Category : Best Practices

LIFT from CFS > Best Practices
25Feb

An Undercover Service Department Story

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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.

 


 

execs_dan

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.

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11Feb

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.

 

 


 

execs_tony

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.

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4Feb

Differentiation in the Modern Age of Marketing

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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.

 


 

execs_sean

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.

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29Jan

The Long Arm of Loyalty

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In the decades I’ve been in the automotive industry, I’ve rarely seen a dealerhips compete on anything other than price. After all, it’s pretty easy to compare pricing, especially with the advent of the internet. Today, more than ever, the consumer has the ability to shop faster, further and with all the tools that strip leverage away from the dealership. Frankly, we’ve done this to ourselves and, at the same time, failed to address the other differentiators, namely the product.

Really? The product? Sure, we’re all pulling from the same OEM lineup, but dealerships are selling more than cars and trucks – we’re selling relationships. And these relationships aren’t limited to “Year-End Clearances” or other seasonal promotions. The relationships with customers extend beyond selling a car. They’re about multiple cars over many years to one or more members of their friends and family. Sell a car, service that vehicle, sell them another car. We’re only now seeing the early benefits of customer lifecycle management, but it’s clear to me that we’re either in the business of selling relationships, or we’re doomed to push a commodity that marginalizes our unique contribution. What kind of dealership is yours? There’s a better question than that – it’s “Why buy here?”

Here’s the gut check because, as I mentioned, we’ve done this to ourselves. The good news is that we can climb our way out of the hole we’ve been digging – and it begins with the Service Department. Listen, we’ve sold the vehicle and there’s little chance we’re going to sell the customer another vehicle in six months time. Still, we can lay the ground work for another purchase years down the road with the months of quality service and care that our Service Department exhibits. Remember, figuratively speaking, we’re selling relationships, not cars and trucks. According to data research firm Information Resources, just under two-thirds of consumers (65 percent) say price is becoming more important than convenience in brand purchases.

It’s not to say that price isn’t important. Don’t focus on the two-thirds who say it is, but rather the one-third who would prefer to pay more for better service and convenience. With slim profit margins on vehicle sales, price isn’t as big a chasm to traverse as you’d think. What your competitor can’t compete on is the convenience you offer and the years of quality service your Service Department has provided that customer. You want that consumer to buy their next car from you? Then create a pleasurable experience in your service department that adds more positive touch-points. The better the customer experience, the more you’ll see that customer in your service drive, the more times you’ll inspect that vehicle, and the higher likelihood you’ll be in close proximity when that customer decides that the advantages of a new car purchase outweigh the benefits of repairing the existing vehicle. Conversely, without great service from your team, chances are your dealership isn’t even being considered by the consumer. That is, unless you’re willing to beat the price of the competing dealer. Such a vicious cycle we find ourselves in when we’ve underestimated the true value of customer loyalty and retention.

Put down the company punch you’ve been drinking long enough to ask yourself that insightful question, “Why buy here?” The answers should extract the points of differentiation that you’ll want to emphasize in all your consumer marketing and customer interactions. The research will only support the cause. A repeat customer spends 67% more than a new one (BIA/Kelsey) and, according to business analyst ClickFox, 48% of consumers said that the most critical time to gain their loyalty is when they make their first purchase or begin service. Sure, move cars and trucks, but sell relationships over a lifetime – there’s more opportunity, less competition and clear differentiation.

 

 


 

About The Author: Tom Cannata is the Vice President of East Coast Sales for Confident Financial Solutions, the nation’s largest provider of auto repair financing. Tom Cannata brings to CFS more than 30 years of sales and leadership experience in the automotive industry. Prior to joining CFS, Cannata served in an executive capacity at Toyota, Chrysler and J.D. Power & Associates. He has also consulted for OEM’s such as Kia as well as several large dealer groups. Among his many career highlights include serving as a member of the core team that developed and launched the industry standard Chrysler Five Star program and Chrysler MarketCenter. Tom can be reached at tom.cannata@confidentfs.com .

 

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.

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20Jan

Why the Fuss Over Customer Retention?

