I left a 35 year career in automobile retail management eight months ago. I worked as a GM at Dick Hannah, one of the greatest dealer groups in the country, and I loved every moment of it.
I have had many mentors in my life, (grateful every moment for all of them) but I was told by a specific mentor to constantly look in the mirror. To take a look at our dealerships and our lives often, and really define who we are today. To be painfully honest, then create a vision for who we want to be tomorrow. We CAN create a great, open and interesting work environment focused around consistent improvement and positive recognition. One that has every right as a responsibly conscious and capitalistic company to a reward; that is both financial and experientially heightened for both our clients and our team members.
In my humble opinion, one of the founding ideals in our dealerships that will determine our growth and evolution is our personal commitment to consistent improvement. And, that starts with the focus on what everything revolves around - the Consumer experience.
You’ve heard it a thousand times: “The business has changed.” And many times you hear that in a negative connation. I feel quite the opposite, as this next chapter in automotive excites me unlike any other time in the history of automotive (and I was one who lived through those wild & crazy decadesJ). Why have Amazon, Zappos and several Apple-like companies experienced record setting success? With Zappos, it is not due to their shoes, as they don’t manufacture them. They simply offer the best customer experience. And take a look at the great many rewards they have received form that singular focus. It is the ONLY shoe company I even know the name of today.
I have learned that a commitment to consistent improvement starts with a good look in the mirror, and a personal commitment from you the GM/Owner/Partner. Who is your dealership today? Take a minimum of 2 hours and a piece of paper in a quiet place. If you, as the dealership’s executive are committed to consistent improvement, what vision do you have for the dealership tomorrow?
The secret ingredient to thriving – holding your margins while creating a unique customer experience? Solve the consumer pain points and create more pleasure.
Here are a couple of steps I suggest that you take to help accomplish this:
Step 1 - Get your management team together and secret shop yourselves. The digital world rules. And, as we sit here in 2016, every dealer knows that is inarguable. So, be sure to include your online and offline sales process. Make secret shopping mandatory and give your management team deadlines to get it accomplished. If you’re interested in evolving your culture and improving your customer experience, create a worksheet with questions that must be answered about the experience they had when going through your process. Or, you can use mine instead. I’ve created a worksheet that you can use to evaluate a dealership through secret shopping. Feel free to download it here:
Create fake e-mail addresses so each participant can remain anonymous. And then see what happens. Once the results of the secret shops are in, reassemble the management team and discuss what was found. Collectively identify pain points that exist in your process. And, as a team, take steps to create the perfect and most respectful customer experience that will not jeopardize your margins. Practice this every quarter and mandate it from your executive team. To become the dealership that you have envisioned, you must continuously monitor your processes and customer experience.
Whatever the results are, you the as the leader are to blame. If the results are great, it is your fault, and vice versa. Accountability is imperative to the health and wellness of any organization. There are new variables introduced into dealership environments all of the time – employees come and go, attitudes change with life experiences, an employee may be going through a rough time – all of these can have an effect upon your customer experience. Ask your management and your entire team to be sensitive so that nothing affects the experience of their customers. Do this often, as repetition is key.
This exercise works, but only if it includes of all of your management team and they share your vision. It might be difficult to hear some of the things that come up, or that are discovered during this process. But, just realize that you cannot grow or change if you don’t know what’s wrong.
I highly suggest you and your executives get an eye opening look at your dealership through the eyes of the customer, before moving to step 2. Sometimes it can be hard to accept how customers really feel about the dealership experience when you first start this journey. Be the customer and be open and honest with yourself.
Step 2 – Provide executives with copies of the Zappos book “Delivering Happiness” and give them the job of reading it in the next 10 days. Create a meeting 10 days on, and ask them to bring 5 ways to improve the customer experience in their department. Ask them to get ideas from their team members, if they like.
After pondering the secret shopping, and the suggestions from your executive team. And after reading “Delivering Happiness,” create your master vision. Share that vision with your mentor, and/or peers. Then get your team together and get buy in for a common shared vision. Challenge them to do more with less – It’s not about breaking the bank. Talk with your executive team and let them know that together you would like to tackle and win an improved consumer experience in all verticals in the dealership. Get their buy in and listen to their thoughts on the subject.
I love this great industry – we have some of the greatest people on planet earth. I hope these suggestions help. To your success.