Monthly Archives : February 2016

LIFT from CFS > 2016 > February

An Undercover Service Department Story


In the world of the automotive industry, we are always being evaluated. Whether it’s through customer or manufacturer surveys, this feedback is incredibly valuable and, in some cases, affects dealership revenue.

Just like everyone, I patronize dealerships for my vehicle service. I was concerned because my new vehicle with 16000 miles on it had some noises coming from the front end and I wasn’t sure if it was the engine, tires, or something else. My friend owns a nearby dealership and told me to come in. While my vehicle was being serviced we could go to lunch. But I should not tell anyone that I knew him, just mystery shop and provide feedback. I’m a busy guy, so I scheduled a service appointment online. I was surprised as I did not receive any confirmation or acknowledgement of my appointment at all.

With my travel schedule, I was unable to make a good appointment on a Monday or Tuesday. So, at 10:45 am on a Friday I arrived at the dealership and found myself instantly disenchanted as I sat in my vehicle, unwelcomed, by service advisors staring at their computers ignoring me.

I finally approached a service advisor who accompanied me to my vehicle, where I explained my concerns and suggested that a quick tire rotation might fix the problem. The service advisor asked me whether I’d be waiting, or need a shuttle. It was 10:45 and I explained that I need to leave by 1:30pm. He said that it was not going to happen. The dealership was slammed and he could not even get a tech to look until the next morning. A loaner car was not offered and he did not even offer to at least try a quick tire rotation. Instead he said, “You should really schedule your service on Monday early in the morning.” He gave me a tutorial on how to better schedule my appointments. Rather than get me in for a quick 20 minute tire rotation — scoop me in and service me — he sent me away and blamed me for poor scheduling.  I told him that as I had to travel next week I guess I would just have to leave. And he let me go.

So, I left and I could not find a spot in the dealer’s parking lot, as it was so busy. Eventually, I parked and went back into my buddy’s office. I did end up getting my tire rotation which fixed the problem and I went on my merry way.

The Service Director and I walked the lot and he explained to me how the massive amounts of recalls are challenging the efficiency of their service drive process and the customer experience.  The service advisors have plenty of business with all these recalls coming in – they are buried with enough business to keep them plenty busy, have no room on the lot and are jockeying three cars deep.

This got me to thinking about how, when business is good, some dealers act as though they do not need any new customers coming in. But, that is exactly when they SHOULD care. The fact is, you do not know when another recession will hit, or when your business will suffer. If I were a normal customer, that dealership may have lost my business forever.

These days, there is a huge amount of fantastic service lane technology available that should be used in these busy dealerships. I see it employed more and more now with tools like lane tablet systems that allow the customer to remain with the vehicle for a smooth check in; electronic welcome monitors displaying customers’ appointments; and mobile tools that allow customers to review their RO Estimates and pay online before they pick up their vehicle, which ultimately reduces waiting time.
The technology is out there to make things so much better. For example, several of the CRMs like ELEAD1ONE, and Dealersocket have great technology to improve the service drive process. MyKaarma, who we work with at CFS, is a customer interaction software that builds convenience into the service experience of automobile consumers, while simplifying the lives of service advisors.

This type of technology is exactly what today’s customers are using themselves, and now expect to see in businesses they patronize. I look at customers in the waiting room – they all have their heads down viewing some sort of electronic device. Increasingly they prefer the speed and convenience that technology provides without the necessity of any human interaction. For example, I am an avid user of Silvercar, which allows you to rent a vehicle, unlock your silver Audi rental car, and return the car without having any human interaction; no counter visits, no signing anything, and of course no waiting!

Dealers now have the technology to better service and interact with the customer so the customer knows what is up next and what to do. I look at all this available technology and everything that is going on and it is sad that this dealership could not get my vehicle done on time. And, that they did not even have my appointment in their scheduling system, and there was no welcome for me at all.

I’ve been there and know what it’s like when you pull into the service drive and it is mayhem, with 5 or 6 customers waiting in their vehicles for attention. The only thing that will help a dealership improve and manage that situation is technology which helps get the customer in and out quickly, and which also provides a smoother overall customer experience.

Today’s automotive service customers are all NASCAR drivers stopping in for a pit stop. They demand fast and responsive service for their vehicles. Competition in the vehicle service arena is fierce, with an abundance of vehicle service options which can easily result in defection to a competitor.

Consider doing your own mystery shop. Look at your service department as a customer would. Then, look at using available technology and make the necessary adjustments to help give customers the best possible service experience at your dealership, to help attract more customers and keep loyal ones coming back.




About The Author:  Dan has 20 years experience selling and managing technology/marketing solutions in the auto industry. Managing Partner and EVP of MyCustomerData, 8th employee and key team member building Who’sCalling; Corporate track record at BMW, Mini, MB, Volvo, FCA, Autonation, Sonic, Penske, Asbury and Van Tuyl dealer groups. BA, Eastern Illinois.  Dan also sits on the Board of Directors for Providence Speech and Hearing Center, a nonprofit organization providing services to the speech and hearing impaired of Orange County, California


Legal Disclaimer: The application generally takes 2-3 minutes. CFS will promptly fund the repair amount once repairs are completed and documents are executed. All loans are subject to approval pursuant to standard underwriting criteria. The CFS 60-Day Interest Free Program applies to approved customers who pay their entire loan off on time with no missed payments. Available amounts, terms and the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will be based on an evaluation of your credit history and your state of residence. The interest rate is fixed for the life of the loan and could range from 9.99% to 36.00% APR.

Read More

The Customer Experience Begins with Empowered Employees

In our competitive industry, a great customer experience is essential for developing and nurturing loyalty and retention. Many dealerships focus on providing an ever-increasing amount of amenities and luxuries as a necessity for that experience. However, the truth is that all the luxuries you can add won’t change anything if the most important piece of the customer experience puzzle isn’t in place – engaged employees.

I came across a sad fact recently. Did you know that around 70 percent of employees are not happy across all industries? Based on the high turnover numbers at dealerships, it would seem logical that that statistic is certainly true in our industry.

Study after study shows just how important engaged, empowered and happy employees are to the success of businesses. A great infographic posted recently reports some study results and highlights the fact that companies with happy employees outperform the competition by 20 percent. They are also 12 percent more productive. When it comes to sales, happy employees produce 37 percent more sales and 36 percent of employees would actually sacrifice $5,000 per year in salary to be happier at work! Knowing the incredible value of happy, satisfied employees, how do managers take that knowledge and actually implement it?

The first step is to look inside. Managers may be wise to ask themselves if they like the people that they work with and that work for them. If not, how can they expect their co-workers to be happy? And, let’s take it a step further down the line — If the manager isn’t happy, and the other staff walk around with long faces, then how can anyone expect the customer to be well serviced and happy? Employee satisfaction directly impacts the customer experience. So, what can managers do to unite the staff and ensure that they are happy? It all starts with trust.

Building trust is vital in developing and sustaining customer relationships. But, that trust cannot be built unless your employees trust you first. How often do employees have to jump through a bunch of red tape to correct something for a customer? Does the customer have to go through several employees to get a small upset rectified? The leaders in customer experience trust their employees with the power to turn an unhappy customer into a happy one simply by empowering them to make decisions. This shows the customer that the business cares about them. It also shows the employee that they are trusted to make the right decisions. The Ritz Carlton chain of hotels does this to the tune of $2,500 per guest, per day!

Once you begin to establish trust with your employees, the next step is to analyze the environment in which your employees work and the environment that the customer perceives when they walk into your showroom or service drive. If a customer pulls into the service drive and is ignored and made to wait; while they perhaps see overflowing trash cans, messy technicians that look miserable standing out back smoking cigarettes; do you think that is going to build confidence in your dealership? No. Not only that — if your employees are doing this, you can bet that they are not happy and feeling fulfilled at work.

Take a step back and really look at the environment that your service employees are working in. Is their workplace friendly, inviting and well lit? Some of the best service centers I’ve seen are ones where the service advisors and technicians are very busy. But, they are always friendly and out to make friends, not enemies. They are happy and satisfied with their jobs. In nearly every case these successful service departments are busy because the employees have been given the tools and technology they need to better manage their duties and be more efficient. These tools free them up to do proper meet and greets, spend the time needed with a customer and to quickly provide those customers with the solutions they are looking for. The ability to quickly address customer concerns about service or payment issues creates happier customers. This in turn provides greater job satisfaction for the employee, as they feel better about their performance.

One of the primary responsibilities of management is to ensure that employees have the resources they need to solve problems, right at their fingertips. Removing any obstacles that prevent employees from performing their job responsibilities efficiently should be a priority.

If your dealership could improve in this area, start by studying the barriers that prevent employees from doing a good job with customers. If the service drive is getting a lot of traffic at a certain time of the day, have a look at the traffic and see if you can find a solution to help speed things up. Or, are there some tasks that could be taken out of the advisor’s hands that they don’t necessarily have to do? Take a look at some of the new technologies out there that can streamline the service department such as automatic alignment machines; fully integrated online service appointment scheduling systems that help load balance your service bays; mobile tools for inspections and vehicle walk arounds; and digital systems that help identify guests for the advisors and pre-load all the customer and vehicle information. In addition, many advisors spend a great amount of time trying to reach customers to get approval for service recommendations. Ensure that advisors have multiple channels – text, email and phone — to communicate with customers. This increases the likelihood that the customer is reached, responds faster, and that the vehicle gets repaired on time, making for a happy customer.

Most people work to live rather than live to work. Knowing the importance of happy, healthy employees, why not develop programs that incentivize employees outside of their work. Do you offer programs that help them stay healthy? Are there opportunities for advancement available for them to work towards?

Too often we get so focused on hitting goals that we forget about the people who drive those numbers. Remember, many studies prove that happy employees are more productive and add to your bottom line. So, take the time and invest in the wellbeing of your employees. This transfers into customer satisfaction. And, when you have both, there is no greater ROI to be had.





About The Author: Tony Orlando is CFS’ Vice President of Partner Development.  More than 15 years Automotive retail, OEM and third-party lead provider experience. Two years dealership sales and service experience and 13 years with both import and domestic OEMs. This is Tony’s second automotive startup company. He spent three years with TrueCar cultivating its business in the Southwest states. Maintains relationship with over 600 franchised automotive dealers and industry leaders. Tony has a Business Administration and Marketing degree from Mary Washington College Fredericksburg, VA.


Legal Disclaimer: The application generally takes 2-3 minutes. CFS will promptly fund the repair amount once repairs are completed and documents are executed. All loans are subject to approval pursuant to standard underwriting criteria. The CFS 60-Day Interest Free Program applies to approved customers who pay their entire loan off on time with no missed payments. Available amounts, terms and the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will be based on an evaluation of your credit history and your state of residence. The interest rate is fixed for the life of the loan and could range from 9.99% to 36.00% APR.

Read More

Differentiation in the Modern Age of Marketing


If you’re like most professionals, you’ve honed your craft over many years, learning with every new position and job. Wherever your career has taken you, there’s one common denominator – there are no two places that are the same. For those outside of the auto industry, that seems a bit unbelievable because every dealership and shop seems pretty much the same. Whether you’re in service or sales, new or pre-owned, Fords or Chryslers – it’s all tires, transmissions and transactions to the average consumer.

While every dealership or service center offers similar products and services, those of us on the inside know that every location is different. You know this as sure as every customer is different, yet the average consumer has great difficulty distinguishing one dealer or service center over another once they get past the vehicle makes you sell or services you offer. The OEMs invest heavily in brand differentiation, but it doesn’t help a dealer who is competing with another dealer pushing the same vehicle make. Service centers face an even tougher challenge as most don’t have the benefit of OEM marketing muscle or a huge advertising budget. Stop into just about any dealer lot or service center and you’ll find that 95% of the buying experience revolves around brand reliability/performance and price. After all, that’s all that consumers care about, right?

All the consumer research in the world isn’t wrong – price is king. Consumers have been fed nothing but a steady diet of the price proposition from the auto industry. Once we get past promoting our inventory of cars and trucks, we slip into an old comfortable pair of shoes – price promotions. It’s what we’ve been feeding consumers, and they’ve happily digested it, turning our own sales efforts against us and relegating us to simplistic purveyors of a commoditize product. Once the consumer knows they’re buying a Toyota Tacoma, they’ll use Sunday’s auto section or the internet to pit one Toyota dealer against another, using price and availability to squeeze every ounce of profitability out of the transaction. I don’t think anything that I’m writing here is some sort of revelation that explains why the modern consumer has so much leverage in shopping for vehicles or repair services. The sad truth is that we’ve willingly done this to ourselves. So now what?

Unless you own a time machine, there’s nothing you can do about the past. Instead, move forward by taking advantage of the fact that so few organizations practice the true art of differentiation, and fewer still explore the full spectrum of what it takes to stand out in a noisy world. More importantly, as the cost of customer acquisition skyrockets and the emphasis on customer retention becomes the platform to secure profitability over the long haul, you’ll need to master differentiation in the modern age of marketing. This is a model I adapted from marketer E. Jerome McCarthy, who proposed a four Ps classification in 1960, which has since been used by marketers throughout the world. I’ve added two additional Ps to a modern version of 7 Ps called the “Marketing Mix” that is referenced often by the American Marketing Association (AMA). To summarize, with effective differentiation, an organization elevates its stature in the consumer’s perception, thus yielding better margins for a more comprehensive offering that extends beyond price and product. You’ll see this tactic used everywhere in modern marketing and advertising. Is Snickers selling chocolate and peanuts for a dollar or is it combating dysfunctional social behavior caused by hunger? For benefits like that, price is irrelevant.

Let’s explore the 9 P’s that make up product differentiation in the modern age of marketing. Along with the definitions, I’ve also added a narrative to how each might be addressed as a service center or auto dealership.

  • Price: Price is what you charge for products and services.  If you lead with price as a differentiator, it leaves little room to negotiate your way to profitability unless you make it up in volume.  Since it’s difficult in the automotive world to ignore price, use it as a means to secure loyalty over time ($99 for 4 oil changes) or to bundle a more complete solution to the consumer’s problem (includes labor, wheel balancing and new valve stem).
  • Product: Product is what you sell, including services as a repair facility.  It’s difficult to differentiate the vehicle or the service, but learn to wrap more into the product the consumer is buying (e.g. extra 5K in lease miles).  Identify the list of associate product offerings that would take your team less than 5 minutes to complete as part of the purchase.  It will go a long way towards differentiating the product.  Also, add products or services that create “touch points.”  You want to see the customer often in order to solidify relationships that will pay off when they ready for their next big purchase or repair.
  • Placement: Placement is the location or channel where the consumer can purchase the product or service.  You can wait for the consumer to find you or you can find linkages to the consumer through partnerships in your community (e.g. special offer for Uber drivers in your zip code).  This tactic is about creating relevance for the prospect.  Exclusive offers drive sales whether there is a savings or not.
  • Promotion: Promotion is how you tell the market of your products and services.  Beyond the medium (television, print or the internet), promotional differentiation can also translate into the gimmicks that make that promotion memorable.  How will you stand out?  You might be aware of a car dealer in Long Beach, CA named Cal Worthington, whose commercial featured his dog Spot, which was always some exotic animal, like a tiger or elephant rather than a dog.  Memorable.
  • People: People are the frontline of consumer interactions.  It’s why you’ll never forget who your fourth grade teacher was or while you’ll never visit the restaurant where the manager was rude.  It’s more than good or bad service.  It’s the connection to whether the business transaction evolved into a personal interaction.  Did it feel like a sales event or were your needs addressed like the valued customer who is in search of a trusted mechanic or car dealer?
  • Process: Process is how you manufacture the product or service, typically identifying with a social responsibility bigger than the transaction itself?  Do a percentage of your proceeds go to local charities?  Do you offer auto repair financing to consumers who would otherwise not have access to credit?  Do you appear to run a facility that promotes “green” initiatives?  Social responsibility has become a real force in steering consumers to make specific buying decisions.
  • Physical Evidence: Physical evidence is the evidence which shows that a service was performed, such as the new tires on a car or the number of miles on a new car.  It can also be the proof that the service was poor or delivered without care (e.g. oil stains on the driver steering wheel).  Whether positive or negative, this is the kind of stuff that ends up on a Facebook post.  Take the extra step by providing the consumer the option of inspecting the used parts before replacement or having someone complete a new vehicle inspection before handing over the keys.  Assume that consumers don’t trust you – the burden of proof is yours.
  • Positioning: Positioning is how you want to be remembered for how you sell cars or repair vehicles.  Too many dealers say they are “the low price leader” – again, don’t differentiate on price because you’ll be held accountable to drive prices right into the gutter.  Instead, use regional landmarks or demographics to stake a claim on market opportunity (e.g. “Providing Toyota Trucks for Service Men and Women in the Fort Hood Area” or “We’ll do your brake job in 45 minutes or the next one is free”).  It’s how the consumer will describe you – shape it.
  • Packaging: Packaging is how the customer encounters your product or service while in the market for it.  In the consumer retail world, product developers spend millions on packaging solutions.  It matters to the consumer how the product appears on the shelf – and it should matter to you.  What does your waiting room look like?  Would you serve that coffee to your house guests?  Do the magazines feature the 2004 Olympics?  Do your service advisors have mismatching shirts with oil stains on them?  Let’s not even talk about the bathroom facilities.  The entire experience speaks to how you value the customer experience.  Package it to match the perception you want your customers to have of your products and services.