Our world is certainly changing. Due to technology and the ability to access incredible amounts of information, the consumer purchase cycle is completely different to that of just a decade ago. And, the dealership market area has changed too. Technology now enables dealerships on each coast to compete with each other for new sales. You no longer have to simply worry about the competitor down the street. Naturally, this gives consumers great choice. As a result, we are seeing an industry-wide increase in awareness about the importance of customer retention.

Here are a few things I believe have contributed to the return of customer retention to the spotlight and how to use them to your benefit to stand out from the crowd:

Explosion of Social Networks –  Imagine if a news truck pulled up to your dealership and started broadcasting. It would definitely provide a sense of urgency to ensure that your dealership is presented in the best light. You’d probably be concerned and take immediate steps to find out what’s going on. You’d take action to put out whatever fire may exist to avoid any bad image in your community.

Well, the reality is that every customer with a smartphone now has a ‘virtual’ news truck in their hands. And it’s not just the community they can broadcast to… it’s the World. Consumers have the ability to reach mass audiences including their social networks through social media posts and live video… right at your dealership. As a result, the customer experience is more important than ever before. Today, it has to be a great customer experience for every customer, all of the time. News, both good and bad, travels fast. So, make sure it is good news. And keep up on your social networks. Make sure you know what is going on. Answer your customers’ questions and concerns on social media. Be a resource for your local community. Give them a reason to think AND talk well of you.

More Choice – In the past, consumers were limited to a small geographic region where they shopped for products and services. With the rise of the Internet, that geographic area is now limitless. With the simple click of a mouse, consumers can shop globally through marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay, with complete confidence. There is no way to combat that. It is the new reality. The one thing that has not changed is that customers will stick with businesses that deliver an exceptional customer experience. However, it’s no longer enough to deliver common courtesy. To stand out to the customer we must deliver “uncommon” courtesy. Take the time to establish what your customer’s want. What will make them drive by that other dealership onto your service drive, or into your showroom? What do you offer that is unique and different? Build up your image. Trust is extremely important to consumers, and that is one thing that is unlikely to change any time soon.  You can’t be everything to everybody and everybody isn’t who you should be worrying about. It’s your customers. Nobody understand them better than you. Figure out who your customers are and what they expect. If you don’t know, ask them.

Competition – An increase in consumer choice is logically accompanied by an increase in competition. It costs more than ever before to acquire new customers for the simple reason that the cost of marketing to them has increased. What is the cost of acquiring a new customer compared to the cost of keeping an existing customer? There is no definitive answer to this question, but most sources say the answer is that it costs between 4 and 10 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Where would you rather spend your money? Don’t forget, the lifetime value of a customer includes everything they will ever buy from you today, tomorrow, and in the years ahead. How and what are you doing to retain your existing clients and customers? Do you have a system in place that will make your existing clients and customers raving fans of your business and a constant source of referrals for your business?

Customer Lifecycle – It hasn’t always been easy to accurately track and visualize a customer lifecycle. Technology and analytics have completely changed that. The customer lifecycle is now real and quantifiable. We can draw the circle of life on a graph and actually see the lifetime value of a customer with confidence and assign direct attribution to our marketing sources. It is now possible to see how much each customer means right now, as well as their value in the future. How often will they service their vehicle and how much will they spend? When will they purchase their next vehicle? What is their real lifetime value? Technology enables you to go beyond simply tracking them. You can now find breaks in that customer lifecycle. For those dealerships that are paying attention, you can notice aberrations quickly and take steps to intervene and perhaps save that customer from being lost to the competition.

Legacy Sales – I am sure that every dealership has customers that are an excellent source of referrals from their friends, associates and family members. In the past, these types of legacy sales were mostly limited to generations and family members. You would sell a car to grandma, then to mom and then to daughter. With the explosion of social networks, legacy sales now have an incredible potential of reaching deep into your customers’ social networks. This shift has increased the value of each customer relationship and the potential quantity of referral opportunities. It is yet another reason to ensure that your dealership has a vibrant and active social presence. Be sure to interact well with your customers via social media. Post quality content. Watch, listen for and answer customer posts, questions and comments on your social media.

