Automotive Customer Service Is Not A Department…
It’s An Attitude

by: Sharon LeBlanc
Consultant: Training and Research

Earning repeat business in today’s competitive, automotive business world may be directly related to the customer service you provide. Let’s be honest: Customer service involves EVERYBODY in a car dealership, from receptionists, secretaries and sales managers, to middle management and dealer principals.

This is because customer service it is not a separate department with its own office and staff. It’s an attitude that envelops the entire staff, and your business’ success is directly related to it. It is widely agreed that companies are successful mainly because of their people skills and only marginally because of their product. Still, many businesses consider their key ingredients for success to be product and price. When a customer problem arises, one is sent to the Customer Service “department” for a quick remedy.

Not aligning the entire organization for customer service is a critical mistake, as it is a key component in any successful business strategy. Assigning customer service to one department rather than the entire staff is similar to putting a Ferrari motor into a four-door family coupe. Unless every part of the coupe is replaced with a Ferrari part, the car will never perform like a Ferrari. Doing so is the only way to ensure its supreme performance. The entire organization, therefore, must be revamped, from the lot boy to the dealer principal, so everyone is in sync with the attitude that the customer is the greatest asset.

This isn’t rocket science; instead, it’s simple common sense. Every customer wants to be treated like they’re a Somebody. If they are not, they’ll walk across the street and find someone else who will. It’s not even uncommon to see people traveling clear across the city to buy an identical vehicle because they choose to do business with a dealership that has a reputation for unparalleled customer service. It’s not about being smart; many people are smart. It’s not about your great product line; there are loads of great vehicles in this fast moving, techno-forward world in which we live. It’s not about the variety of services you provide; you haven’t got the market sewn up tightly in that department either. It is about great “customer” service. That’s what everybody wants.

Changing an attitude can be difficult because there are those (particularly the dealer principals, business managers and sales managers) who think customer service is only for their subordinates. They delegate dealing with the customers to the sales staff or that infamous “Customer Service Department” that customers have come to loathe. They refuse to be a team player on every level. Believe it or not, the top-level management is there to support their sales staff to meet the needs of the customer. They need to be an integral part of the sales team to ensure that the customer’s questions, wants and needs are satisfied. Customer service, therefore, starts at the top and works its way down the ladder.

The focus should always be on the customer. If one feels ignored or taken for granted, then you’ll have one unhappy customer. We all know that one unhappy customer will tell nine others. Is that the way you want to build your business?

Think about these:

  • Answer all your voice-mail messages. Within 24 hours when possible. Really customer-driven organizations answer their messages within 3 working hours.
  • Answer your e-mail within the same time frame.
  • Check your e-mail every day even if you are out of town. If you aren’t going to check your e-mail, disconnect it. Otherwise, the customer will assume you don’t care enough to want their business.
  • Never, ever, ever burn your bridges. Even if you lose a deal. Always take the high road. Courtesy, respect, being a class act, and behaving and treating others with dignity are key ingredients for long term success. They are like music to your soul.
  • Guarantee your quality of service: Accuracy. Punctuality. Problems solved. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. All your ducks are in order. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. And you’ll get the business and look good.
  • Superb customer service is fundamental in flipping negative experiences, such as difficult customers or situations, into positive word-of-mouth advertising. This is your best form of advertising. Everyone knows that your reputation is your best reference.
  • Remember that, in the majority of circumstances, the customer is always right.
  • Go with your gut feeling. It’s usually right.

Today, successful business people are not measured solely on analytical skills or achievement. There is a new focus on Emotional Intelligence which is, to a large extent, learned behavior. People skills, so key in building customer relations, include manners, communication skills and being a good listener. There is a re-emphasis on social graces, presentation skills and relationship building. Why? Lack of manners can be interpreted as a lack of respect for others, a real negative for business. People are fed up with rudeness and apathy and will take their business elsewhere if it is needed. Good manners are a roadmap for society. They are simply good business, and that’s why the trend is drifting back.

Great customer service enchants, seduces, charms and allures us into becoming clients and customers for life, and recognizing this, you’d think we’d be zealously striving for more.

Set the example: Customer service starts at the top, with you.


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