Creating a hospitality culture for dealerships

Dealers can improve their business if they start treating leads as people rather than sales and instead create a culture of customer hospitality, according to industry experts who spoke at the 360.Agency forum Selling In The New Disruptive Reality.

Mathew Growden, who teaches at the Automotive Business School of Canada and is an advisor for startups, and Canadian auto dealer publisher Niel Hiscox were among those who made presentations as part of the day-long event on May 24 at the El Mocambo in Toronto, Ont.

Growden centered his presentation around the idea that leads are “destroying” dealerships’ business. He said dealerships market to generate leads hoping to convert them into sales and service. However, he also noted that the majority of customers who go into dealerships don’t fill out their lead forms. Moreover, he said dealerships don’t reply quick enough to the customers who fill out those forms.

“We’ve taught them we don’t reply,” said Growden. “Your marketing is driven to feeding the funnel of leads to feed your salespeople, which creates an experience people don’t want, and that’s how leads are destroying your business.”

He stressed dealerships don’t think about the lead as a person, thereby losing the human factor.

“If you start considering that a (lead) is a person, it’s very different because you are focused on that person’s needs, not on the fact they might be a great lead,” said Growden. “It’s not even (that) the leads are wrong; it’s just the wrong emphasis.”

He said dealerships are causing problems for customers by directing their phone calls to voicemail and not responding for at least a day.

“The phone call falls apart, and even more aggravating to me is probably every dealer in the room and in the country has a call-tracking system they’re not using and probably forgot they have it,” said Growden.

He said about half of the people who enter dealerships walk out of them frustrated, even after their purchase. He calls it a “cognitive dissonance.”

“In more simple terms, it’s just not what they want,” said Growden. “If more than half of the people walking out of the dealership after buying are frustrated, there’s something not right there.” 

He said this is particularly true for women shoppers, whom he said are afraid to buy a vehicle from a dealership due to pressure tactics by salespeople — or because they may not be treated seriously. To counteract that, Growden said they tend to bring along a “male human shield,” because they feel it is required. He said dealerships probably don’t have enough women salespeople to represent female customers.

He said the old trope that selling cars is a people business is not true, otherwise half of the sales staff would be women.

“This is not a people business, this is a mostly dude-based dealership,” said Growden. “If it was a people business, you would reflect the people you are selling to and that is not what is happening.”

He also noted customers don’t understand or like having to meet with an F&I manager after dealing with a salesperson, as they believe the car they’ve just purchased will be ready for them to drive away.

“When it comes to anything related to time management scheduling — and don’t even get me started on your scheduling for service — we don’t appreciate people’s time,” said Growden. “We’re not respecting people’s time.”

He said dealerships can improve the customer experience by indicating the store has free Wi-Fi, because most people come in with a cellphone or computer.

Hiscox said one of the challenges dealerships face is they don’t see their customers every week. “We need to find ways and retain the ways that will make it a personal experience,” he said.

He gave an example of a customer coming in to change their winter tires to summer tires and mentioning a trip to Spain. He said if that information is captured in the CRM notes and the customer was asked by a staff member about their trip when they returned to change from spring to winter tires, it would have a significant impact.

“Suddenly, what that customer knows is that they may well not be talking to the same person, but the store believes they are a person,” said Hiscox. 

Hiscox pointed to a survey stat that asked consumers what mattered most when buying a car. He noted 19 per cent of those who responded said they would put up with a lousy experience if they received a fair price. Then he showed another stat that indicated more than twice as many respondents said that as long as the price is fair, what they really want is a great experience.

“We probably worry more about price than we need to,” said Hiscox.

He said the “new battleground” is customer experience. He said this applies directly to dealerships versus the agency models that sell directly to consumers. He said dealerships have the potential to deliver the human-to-human experience to create retention with customers. He said top-performing salespersons build genuine relationships with the customer instead of looking at the situation as a purely transactional experience.

“They recognize the person in front of them is a person,” said Hiscox. “You need to be transparent and create a great experience, but how do you do it?” 

He pointed to a slide called “Creating a Hospitality Culture,” which included personalized “know me” experiences, CRM to capture customer preferences, hire for hospitality mindset, and train everything else. It’s something he uses in The Clarify Group, the business he started three years ago to provide automotive companies with research and analysis to better understand the future.

“You all have the tools,” said Hiscox. “There’s nothing stopping you from implementing these things now.”

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