Commodities – Your products and services are commodities. It’s no longer realistic to rest on your laurels simply because you’re the only Ford dealer in town. Whether you are or not, the fact is that consumers now have a huge variety of sources where they can research, purchase and service their vehicles. Failure to continuously provide them with a great experience and a reason to return will quickly drive them to your competition. Be sure to stand out and differentiate your dealership from any competition. A great customer experience doesn’t mean that you have to install a Starbucks in the lobby, discount all of your services or give away the farm. Simply give your customers every reason to do business with you by removing any reasons for them not to. And, be creative. Be a resource for your community. Offer car care clinics for mothers and check child safety seats for free. Hold technology days where you go over all those new tech features in the car. Partner with the top charity in your community and involve your customers. Whatever resonates with YOUR customers and YOUR community. Find these partnerships and embrace them and your customers will appreciate it.

So, why the fuss over customer retention? It’s certainly much easier these days for customers to defect to the competition. Take steps to evaluate your customer churn, identify pain points that may be causing them to leave and make an effort to remove the reasons for defection. Utilize the data you have in your DMS to identify at-risk customers and reach out to them. It might be too late. But, then again, it may not be. The only way to find out is to reach out to them. Endeavour to create a customer experience where each customer feels valued and appreciated – in whatever manner you are able. Be creative! If you are exceptional to them, you just may find that they will be exceptional right back.

 

 


 

execs_tony

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.

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5Jan

Developing Strategic Partnerships That Last

blogpost_customerquote

At CFS, we believe strategic partnerships are an invaluable way to create mutually beneficial relationships. However, just as in love and marriage, the chances of success increase greatly when both sides have the same goals and visions. In that spirit, I would like to quickly cover some of the benefits CFS offers our strategic partners:

One of the pain points between many vendors and dealers is marketing attribution. How do you answer that darned question, “Where’s my ROI?” I am sure you have all had dealers shoot down attribution reports, stating that they would have made those sales anyways; or that those customers would have come in without your service. Our Auto Repair Finance Program has built in reporting that clearly shows direct attribution. It’s really tough for a dealer to claim that they would have earned that service business, or sold those tires, when our reports clearly show that a customer utilized our financing to pay for them. Perhaps they may have – eventually. However, the feedback we receive from consumers is that they would have declined the work without the financing option.

When it comes to marketing, there are about a million different ways to tell the market about your products and services.  Especially in this digital age of Internet marketing, it can be a little intimidating. The good news is that CFS Marketing is here to help you position our Auto Repair Finance Program.  So let’s go tell the market together utilizing strategies that we know work – from social media to pay-per-click, affiliate marketing to direct mail.

An additional layer of expertise CFS Marketing can offer relates to consumer lending laws.  You should know that CFS’ Auto Repair Finance Program is subject to all the fair lending laws that the federal government imposes, and monitors through the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB).  As such, CFS subscribes to the highest level of transparency when discussing its lending practices and guidelines.  All of our marketing language, from brochures to website content, has been scrutinized by our Legal & Compliance Department to ensure that it is in line with truth-in-lending statutes.  We share this with our partner shops to advise them to seek our assistance with any additional marketing efforts they would like to embark on.  This is for the peace of mind of our partners as well as ours.  We’re here to help and encourage you to bring us into the loop early on in the process.

Marketing the benefits of our Auto Repair Finance Program to consumers is proven to increase service revenue and aftermarket sales. We also offer our partners white label programs, which can provide an even more seamless and transparent integration for both dealers and their customers. Dealers utilizing this program can market a new value-added benefit to their customers, and stand out from the competition. Our primary goal is to provide a favorable alternative to credit card financing, resulting in increased credit approvals and immediate access to capital. Customers apply online via a smart phone, tablet or computer and receive an instant credit decision. With CFS, partner service centers increase activity on the service drive, increase revenue at the service center and enhance overall customer retention.

Financing in service presents a unique and convenient offering for consumers, whether they’re spending $7,500 for a major repair, or just a few hundred dollars. The ability to spread the payments out, and pay an amount that is affordable on a monthly basis, is attractive to many consumers. It produces revenue that is otherwise lost if the customer is forced to decline needed work due to lack of available funds.

The ability to offer financing also presents service advisors with an easy, non-aggressive avenue for upsells – and it reduces the money objection. This, in turn, leads to decreased service declines. CFS handles everything from approvals, to payment processing.

