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Some dealers spending a mint (or mints) to improve customer service

November 17, 2010
By Jim Koss, Contributing Editor, American International Automobile Dealers Association
 

How customers perceive the showroom transaction and subsequent dealer service ultimately can influence their perception of the entire brand. Several companies put us in touch with dealers they feel are helping build brand customers for life. Investment ranges from a few dollars to a few million.

 

At Volkswagen of America headquarters in Detroit, they’re keeping a close eye on Ron Esserman’s Miami VW store. For the past three years, employees atEsserman Volkswagen have been wearing curious buttons that say only "Yes." It’s an acronym for "You’re Empowered to Satisfy" and tells the customer that the employees will do their best to answer all questions and meet reasonable requests.

 

"The customer doesn’t come here to hear anyone say "no,’ " said owner Ron Esserman. "We cannot say ‘yes’ to every single request, but we promise to try our best," he said. The "Yes" can be for little things, and if there’s a billable expense, it’s filed under goodwill. Or it can be something like the service department going to bat for the customer over a warranty issue.

 

Esserman said his dealerships have always operated this way, but the "Yes" program formalized the effort with training and made it more visible to customers. It appears to be working. Esserman said his VW store is now fourth or fifth in the country. "We were quite a ways down before this program," he said.

 

  • Walk into Scott Fink’s brand-new Hyundai store in Wesley Chapel, Fla. and notice what you don’t hear: There are no phones in the showroom. Fink explained that keeping phones used for follow-up in a separate area enables a salesperson to devote full attention to an individual customer.

 

"I’m a firm believer that all consumers—and I include myself—like to do business in a clean, comfortable, fresh environment," said Fink. The new facility boasts a completely open floorplan, with management offices separated only by transparent walls. "The old days of the salesman disappearing from customer view to talk to a manager are gone," he added.

 

Fink, of course, did not become one of the top-volume Hyundai dealers by just making the showroom comfortable. His first store, in nearby New Port Richey, has sold 13,500 Hyundais in its first four years of operation. "This is one of the handful of dealers who helps set the standards for Hyundai in volume, professionalism and CSI," Fink said. "We take advantage of every program Hyundai offers."  

A key customer benefit is one year’s free maintenance with every new-vehicle purchase. And making that first-year maintenance easier and faster are quick-lube lanes in the service areas. Both of Fink’s Hyundai stores have loaner fleets, as well.

 

Fink said the customer-focused practices have resulted in a loyal following for his "big store" in New Port Richey. The name recognition, he added, helped successfully launch the Wesley Chapel store, which sold 118 vehicles in its first full month versus planning volume of 50. 

  • At Olathe Toyota-Scion in Olathe, Kan., the top Toyota dealer in its region, it’s all about going big and keeping customers comfortable. Last month, Olathe re-opened with a newly renovated $5.5 million 46,000-square-foot facility, nearly twice the size of its original dealership.

 

The new facility was designed with the customer in mind, according to dealership president Kenny Thomas. It has added a car wash, and a new customer lounge features four computers for customer use, along with wireless Internet access and an automated coffee station. Customers can sip coffee while watching a 54-inch high-definition television.

 

The new service area more than doubled the number of stalls, from 14 to 37, and is fully air conditioned. "With the new additions to this facility, I am confident that we have raised the bar on customer service to a level not yet achieved by any dealership in the Kansas City area," said Thomas. 

  • Dave Zoloto, general manager of Porsche North Scottsdale, Ariz., said, "I never think of a customer walking in to the dealership as buying just one vehicle." Instead, Zoloto sees the potential to make a customer for life and sell them more Porsches over the coming years. The experience for the customer begins when entering what a Porsche spokesperson described as "perhaps the most impressive Porsche facility in the country. It is more reminiscent of a race shop with its spotless facility."

 

Zoloto said the dealership, which opened four years ago, looks as new and clean as on its first day of business. "You could eat off of the service department floor," he said. The facility’s impressive cleanliness helps make the customer feel more comfortable.

 

The dealership builds on the comfort by extending a welcome. A letter personally signed by Zoloto follows the purchase of a new or used vehicle at North Scottsdale. The same thing goes for a service customer after the initial visit.

 

Customers may appreciate the letters, but what they might like even more is that Scottsdale recently reduced prices for several maintenance procedures. Zolotosaid the dealership heard complaints about prices through its outside survey company, which queries all purchase and service customers, not just new-vehicle owners coming in for warranty work. Now, prices are more in line with what customers expect, he said.

 

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