
There is a customer contact centre that handles all digital interaction, including emails, social media, live chat and phone calls. The call centre team are available seven days a week, rather than five and a half days, like the aftersales department.
Allbones said: “I would say around one in 10 contacts into the central team will end up going to site level, whereas the vast majority of enquiries can be answered directly there and then for customers.”
Introducing more links in the chain could create complexity that harms customer care, but The Car People has its own platform where customer data and preferences are recorded at each interaction. Every employee involved in that customer’s journey at The Car People has access to the CRM system and can see what has happened so far.
Samani is a big believer in using social media to make himself available to interact with customers.
He said: “Social is quite big for us. It’s not about direct selling, but customers can see you’re approachable and helpful.
“I get a lot of leads coming through on email or phone, but they would have started on social media.”
JRVS uses a shared email inbox so everyone can see who has replied to what and at what stage of progress things are at.
Reid said it helps to keep things joined up.
He said: “We have a rule that if you’ve replied to something, you’re then owning that interaction so if there’s a reply, whether that’s an email or a direct message on Facebook, we’ll get on to it.
“I don’t think automated email responses are very good, so even if we’re replying late in the evening to say, ‘got the message, thanks, we’ll get in touch with you tomorrow’, it can still be personal and from the heart.”
Reid said waiting for a response for two days may have been acceptable years ago, but customers think something is wrong if there hasn’t been a reply within 20 minutes.
A USP on the digital side for The Car People is its Friends loyalty scheme, that has now been running for two years.
Allbones said: “It’s about keeping the process hassle-free for customers. They can access an online portal and 99% of customers are signing up at the point of sale.”
Those who join the Friends scheme get discounts on motor-related products, servicing and MOTs, they get insurance and tax reminders and free access to a roof box and satellite navigation when they go on holiday.
Allbones said: “It’s a powerful programme that helps us keep in contact with customers, and it adds value for them too.”
The Car People have dedicated handover specialists.
Allbones said: “We make sure the simple things are covered on handover and there’s a full walkaround. The executives will spend around an hour with customers and that’s their main focus, there’s nothing distracting them from that experience.”
Small things like the customer’s favourite radio station would already have been noted, but The Car People make sure that they are available for any question the customer might have, not a small task when you’re not franchise-specific and stock a large breadth of products.
Allbones said: “We’ll show them how to programme the sat nav, or check the MPG on the trip computer. We want them left with no questions about their new car.”
JRVS recently revisited the handover process to recognise that for some customers it’s the most exciting part of the buying experience and that needed to be acknowledged.
He said: “The handover is an emotional moment for some customers. When they think of your business in the future, they’re more than likely going to think of what it was like the last time they were there, which could well be the handover.”
Reid said every effort is made to make sure the same person that sold the car is the person that does the handover. Each customer is given a keyfob on their new keys with a number they can call if they need anything.
Specialist Cars take the process a step further by taking a picture of customers and their new car at the handover (if they want to), which is then put on social media.
Samani said: “I try to make every handover personal. So all their documents and paperwork will be in an envelope with their name on it.
I also include a pre-paid envelope with my own satisfaction and feedback survey on there.”
Reid personally makes follow-up calls to customers who haven’t bought from JRVS.
He said: “I make it my mission to find out why people haven’t bought, to help us find out where we’re going wrong. I think satisfaction surveys can be really cold, so I prefer to phone people to find out why we missed out on a sale.
“It may be something that’s a simple fix, but we need to know. Was there a particular reason?”
Allbones said The Car People knew it needed to get the customer journey right before introducing its loyalty scheme.
Allbones said: “Knowing that you are getting customer care right can only come from good quality feedback.”
The Car People has a 60% response rate on post-sale follow-ups which are made on the phone by the contact team.
Allbones said: “Phone calls are much better at getting specifics from customers, so the contact centre can talk through the customer’s experience.
“We put a really big focus on making sure that feedback is actioned at site level. It has to be in order for us to continue to improve.
“We have morning meetings at site level where any customer feedback from that process is fed back, and that is every day.”