If you would like to leverage CFS to improve your marketing efforts with your clients. Or, if you would like us to bring more value to your current product suite or offerings, we’d love to talk with you and see whether a strategic partnership with us makes sense.

 


 

execs_dan

About The Author: Dan Beres is CFS’ Vice President of Corporate Development.  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.

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28Dec

Make Your Service Department the Cinderella Story

In most dealerships, the sales department is typically seen as the favorite child, despite the fact that it’s typically the service department that does all the heavy lifting and keeps the house in order. Because of that, sales is usually where new technologies, website widgets, leads and other digital expenditures are introduced. Just take a look at most dealership websites and you’ll find a sad absence of any real service presence – other than perhaps hours of operation, hidden in small print in some corner,  along with a basic service schedule form.

I get it. Acquiring new sales customers is a highly competitive business these days. As a result, dealers tend to focus the majority of their time crafting strategies to do just that. However, it is the service department that offers the greater opportunity to increased revenue — more than any other department. It just needs a little love and attention.

I’ve worked with hundreds of service departments over the years. Those that do well follow a few simple best practices that work. I thought I’d share a few processes that can transform your service department into a well-oiled and more profitable machine.

1.    Use Technology Well:
Dealerships that embrace technology in their service departments operate more efficiently with increased profitably. Technology can help your service department decrease average repair times and better manage the flow of service traffic. It can also increase technician productivity by reducing the amount of down time waiting for parts, or an approval from the customer on a service recommendation. A simple way to start is to monitor the workflow and processes in your service department and identify areas which slow down or halt work progress. This can help locate any pain points that affect the volume of service work your shop can handle. Once the pain points are discovered, look for technology to help. Or, consider making changes by implementing processes to better service your customers and complete more ROs within the same amount of time.

2.    Communication is Key:
How often do your service advisors play phone tag with customers to get service recommendations approved? Typically, the time between the inspection and actually reaching the customer for approval is far too long.

Offer multiple ways for your customers to contact and/or respond to a service advisor is key. While a customer may not be able to take a phone call at work, they can often easily answer an e-mail or text message. Internal communications are equally important. While most dealerships have a CRM to track activities pertaining to sales, not all have integrated their service department into their CRMs. Check with your CRM vendor to see what they offer, and train your service department well on its use. These type of systems allow relevant personnel to check vehicle status, see inspection results and service recommendations. It then becomes a much simpler process for the service department to more efficiently service the customer, answer any status-based question at a glance. It also creates a valuable record enabling advisors to offer more personalized service in future customer interactions. This tends to build trust — a more informed customer also means more approved recommendations and less declined services.

3.    Offer More Service Financing Options:
I bet a good number of your customers decline service repairs today, not because they don’t want them, or find them unnecessary – but for the simple reason, they cannot afford them.

Consider offering multiple ways for the customer to pay for service repairs. Integrate financing options into each process touchpoint: From the moment the customer pulls into your service drive, train your advisors to inform customers that financing options are available to them. The customer is then primed with the knowledge and may not be quite so hasty to decline the recommendations, opting instead to explore financing as a viable option. Copy the successful practices of department stores. Whenever the customer is ready to pay for repairs, train your employees to ask whether they would like to pay with cash, check, credit card or financing. Department stores use this process for a simple reason, it works.

While some OEMs have lines of credit available, these are typically reserved for tier one credit customers and may not be available to the majority of your existing customers. There are alternative financing options that extend credit to a wider range of customers including those with less than perfect credit. Investigate and adopt those that work best for your dealership. A customer may not be able to pay a $1,800 repair bill all at once. But in the ever growing, payment driven society we find ourselves in today, they could be more comfortable with a $75 per month payment option.

4.    Don’t Hide the Service Department on your Website:
According to a 2013 Google study, “The Road to Winning Drivers: What Drivers Want in Automotive Aftermarket Service,” each month, 70 million searches on Google were for aftermarket services. That’s sure to have grown over the last couple of years. However, most consumers have to turn to sources other than their local dealer’s website for information about their vehicle’s service needs. Look at many independent service facility websites and you will find robust information regarding the services they offer, along with some pricing for more basic maintenance services. Many offer blog articles and/or videos explaining the importance of different services as well. Update your website so that your service department presents online just as well as it does offline. Find a robust online appointment scheduling software that integrates well with your website, as well as internally in the shop. Have financing options highlighted.
Take steps now to give your service department the tools it needs for success in 2016 and beyond!

