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In today's society there are only two things people talk about: the bad and the outstanding experiences. Companies who are mediocre don’t garner media attention or stand out in the industry. They have a consistent team, keep plugging away, and most of them run at a profit. They just choose to operate in their comfort zone and not push the marketing or customer experience envelope.
In 1982 there was a best seller called, In Search of Excellence. It sold 3 million copies in its first four years. It explored the art and sciences of management techniques used by companies who the authors believed were on a path to excellence in how they conducted business. Back then, excellence was something you strived for, people were proud of their achievements, and being successful was something that didn’t embarrass people.
I highly doubt the book would have the same cache today. Instead, I believe the new bestseller would be, Mediocrity, Our New Achievable Business Goal. Just stop in any mall chain store, department store, restaurant, or other service business, and the odds are you will encounter mediocre service during your visit. You’ll encounter sales clerks that ignore you, treat you like an inconvenience, or sometimes just display plain rude behavior.
Here might be a typical conversation about a dining experience: Hey Fred, Linda and I went out to eat last night at that new gourmet burger place. The menu was okay and had a few nice selections; the wait for a table wasn’t too long, and rather than giving us one of those buzzers, they just yelled our name 4 times over the public address system. I think everyone in the county knew we were having dinner there. The waitress seemed a bit distracted but after about 15 minutes she did get around to taking our order and the busboy did come back to get rid of the sticky spots on the table underneath our silverware. To their credit I must say the food was mostly warm when we got it but I had to pick off the onions that I told them not to put on my burger. Linda asked for a small Coke. They brought her drink in one of those quart size plastic glasses. She couldn’t comfortably hold it, but I guess it makes it easier for the staff so they don’t have to come back and give refills. You really should check this place out!
Is this a restaurant you would be rushing to visit? I don’t think so. Not a horrible experience, but not a great one either. Unfortunately this is the new normal.
It seems in our schools, our government, and in business we’ve become accustomed or satisfied with mediocre experiences. The desire to be really good or even excellent doesn’t seem to be worth the effort in many instances. Any readers care to talk about their stellar experience at the DMV?
What causes a business to be mediocre? Is it apathy, a lack of commitment, a management team that’s afraid to take some risks and work toward providing a superior customer experience, or a lack of training? In the case of a dealership, it could be they have fallen into a “nanny state” where the dealer is happy to let the OEM do their thinking and vendor selection for them? Or could it be a combination of all of the above?
Let me be clear, I am not saying being a mediocre dealer is a bad thing. You can be a mediocre dealership and still be profitable and do things right every day. It’s just that as stated in the first sentence, no one talks about a mediocre experience. If your operation is comfortable in that zone, then by all means continue what you are doing. There are worse places to be than mediocre and in the current environment you can still be very profitable.
For the 60% of new car dealers out there who are mediocre there are steps you can take to improve performance, skills, and the culture in the store. In the next two parts of this series I’ll share insights on how to tell if you are mediocre, look at how we have come to accept this situation, and what the future might hold for dealers who continue to do business they way they’ve always done business.