Author Joe Calloway described a “brand” well in his book Never by Chance: “A brand is defined as a trademark or distinctive name, reputation, or capability that identifies and differentiates a product or service from the competition, for better or for worse.”
Every company has a brand, that’s not the question. The questions are: Does your brand positively differentiate you or render you to commodity status; and, does it elevate or diminish the value people see in doing business with you?
To delve deeper, a brand isn’t primarily about your logo, jingle, or creative graphics; these things may explain or reinforce your brand, but they aren’t your brand. Nor is building a powerful brand for your dealership accomplished through big ad budgets and slick promotional campaigns. Building a powerful brand happens when you create a culture that supports consistently creating “wow” customer experiences, and by hiring and training the right people at all levels within your organization who are capable of consistently delivering said experiences. In other words, by focusing more on the “reputation, or capability that identifies and differentiates you from the competition” aspect of the brand definition mentioned previously, than on a logo, trademark, or distinctive name to communicate it. And as a leader it’s your job to make sure this gets done daily, and that chasing greater excellence in this regard is a priority for every team member.
Following are supporting thoughts and strategies to help refine your focus on intentionally building and leveraging the power of your brand.
1. The bottom line is that your brand is defined by customer experiences. You may declare what your brand is, but a customer defines it based on his or her experience with your company or product. In short, whatever a customer thinks about when they hear your dealership mentioned—and that something will be based on either a personal experience or one they’ve heard about from others—is your brand. You can say what you want about who you are, but your customers believe what they experience…and THAT is your brand.
2. In case the prior point wasn’t clear enough, let me rephrase it slightly: Nothing is more important than customer experience when it comes to brand management. Thus, if you want to improve the strength of your brand, you must elevate the quality of the experiences you’re creating for both team members and customers. That starts with hiring the right people at the outset, setting clear expectations for the experiences you want created (experiential standards), and training team members to deliver that experience while holding them accountable for doing so.
3. A key to customer experience is consistency of performance. The more consistently great the experience is between departments, the stronger the brand. The greater variation you have between departments concerning the customer experience, or between your various locations, the weaker the brand. One bad apple in this regard, will afflict the whole batch.
4. The best answer to the question, “Who on our team would create the most outstanding customer experience? is “Any of them!” If you can’t give that answer, you have work to do. Lots of it.
5. The best way to influence a great customer experience is to create a great employee experience! You can rest assured that if your team members aren’t having a “wow” experience working for you, they’re not as likely to create similar experiences for your customers. Incidentally, micromanagers, oppressive work schedules, lack of training, hiring recklessly, inconsistent management, hypocritical leaders, tenured non-performers and more all drain the “wow” out of the workplace for team members.
6. Keep in mind that even team members who are far removed from direct customer contact have a “ripple effect” impact on the customer experience. This is because of the effect they have on other employees. Naturally, if a co-worker is negative, incompetent, corrupt, indifferent, and doesn’t keep commitments, he or she will diminish the experience of teammates, causing frustration and lower morale – all of which has the potential to trickle down and affect the experience a teammate is trying to create for a customer.
7. There’s much more to say about building your brand but since the focus of this piece is on perfecting the customer experience, take some time with key team members to honestly evaluate these questions and address the answers you’re unhappy with.
• Are the processes and protocols we have in place designed to just meet a customer’s expectations, or are they intentionally designed to get the “wow?” In either case, how can we do better?
• Do we have variation in the customer experience between departments or locations? If so, why is that? How do we fix it?
• How often do we talk about getting the “wow” in meetings, during one-on-one coaching sessions, beginning with the interview process, and during onboarding periods? Since you can help change a culture by changing the conversation, what more can we do to shine a brighter light on this key responsibility for each team member?
• Do we realize that our frontline team members (porters, sales associates, service advisors, receptionists and the like) have more daily opportunities to create a customer experience than the management team? This is by virtue of the fact they come into contact with more customers than management. This being said, how much training have they had on creating “wow” experiences? What training could we implement to improve the customer experience, starting with the onboarding of new associates?
• Do we have experiential standards for our organization that clearly define guidelines for the things we will always do, and never do, with a customer or when speaking with a customer? Are all departments and locations on the same page with these standards? If not, how and when do we fix it? (If you’ve attended my one-day How to Become a League of Your Own seminar you know the answer to that question).
• Do you know how your experience is significantly different and better from those your competitor delivers: from meet and greet, to customer touch points, to your various processes, to the language you use, to follow up, to communication protocols for service, to what they do while waiting to get into F&I, and the like? If your answers aren’t many and compelling, you’ve got more work to do.
If this seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is a lot of work. Incidentally, I never said building a great brand through “wow” customer experiences is easy; but, I can assure you it is worth it. And if your people and dealership are continually in price battles to be the cheapest so you can get the deal, there’s a better way: create improved experiences and the price becomes less relevant. People pay more for better experiences, and they return for more, and tell others to do likewise. Believe me, whatever it costs you in time, training, or dollars to build a “wow” brand…when all is said and done, the “wow” is worth it.