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Recently Auto/Mate received a 'Best Places to Work' award from the Albany Business Review for the sixth year in a row. We have also been voted a 'Top Workplace' by the Times-Union multiple years in a row. Focusing on employee happiness has long been one my top priorities. People often ask me how I do it, but before I answer that, I'd like to explain why I do it.
This is a fact: your customers will never love your company unless your employees love your company. Auto dealers spend millions of dollars ever year on customer loyalty products, but you can't buy loyalty. Loyalty is when a customer has a bad experience at your dealership, but still comes back to give you another chance because they have a relationship with your employees and they believe in your sincerity.
Creating a 'Best Place to Work' is Auto/Mate's version of a customer loyalty program. I am surprised when I scan the lists of winners in business journals in different cities. Very few dealerships make the list. Why is that? Most dealerships I know are involved in community, donate to charities and offer career growth potential; they are perfect candidates to win these awards.
I believe many auto dealers are so focused on their day-to-day numbers they often fail to look at the long-term picture when it comes to running their business. Maybe they just don't realize the best way to ensure long-term profitability is to create a loyal customer base, and the best way to create loyal customers is to ensure employees are happy.
Another bonus of becoming a 'Best Place to Work' is that great employees will want to work for you. Attracting and retaining top talent is a big challenge for many dealerships, and yet this simple tactic--creating an awesome workplace--is not on the radar as a recruiting strategy for dealers. I highly recommend it.
Now for the 'how.' I just mentioned it's simple; that doesn't mean it's easy. This is a very brief summary of the process involved:
1) Toss out your CSI scores. Your CSI score has nothing to do with how loyal your customers are. You can have a satisfied customer who is not loyal, and a loyal customer who is not satisfied. Gaming the CSI system is almost a requirement to satisfy the manufacturers; don't believe that's loyalty.
2) Make Customer Loyalty a Priority. You have to really care about this in order to make it happen.
3) Define Why You're in Business. Hint: the answer is NOT "to make money." This is similar to a mission statement. Your definition should inspire your employees and customers.
4) Define Your Company's Core Values. Do you want your dealership to be known for integrity? Family values? Write down a list of values and ask for all your employees to vote on what they believe your values are. Once you define your values, be sure to walk the talk. Don't choose a value out of thin air because you think it sounds good; your values have to be authentic to the way you do business.
5) Inform, Empower and Reward Employees. Share your vision with your employees. Announce your goals and ask for their help. Empower them to do what they need to do. Reward them with personal and public recognition; this is so much more meaningful than a spiff (although that's nice too).
6) Become a Great Place to Work. This is the hard part that requires research and implementation of new management policies. Nice perks and spiffs do not make a great place to work. What really motivates people is when they can trust their leadership, feel valued, have career growth potential and receive training and mentorship.
7) Hire the Right People. Many auto dealers make the mistake of hiring too quickly to fill a need. It's critical to only hire people who fit your culture.
8) Become a Leader, Not a Manager. How do you know if you are a leader? When you can take three days off and know your managers and employees are doing everything that needs to be done. Managers feel like they can never leave and have to make every decision.
9) Make Decisions for the Long Term. Try to look beyond the numbers and make decisions on what's best for your employees and your customers. Sometimes this means taking a temporary hit, but rest assured it will be made up later.
10) Track and Record Results. I use the Net Promoter Score (NPS) system to measure Auto/Mate's customer loyalty. The system is easy to implement and has a high response rate. Find out more at www.netpromoter.com
I encourage auto dealers everywhere to enter your local 'Best Places to Work' competition. Automotive News also has an annual 'Best Dealerships to Work For' competition. Make it a goal to get your dealership on these lists. It may take a few years, but the feedback you get from the anonymous employee surveys will serve as a roadmap on how to get there. You'll learn what you're doing right and what you need to improve upon.
To get more detail on these steps you can download our free ebook titled 'How to Create Customer Loyalty Without a Customer Loyalty Program' from Auto/Mate's website: