For grins, and to help me get started with this post, I Googled “Customer Expectations”. 
Of the 13,900,000 returned results, a link to an interview with Richard Branson stuck out because, well, he’s fabulous AND he’s someone who has apparently figured out how to do a lot of things right.  Sir Branson says: “Pricing your product or service is only one way to exceed expectations. The other is through your front-line employees -- everyone who works with customers.”  He goes on:  “Surpassing expectations on the service side means that your people understand what your brand stands for, that they are proud of it and will go the extra mile to make sure that your customers are happy.”

Well, I’ve been in the automotive business for 16 years this month.  I have been trained and retrained on how to represent OEM branding agendas.  I have been schooled in the fine art of representing single and multi-point franchise marketing positions (ie:  Drive Home Happy, Home of the Thomas Promise, Metro Auto Wholesale – Working With You and Working for You, etc.).  This post isn’t about how we’ve taught our personnel to connect with our overall branding – I think that our industry, in general, does a great job with that.  This particular train of thought relates more to how we’re failing to communicate our specialized marketing agendas to our frontline personnel, and in turn, how they’re failing keep our “promises” to our customers in these campaign marketing efforts.

One of the guys I work with has friends and family collect pieces of Direct Mail that they receive.  He’s done this for years.  We’re located in the Portland Metro area, with about 500 franchised and independent dealers (give or take) in the immediate surround, so he collects a lot of fodder for our frequent marketing conversations.  The “hot” direct mail hooks right now are the Vehicle Buy Back and Fresh BK Mailers.  If you don’t do sub-prime, you go after the trades, if you do sub-prime, maybe you do both.  In either case, you’re reaching out into the marketplace and making a potential customer an offer (of trade in value or of credit) that (because of increased legislation and regulation) sounds like it might actually be true.

These potential customers respond, and in many cases, this is what happens:

Ring Ring “Thank you for calling Anonymous Buick GMC, Home of the Lifetime Warranty, this is Jessica, how may I assist you?

Caller:  “I received a letter and it says I’m supposed to ask for….Charlie?”.

Jessica:  “I’m sorry, what type of letter did you get?”

Caller: “Uh, it says Approval America……I’m supposed to talk to Charlie, it says I’m approved…”

Jessica:  “Oh, Ohhhhhhhh, OK, One moment please.”

On Hold music goes on for 16 seconds – Anonymous Buick GMC is home to the Lifetime Warranty.  Our Service Department is open from 7 AM to 8 PM for all of your services needs.  We appreciate your business and we’ll be right back to assist you….”

Salesperson 1:  “Who are ya holding for?”

Customer: “Uh, well, I am looking for Charlie, I got this approval letter…”

Salesperson 1:  “OH, Oh OK. You need to speak to Charlie!  One moment please!”

On Hold music for 20 seconds

Salesperson 2:  “This is John, how may I assist you today?”

Customer:  “I’m TRYING to get a hold of CHARLIE.  I got a LETTER.  This is the second time I’ve called…”

Salesperson 2:  “Oh, you need to speak to CHARLIE, one moment please.”

On Hold music for 5 seconds

Charlie’s VM picks up:  “You have reached the voicemail of Charlie.  Your call is very important to me.  I may be with a customer and am not available.  If you’d be so kind as to leave your name and telephone number, I’d be, happy to call you back”

Customer:  “This is Customer,  and this is the second time I’ve called.  I left a voicemail the first time and I haven’t gotten a call back yet.  SO you can call me back at 5555551212.  Thank you.”

And if this wasn’t bad enough there actually was a third call from our dear “Customer” who went through another call gauntlet , ended up with Charlie’s voicemail AGAIN, and left a piece of his mind with a request to never be contacted under any circumstances.

In my current role, I oversee operations and business development for several different automotive marketing products and services.  We generate some lead opportunities with Trade In Leads, and facilitate Call Center fulfillment for dealers and marketing companies with Cloud BDC. 

The previously described call was from a REAL customer who was responding to a bankruptcy mailer for a dealership in California.  A dealership, mind you, that spends tens of thousands of dollars a month generating these opportunities. 

Oh the agony!

So how bad is it, really, that Charlie, one of several hundred prospects that might cross the dealership’s threshold during the month, failed to receive even a low level of reasonable customer service?  Without putting a number on it (which would require much more critical analysis than I’m willing to devote at this moment) I’d have to say it’s just BAD.  This dealership is a longtime established GM point in a more rural than urban community and they do have a pretty good local reputation.  I’d wager that the past few years haven’t been easy for this store, and I’d bet that someone was crossing their fingers with hope when they stroked the check to the mail company on that BK mail campaign.

So where’s the disconnect?  If we’re going to effectively stand on a soapbox and make promises to people in a postage paid envelope, shouldn’t we prepare for fulfillment on our side? 

This mail campaign was likely pitched by someone who has called on, and successfully pulled off other campaigns for the dealer in the past.  Quite likely, he or she and the DP/GM are “good buddies” and have engaged in business many times before.  The disconnect comes from the fact that the GM isn’t really handling the sales meetings any more, and the GSM who does hold the sales meetings hasn’t handled one of these campaigns because he/she is a recent transplant from another city.  New(er) sales people don’t really understand what a “BK Mailer” is, and the seasoned vets don’t want those deals because they’re a grind.  So you’re stuck with the unknowledgeable and or/the unwilling right out there on your front line.

Now I am COMPLETELY stereotyping.  In my experience, these kinds of scenarios were common enough, but so were the perfectly executed campaigns in stores where everyone was on the same page every time a marketing dollar went out the door.  The difference between the two was a pretty important one.  Just a little thing we like to call return on investment, or ROI for short.

So what does Sir Richard Branson have to say about the solution to these kinds of problems?  Well, he’s pretty straight forward: “Doing things better doesn't have to cost more -- all it takes is a little creativity and attention to hiring, training and management. To achieve consistently terrific customer service, you must hire wonderful people who believe in your company's goals, habitually do better than the norm and who will love their jobs; make sure that their ideas and opinions are heard and respected; then give them the freedom to help and solve problems for your customers. Rather than providing rules or scripts, you should ask them to treat the customer as they themselves would like to be treated -- which is surely the highest standard.”

Now, if you’re reading this in an Automotive forum, chances are you have some realistic expectations of what can and cannot be achieved at the dealership level, and a LOT of the time, the branding on the storefront might very well be a BIG determiner.  The rarity is the single point pre-owned store that rolls out the red carpet to respondents of a BK Mailer.  I have seen and heard it happen, but I know that it took everyone from the DP down to pull it off.

In today’s fast-paced-high-turn stores, do we have the ability to properly prep and train our staff to facilitate these “special promises” that we make? If we can justify the expense on additional time training, or on hiring companies to train our personnel, we should.  Or explore outstourcing.  FIND A WAY TO KEEP THE PROMISE.

We owe it to the Charlies out there.



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