In architecting your organizational DNA, you’ll now have more than your products and pricing to consider. While you don’t need to establish a fingerprint in all 9 areas, you’ll want to evaluate your standing in each and identify where the strengths and weaknesses are. You can also evaluate your competitors similarly in order to further drive a wedge between them and the consumer who wants to push you to match price offers. At the end of this exercise, you’ll be able to work with your marketing team to pull these attributes into your advertising messages and sales talk tracks. Again, it’s not about some seasonal promotion event or marketing campaign. Your organizational DNA needs to be lived out in every interaction, organically, completely and consistently. The consumer is now armed with access to social networks to expose your hypocrisy, which could damage your brand beyond immediate repair. Defining what you are to the market has more to do with your ability to execute on that vision than it does with your aspirations as a business. Consumers value reliability and authenticity just as much as price. Don’t overreach in your attempts to be all things to all people.

With proper differentiation, you should be able to answer the single most important question in the automotive industry, “Why buy here?” In a commoditized world of vehicle sales and service, you have no choice but to undo the decades of damage we’ve done through price promotion. All pricing being relatively equal, it’s time to help consumers evaluate another layer of attributes – the virtues of an organization that wants to win the business today and over the years to come.




About The Author: Sean Reyes is Vice President of Marketing for Confident Financial Solutions, the nation’s largest provider of auto repair financing. Sean’s experience spans more than 25 years of business development and strategic marketing experience, having worked in the automotive, healthcare, finance and technology industries to serve customers like American Express, Toshiba, Western Digital, Cox Communications, Gateway, Novartis, Microsoft, IBM, Compaq, HP, MyCustomerData, Toyota of Orange, and Fletcher Jones Mercedes Benz. While he has an accomplished portfolio of design, production and coding skills, his strength is in “go-to-market” business modeling and marketing strategies.


Legal Disclaimer: The application generally takes 2-3 minutes. CFS will promptly fund the repair amount once repairs are completed and documents are executed. All loans are subject to approval pursuant to standard underwriting criteria. The CFS 60-Day Interest Free Program applies to approved customers who pay their entire loan off on time with no missed payments. Available amounts, terms and the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will be based on an evaluation of your credit history and your state of residence. The interest rate is fixed for the life of the loan and could range from 9.99% to 36.00% APR.

Read More