Three Tips to Create a Dealership Culture Driven by Customer Experience

September 24, 2021 John Kehm

Rapid digitalization due to the pandemic and historic inventory shortages put a spotlight on the critical importance of car dealership customer experience to the automotive buyer journey

However, outside the automotive retail industry brands have been latching on to this sort of customer-first culture for years. Shaping company culture around the customer experience is what led Amazon to become one of the most successful companies of all time. 

In this post, we cover why dealerships should adopt this method to drive dealer customer retention and how they can do it with three tips:

What makes customers want to buy a car from your dealership? What makes them repeatedly brand and dealer loyal?

These are simple questions with enormously complex answers. One consistent theme underpinning the entire dealer-customer relationship is CX, or customer experience. 

The customer experience encompasses every step of the customer journey, inside and outside the dealership. And while there are a variety of factors that play into customer experience, the constant across all of them is the human interactions between your dealership staff and your customers that matter more than anything else. 

In a recent industry survey, 72% of buyers say they would visit dealerships more often if the buying process was improved. Ultimately, your dealership’s customer experience reflects your dealership’s culture, which doesn’t always happen organically. It takes devotion along with consistent and effective management – and leadership by example – to instill, grow and maintain such a culture in any business.

Creating a culture that delivers a great car-buying experience is worth the work because that experience is what sells cars and keeps a dealership’s customers coming back, in good times and bad. As brand loyalty for U.S. consumers drops to a six-year low, taking a customer-centric approach is key. 

Customers want to do business with people they like and who treat them well. When that happens, they’re far more likely to become loyal repeat customers who make an outsized impact on your bottom line year after year and sales cycle after sales cycle. 

Read the whitepaper: 4-Step Guide to Building a Winning Dealership Team

Tip 1: Instill a culture built on great dealership customer experience

How do you instill the type of culture where customers are valued and appreciated and where the customer’s experience is the most important factor in any decision? It starts with defining it and setting expectations for employee engagement. 

Ask yourself: How do you expect people to operate in your dealership? How do you expect them to treat each other and the customer? How are they empowered in their pursuit of doing the right thing?

Creating a dealership culture that supports a cohesive customer experience consistent with your brand promise requires dealership leaders to first commit to their team. Start by ensuring they have the tools, training and infrastructure they need to succeed.   

Step back and examine how your customers interact with your dealership to match your staffing and resources appropriately. Dealers should meet customers where they are with an exceptional customer experience staffed by empowered employees.

Read the whitepaper: Strategic Staffing Checklist for Dealerships in 2021

Clearly define goals and expectations for every member of your team regarding their individual and team responsibilities. For example, Amazon’s workplace culture is famously competitive. In his first letter to shareholders after taking Amazon.com public in 1997, Jeff Bezos talked in depth about his plans for building a company for the long term during a time of great industry change. This included setting cultural expectations for Amazon’s employees: “When I interview people I tell them, ‘You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three,’” he wrote. 

Amazon also publishes and holds its managers to a set of “Leadership Principles” that promote its desired culture, including its famous “Customer Obsession” – “Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”

You may not believe Amazon’s unique culture would be right to transplant into your dealership, but one core lesson from their success is it’s your job to define your desired culture, explain it and then manage to it as part of a broader go-to-market strategy.

Tip 2: Manage the dealership culture you defined

Once you have culture defined and explained to your team, the management component is critical to turn words into reality. You can’t do good work without the right tools, and you can’t expect your team to deliver meaningfully personalized service to your customers if you don’t arm them with the tools to do so. 

This means investing in analytics-driven capabilities like database access for consumer insights, credit transparency tools, targeted marketing campaigns, service history integration and other solutions. These tools allow your team to do their homework and come prepared to make the right offer, at the right time, for the right vehicle and at the right price.

Taking this sort of approach is key as today’s buyers no longer want a personalized customer experience. In a 2019 survey, 63% of consumers stated they expect personalization as a standard of service. This means dealers do what they have always done best: know their customer. 

Customer experience is about human interactions, but the best human interactions take place when the employee has all the information they need ahead of time to meet the customer’s unique needs. 

Tip 3: Recognize and reward employee engagement

If you show your employees you’re serious about investing in a customer experience-driven culture and give them the tools to do it right, then they’re more likely to take it seriously and become part of making that culture a reality. Without that kind of visible commitment, your staff likely won’t take your commitment to customer service seriously – and neither will the customers with whom they’re interacting.

When your employees do get it right, reward them quickly and meaningfully. Famed General Electric CEO Jack Welch joked that employee recognition should involve “the right mix of plaques and cash,” and that’s been part of the standard dealership management toolkit for decades. Culture is more than sales numbers, so don’t just reward on sales metrics or other financial targets. 

For instance, for dealers focusing on pre-owned acquisitions amid new vehicle inventory shortages, consider incentivizing sales teams to create in-demand trades or buy-back opportunities. 

In addition to those kinds of recognition, make the effort to find ways to reward the behavior that values coworkers and customers. Recognize and reward creativity in solving customers’ problems, covering for coworkers who have family emergencies, staying late as needed without being asked, showing respect for customers’ unique needs, etc. 

Regardless of your specific objectives, it’s critical dealers track their progress toward their goals through detailed reporting. This empowers dealers to both hold their team accountable and recognize employee contribution. 

At the end of the day, you’re trying to create a culture in which your dealership demonstrates that it cares about its customers, at every possible opportunity, because a dealership full of people who truly care is the kind of dealership customers stick with for life. So, reward people for demonstrating they care and for doing their part to grow that customer experience-driven culture.

The more employees know that healthy and positive behavior is rewarded, the more they will embrace your culture and become partners in growing the kind of environment in which great customer experiences are born, and one where the bottom line grows along with the relationships you build.

Are you serious about investing in a customer experience-driven culture? Contact us to learn how a data-backed automotive sales platform can drive exceptional customer experience.

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