 

(This blog post was also featured on CBT News)

 

 


 

execs_tony

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.

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11Dec

Fed up With Service Declines?

blogpost_customerquote

We all know the term “declined service repair.” Increasingly, I hear service departments are having a hard time keeping customers in the service lane to get those declined services done.

Imagine if financing didn’t exist for vehicle purchases. Chances are that very few would ever be able to own one, despite the desire to do so. The same situation applies to service repairs. I bet that a good number of your customers are declining service repairs not because they don’t want them, or think them unnecessary – but for the simple reason that they cannot afford them. And they are probably too embarrassed to admit it. With the CFS Auto Repair Finance Program, you can offer your customers a way to pay for repairs in a more affordable manner. While a customer may not be able to afford a $2,000 repair bill all at once, they could perhaps afford $75 per month.

Our primary goal is to provide a favorable alternative to credit card financing, resulting in increased credit approvals and immediate access to capital. Customers apply online via a smart phone, tablet or computer and receive an instant credit decision. With CFS, partner service centers increase activity on the service drive, increase revenue at the service center and enhance overall customer satisfaction. In fact, the average increase in service revenue is 20%; average loan approval rate 46%; and average increase in monthly revenue is $46,000.

The service department is typically the busiest place in any dealership and the staff have an overwhelming amount of different processes and things to worry about throughout the day. This program doesn’t hamper the service process. If anything, it helps them to get additional revenue and get those customers back on the road – it is a good fit all the way around.

For our CFS dealer partners, the key to decreasing service declines and maximizing customer participation lies in making your customers aware that they have other options available to finance the repair as early as possible in the repair process.

Here are a few best practices that can help improve results with your customers:

1. Start awareness early: Don’t wait until a large repair bill is presented, start making your customers aware of this option early in your process. Feature it as a drop down menu on your website under “Service.” Some of our dealers even have it pop up as an option as part of the online scheduling process. When you send service appointment reminders, include a message that financing options are available, with a link for the customer to get pre-approved. CFS also offers its partner stores a full array of point-of-sale (POS) solutions like desktop brochures, posters and stickers. Whether they need a large repair, or a simple oil change, at the very least you have made the customer aware that financing exists.

Also promote that you offer 0% APR for qualified customers when they pay the loan off within 60 days. This could capture the attention of any customers that are perhaps momentarily cash-squeezed and find it more convenient to finance the repair for a couple of months, with no finance charges.

2. Integrate financing options into each process touchpoint: From the moment the customer pulls into your service drive, train your advisors to inform customers that financing options are available to them. The customer is then primed with the knowledge and may not be quite so hasty to decline the recommendations, opting instead to explore financing as a viable option. Copy the successful practices of department stores. Whenever the customer is ready to pay for repairs, train your employees to ask whether they would like to pay with cash, check, credit card or financing. Department stores use this process for a simple reason, it works.

3. Presentation: Whenever a service advisor prepares to present a customer with a significant service recommendation or unexpected repair, make sure that they always inform the customer during that presentation that financing options are available. By making this a consistent process, customers that would normally decline service simply because they cannot afford it, can explore an alternate method of payment that they perhaps can afford. We have found that the customer is then less likely to turn down the service.

4. Don’t get stuck on a number: Don’t assume that just because a $350 repair bill doesn’t seem high to you, that it isn’t a financial burden for the customer. Always offer the customer the option for financing. You may well find that customers take you up on the financing offer for lower repair bills than you’d expect.

 

The bottom line is that the CFS Repair Finance Program allows you to offer customers an additional way to pay for their repairs. By keeping the message in front of your customers throughout the entire service experience, you’ll find that rather than leaving your dealership without completing the repairs, an increasing amount of customers will be happy to get the work done.

 


 

execs_dan

About The Author: Dan Beres is CFS’ Vice President of Corporate Development.  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