For dealerships, understanding customer expectations is what makes customer service great, good, and mediocre.

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As a result of the opportunities to interact with digital services, there have been significant changes that have rapidly enhanced the customer experience in the automotive industry. Consumers just won’t settle for good enough. The vast majority do their own research and due diligence, knowing exactly what they want and expect from a dealer. For dealers, understanding the expectations of these customers is what makes customers great, good, and mediocre. All of this has a big impact on your dealership’s culture and your bottom line.

Vehicle performance and price are still paramount, but a positive customer experience has also become critical to making the initial sale, starting a relationship, and making that person a customer for life. Today’s shoppers have set higher standards for dealers and the dealer experience, both online and in-store. New consumers are looking for connected and virtual experiences that are efficient and timely. No one wants to spend hours at a dealership to purchase a car. In fact, research shows that after 90 minutes in a dealership, the shopping experience declines along with customer ratings.

Disengagement, rather than building customer loyalty to the store, makes the entire sales model shaky. A more data-driven approach to sales and after-sales that focuses on the customer experience is needed. Customers want to develop relationships where they feel confident that their needs are being met. Staff experience, service availability, privacy and data protection are all key factors in today’s purchasing process.

Anticipate customer needs

Does your sales force make customers feel valued? Do they hear and understand their needs? Do they demonstrate immediate action and offer solutions? Understanding the customer experience is a core business strategy for dealerships today.

It is very important that customers receive factual information, especially on financial matters. Make it personal. Creating a close bond by teaching the staff to listen and get to know the customer. Sellers must earn their trust. Be transparent. Provide legal guarantees.

The salesperson must have a complete understanding of the products being sold, vehicles, how financing works, ancillary products, product benefits, F&I, etc. When it comes to online sales and mandatory callbacks/messages, does your team do their homework before talking to customers and respond to them in a smart and timely manner? Did you know that you are seven times more likely to make a sale if a customer gets a response in less than 60 minutes?

Reduced risk for dealers

As a dealer, you should evaluate the level of support you receive from your partners and consultants. For example, qualified, knowledgeable representatives should support you through F&I training and service. Are your employees trained in effective customer handling, claims, and more?

How often do you see your representative, your coach and when are they present at your dealership?

Are they experts in helping your organization with everything from interviewing and recruiting to claims to choosing the right reinsurance structure to fit your long-term goals? Whether you’re selling factory software or reinsuring through a third-party administrator, you’re sending money to someone. What do you get in return? Do they work for it? You expect excellence and hard work from your employees. The partners you choose should meet the same high standards. Continuity is important.

Aim for a lot of support. Like your customers, you shouldn’t settle for anything less. Join someone who knows your business inside and out. Can see problems as they arise and solve them strategically and intelligently. Will analyze your processes, your products, can help you define and develop business directions. Provides an action plan and, importantly, local support. Flexibility. Timeliness. Be there and be present.

Further, dealers are tormented by the problem of non-compliance. Transaction audits should be consistent on an ongoing monthly basis with an in-depth quarterly audit process. Your F&I partners who fail to meet this commitment are not providing you with optimal service. Look for a partner who conducts monthly financial meetings, verbal and written summaries with management, asks what the dealers’ agenda is and how I can help, understanding your goals, objectives and expectations and a roadmap for getting there.

When adjusting yourself with a partner, check recommendations, ask colleagues for recommendations. First and foremost, your partners must set up your dealership and your staff for success.

Training your staff is important and ongoing

Untrained staff will have a negative impact on customer service. Support in the form of only financial training once a month is simply not enough. Your staff needs training that includes sales skills, customer service, product knowledge, internal systems and processes, technology and automotive compliance.

Training is most effective when it is planned in advance. The first step is to identify the needs of the dealership and its customers, and how they relate to the functions of specific departments and individuals. This is the best way to ensure that they manage your customers according to your vision and develop relationships for your brand.

Michael Fiorini is a regional manager for Vanguard Dealer Services.

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