Indeed, every driving adult is a potential customer several times over, as throughout their driving lifetime they are likely to change their vehicles many times – the figure bandied about is nine times for someone in the UK and 12 for an American.                                                   

Opening Up Dealerships to a More Diverse Set of Customers

Since cars were first invented, in the 19th century, it is fair to say their looks have evolved. They come in every conceivable size, shape, colour and horsepower (and price!) to suit the motor buying public.

1st June 2016

Graham Walker

Indeed, every driving adult is a potential customer several times over, as throughout their driving lifetime they are likely to change their vehicles many times – the figure bandied about is nine times for someone in the UK and 12 for an American.

Not only that, many people are multiple car owners. They may want a city run-around, a family car, something to tow the horse box; the possibilities are endless.

So bearing in mind the variety of the buying public, why are dealerships still so geared towards just one or two customer types – in the main men, or couples – paying lip service to everyone else, including women and people with disabilities?

Much attention is drawn to CSI in dealerships, and our customers deserve a good experience – after all, they are being asked to part with a sizeable amount of cash in what can be an intimidating environment. But do we pay enough attention to giving all our customers a good experience all of the time?

Giving our customers a consistent experience means ensuring we have the right dealership culture, where a warm and enthusiastic welcome is created for everybody.

So put yourself into the shoes of your potential customers – male, female, young, old, able or differently able – and ask yourself whether they would all feel welcome and valued. It’s been proven that the motor industry treats men and women differently. For example, research carried out last July by ClickMechanic revealed that women pay an average of £45 more for car repairs than men. But dealerships need not fall into this gender bias.

Some dealerships are making great strides in being inclusive. For example, one dealer I know of asks women customers if they would prefer to deal with one of their female sales advisers – a simple and effective way to show consideration to customers, and to make their experience more tailored to the individual. Several now have created special evening events for women. These evenings included basic maintenance, self-defence sessions and explanations of dealer terminology. They aren’t overt ‘sales’ events, they are informative, to support women in the community, all and any of whom could one day become customers.

Manufacturers must also contribute to a more inclusive approach, and Motability is an area which should be improved but which many dealers see as a hassle, due to small, fixed profit margins. Motability sales may not count towards sales targets, yet these customers take the same amount of time to qualify, and deal with, and feed back into CSI ratings, so if we are to encourage dealerships to create an equally good experience for them we need to reward dealerships accordingly.

So what can dealerships do to improve their CSI across the board? Leadership in this must come from the dealer principals, managers and sales managers so the business culture favours diversity and creating a great customer experience.

Here are some relatively easy steps to take:

1. Does your dealership team reflect your customer base? If not – and I am guessing it doesn’t – consider trying to make your staff more diverse and reflective of your market. They will be better placed to communicate with all types of customers, creating a better and more tailored experience.

2. Review your recruitment policy to reflect what you need for the team. You’re not just looking for skills you are looking for the right behaviours. What are the behaviours you need to encourage or introduce? How will you identify them in applicants? Take advice, create a behavioural profile and implement it – these things take time to develop correctly.

3. Give some consideration to how you allocate customers to staff – don’t line your staff up like taxis in a rank, with the one at the head getting the next customer through the door.

4. Lead from the front. Get the whole dealership team together and discuss ideas based on creating a more personal and unique experience for each and every customer. Encourage the team’s input too, as they need to feel they have a voice and this also helps them to take the responsibility that will be critical in making the changes successful. Build a way of working around the discussions, implement the changes and actively lead and encourage them. This will allow the culture to develop in a more ‘customer-centric’ way.

5. Look at how you deal with each other internally, even between departments as this internal service quality has a bearing on our external persona. Sometimes we can be overly critical of each other even when customers are present.

6. Do you need extra skills to make this viable? Ask the team and create personal development plans for each member.

7. Monitor progress through measurement, give feedback on the results to the team and keep encouraging more ideas.

In a nutshell, dealerships must focus on doing things differently to meet their customers’ rising expectations of the experience they get when they spend their money. This will take clear leadership from the management team if it is to be successful. It takes a long time to turn a ship around, but the rewards will be worth it.

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