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Robert Karbaum

Robert Karbaum National Digital Strategy Manager

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Creating an All-Inclusive Dealership Experience

I just returned back from a trip to an all-inclusive resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica where it rained for the entire duration of the trip. When I say rain, I don’t mean a little drizzle. It was an unrelenting monsoon. I took a video from my balcony to document just how bad it was:  


As much as the rain dampened the trip (pun intended), it also offered some very interesting observations on customer service.

The rain began as we approached the resort and continued throughout the first night and into the following day. The weather report for days 3-7 called for sun, so it appeared that it would prove a mere inconvenience. Unfortunately, Day 2 revealed more rain.  Day 3, again, more rain.  Day 4, more rain—and this was when things really started to fall apart. The ceiling inside our room began to collapse, and the TV got an unexpected shower. The resort was beginning to flood; multiple sections became unusable, and the staff was attempting to use beach towels as sandbags. The plaster ceilings everywhere were coming down in chunks, including in the rooms, dining areas, and lobby. Water was flowing freely into wind-facing rooms. All excursions were cancelled, and all guests were confined either to their rooms or the one indoor bar. Day 5, inconceivably, more rain. They were evacuating neighboring towns, the medical centre was shut down due to flooding, and local residents were marooned in certain areas. It was a nightmare.


Ocho Rios Health Centre closed following heavy rains


You can imagine this would have been an extremely trying situation for the resort staff. Keep in mind that they had to deal with the rain as well. Imagine working a twelve-hour day dealing with depressed and angry guests at a resort that is literally falling apart, and you get to celebrate all this by walking home in the rain on a dirt road. Only to walk back to work in the rain a few hours later.

Yet, despite all of this, every single resort employee had a smile on their face as wide as the coastline.  Every employee said “hello” or “yeah mon” to you as you walked by, and then asked how you were doing and made an honest attempt to brighten your day. It was near impossible to speak with a member of the staff, and not have your rainy frown turned upside down. It was a miraculous thing to experience.

The attitudes of the staff single-handedly took a nightmarish situation and made it pleasant under some of the worst vacation circumstances possible. I made a point to speak to them personally and thank them for all their hard work during this trying situation.  It was during these conversations that the gravity of their efforts truly came to light.

After thanking a member of the staff, I would say, “This must be really hard for you, with the rain and the guests and all.” Each reaction was the same; they all for a brief moment released the façade, and their true self came out. Some would sigh, others would show a quivering smile, and some even appeared to be holding back tears.  But just as quickly as it began, you could watch their surprise at their own reaction, and they would quickly revert back into “happy resort employee mode.”

These humanizing moments allowed me to see what the true driving force of their superb customer service was. It’s not “just for the tips” as many may assume, rather it is pride that fuels their passion for creating the ultimate customer experience.

Imagine how my vacation experience would have differed if half of the staff succumbed to the depressing rain and only focused on their immediate tasks.  In fact, if even a handful of resort staff grimaced instead of smiling it would have had a compounding effect on my experience.  Even one negative experience can spoil a platoon of positive experiences, especially during a monsoon.


One of the amazing resort staff members I met


It was the efforts of the entire staff as a whole that created the All-Inclusive Experience.  If every resort staff member did everything they could to enhance the customer’s experience, they would all equally benefit. Even if you factored “tips” into the equation, if everyone provided exemplary service equally, the monetary payback would work itself out in the wash.

Now, I am aware that the concept of “providing the best customer experience” in your dealership is by no means a new one, but what I am suggesting is changing the context of that message. Often, we forget that we live in the automotive bubble and that the more we learn to separate our perspective the better we can adapt, improve, and adjust to changing market conditions and ideas. I suggest, instead of preaching the concepts such as, “smile and greet every customer,” “acknowledge everyone within 10 feet of you,” or one of the many broad descriptions such as “creating excellent experiences.” Think of how you, as an individual and as a leader, build a culture of providing an all-inclusive vacation type experience at your dealership.


Start by imagining if you could buy a vehicle while vacationing at an all-inclusive resort. What would that experience be like? [Imagine that scenario, and then compare it to the process in your store; does it stand up?

Does everyone on your staff take a moment to speak with every customer they walk by? Do they ask if they are having a great day? If there were an unmitigated weather disaster, would your staff maintain the same demeanor?

Or if you really want to get creative, hold your store accountable to the same level of scrutiny of a Trip Advisor review.

  • What is the quality of food / coffee at your store?
  • Are your bathrooms immaculately clean?
  • Can a customer get their shoes shined?
  • Are there noticeable scuffs, dents or dings on the walls?
  • What is the quality of the waiting room entertainment?
  • How attentive are your staff?
  • How fast is the Wi-Fi connection? Is it easy to access?
  • What is the ambiance of the waiting area? Volume level? Pleasing scent? Décor?
  • Is the showroom easy to navigate?

Customer Experience Customer experience doesn't limit you to being compared to other dealerships; it compares you to every experience a customer has. You aren't just competing with the dealer down the road; you are competing with the coffee shop, grocery store, doctor’s office, and all-inclusive resort. Why, just the other day, the woman at the McDonalds drive-thru window addressed me by name when returning my credit card, “Thank you Mr. Karbaum. Here is your coffee. Have a great day!” My mind was blown. I briefly considered tipping her as the window shut. Later that evening the pizza delivery man did the same thing. Upon opening the door, he greeted me by name; after all it was on the receipt. He proceeded to open the box in my doorway to ensure the order was correct, a product presentation of the pizza that I ordered.

Every industry is stepping up their customer experience game, and we especially in the automotive industry must do the same.  The next time you walk into your store, imagine you were walking into an all-inclusive resort and judge accordingly.  Heck, walk in wearing flip-flops and a bathing suit if you really want to create the total experience—and surely alarm your fellow staff members—but use this opportunity to transform your relationship with your customers.

Have some other tips to share? How does your store do things differently to excel in Customer Experience? 

Share in the comments below!

Robert Karbaum
Thanks Carl!
Robert Karbaum
Just in case anyone is wondering, the picture of the gentleman above is real. Hartland was one of the bellhops at the resort I was staying at. He was quieter than most of the other staff, but only in voice. He had one of the most expressive smiles on the resort. He was one of the many staff members who helped to turn my trip around.
Jeff Collins
You did it again Robert. Well done. I could gather all the blogs, articles and video tutorials that address the consumer experience and the bricks and mortar culture but the majority of my GM's just won't by in. They just want to "sell cars". They are suffering from the wrong side of Digital Darwinism. I just took over this group a few months back I'm so pumped to see the results in the coming months.
Robert Karbaum
Thanks Jeff! Best of luck! Sounds like you need it!
Megan Barto
Great post - customer service and making the experience different is one thing that is lacking at a lot of places -- and not just in our industry. Now here's the question - would you go back to the resort?

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