Last month I talked about how the needs and expectations of the customer should define the boundaries of good customer service. We discussed how anticipating a customer’s needs can take your dealership’s service offering to a new level. Once we secure the trust of the customer and persuade him that we have his back, he is less likely to cede to the siren call of the cheap PM or the lower rate of a competitor.
This month I want to expand on the subject of customer expectations, and how they extend to far more than the relationship the customer has with your service technicians. Every person in your dealership that has the occasion to interface with a customer is given the unique opportunity to build their own brand of customer loyalty and trust. The sales department is always looking for these connections, as you would expect. We discussed the service department’s unique opportunities last month. But there are several other departments that have an ability to add weight to the customer loyalty scale.
Many of these opportunities go unrecognized by the dealership, but they are important components to building customer allegiance, and moving the customer’s perspective from personal relationships, to corporate trust. When we create coordinated multiple touch points of excellence that resonate with a customer and over-deliver on his expectations, we start to move the needle from satisfied customer to advocate.
In our own dealership we have a couple of suppliers for which we, as customers, willingly play the role of advocate. During the time when we were negotiating our first deal with one of these vendors I asked the supplier to include a certain clause in the contract assuring us of our rights to cancel the contract for ANY REASON within the first year. I had also asked this of every other company vying for the business. Everyone else we had spoken to had responded with either a resolute no, or a watering down of this request to include certain conditions or a longer time frame.
We asked this vendor to include this caveat just like all of the others. Instead of employing denial, or launching into a negotiation, he simply asked why we would require such a one-sided proviso. We gladly explained that we had been through two prior vendors in the last eight years who simply did not perform as agreed. In both cases, proving the vendors ineptitude was an arduous procedure, and was predicated on several points of subjective reasoning. Extracting ourselves from these contracts was a long and very difficult process. For these reasons, we did not want to be tied to a contract for another 5-year term if for any reason our new provider could not, or would not deliver what they had promised.
The supplier listened without interrupting, and then asked if he could excuse himself so that both he and his manager could consult with each other regarding our request. We agreed. After a short break he returned and offered to include the provision in our contract without alteration or negotiation.
We inquired as to why they would allow this when none of their competitors would even come close to accepting this condition. It was then that the supplier said something that resonated with me. He said, “Because, we want you to be a CUSTOMER FOR LIFE. This is important to you. You’ve been disappointed and mistreated. We get that. If we can’t prove our value to you in a year….then you have every reason to fire us. We said we understood your needs. We said we could meet them. Since we are dedicated to never losing your business, we should be able to let YOU decide whether or not that job is being done.”
Over the years, many people have told me what I tell customers all the time’ “We appreciate your business.” This company took that to a completely different level. It went past appreciation. This organization viewed our business as critical to their success. It was a must win for them. They were willing to push their risk far above the field in order to secure us as a customer for life.
Here is the point to the story. Life went on, problems arose, and the opportunity for this company to either sink or swim presented itself. This company however had the foresight to connect the dots within their own organization. EVERYONE who interfaced with us was made aware of who we were, and what we represented. Priorities and commitments were understood. Expectations were clear. Whether it was the upper management, the sales guys, the delivery man or the billing department, they were all on the same page and they were able to find success where so many others had failed.
We were stunned. Our perspective not only on how we viewed suppliers, but ALSO on how we started to view customers was forever altered by the customer for life example demonstrated before our eyes. It’s not hard to imagine why we became long term advocates instead of just satisfied customers of this particular supplier.
Turning to my own organization and assessing our own customer relationship skills, I believe that it is prudent, if not necessary to periodically assess if we are operating in a fashion that constantly supports the customer for life (CFL) philosophy. Most importantly, do we have the communication tools in place to effectively translate to each team member the promises and commitments we have made to our customers? Do we have mechanisms to translate the urgency and importance of performing to the pre-determined standards of excellence that the customer demands and expects? Can we connect the dots like they did?
Think of all of the venues and platforms that need to be managed to create a culture that ensures that everyone is on the same page. Think of all of the needs the customer may have that are yet unrealized because we have not assigned the customer a seat at the CFL table. What customers do you have right now that are being touched by multiple departments? Your customers could very easily interface with employees from sales, parts, service, administration, credit, warranty, training, transportation and billing. I listed nine departments that would ALL need to be on the same page, and understand ALL of the commitments and expectations of these selected customers. It’s a tall order. It takes coordination and commitment.
The payoff however is well worth the effort. Having advocates instead of satisfied customers puts the power of multiplication in play. Advocates don’t just do business with you. They actively support, defend and promote you to the people inside their circle of influence. Your sales effort moves into overdrive and you didn’t have to hire a single person! In effect, you have just increased your sales coverage, and perhaps might have access to customers that you never expected you might have opportunities to serve. We ourselves have performed this type of cross pollination many times in the past nine years since we first became this vendor’s CFL. We also have been the recipient of the benefits derived from our own group of CFL’s.
This relationship is also bi-lateral. Not only do we promote our supplier’s services to our associates; our supplier also promotes OUR dealership to HIS other clients. This connects clients on multiple levels, and does so through trusted relationships.
Let’s face it. Business gets so much easier when we can use the natural power of advocacy to open the doors that are usually only pried open by other, less effective methods! If you don’t have a current group of CFL’s, you might want to start setting the table.
Dave Baiocchi is the president of Resonant Dealer Services LLC. He has spent 33 years in the equipment business as a sales manager, aftermarket director and dealer principal. Dave now consults with dealerships nationwide to establish and enhance best practices, especially in the area of aftermarket development and performance. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Dave.