Wikipedia defines “customer retention” as, “…the activity that a selling organization undertakes in order to reduce customer defections. Successful customer retention starts with the first contact an organization has with a customer and continues throughout the entire lifetime of a relationship.” But, how do you achieve that, exactly? Based on 10 years of working with dealers of all makes and models scattered across the United States, I believe it can be summed up in a single word: culture.
The dealer must be willing to refine the culture of his business and how it relates to the customer. Almost all dealers “think” they do a good job at customer satisfaction, but when compared against the nationwide dealer network, they are pretty much all the same. Consequently, the customer perception of automotive dealers has not really changed much and, in fact, the perception was generally not that great to begin with. Changing the culture in the business model is essential in gaining a higher level of customer satisfaction, which results in retention rates that have not been seen before in the industry.
It is simply not good enough to design a customer-centric retention program without making sure that it includes the dealership staff. Getting 100-percent buy-in from every employee in the dealership is essential to achieving success with any retention program. You get engagement from your staff by training, monitoring and accountability.
Day One must include extensive group and one-on-one training be retention professionals who have the experience to establish professionals who have the experience to establish a foundation of understanding that everyone can easily understand. Every employee must know that this new culture is a “game changer,” and that there is a new way of doing business in your organization. Without the basic foundation, your program will begin with a few successes, but not the overwhelming results you should be seeing from it. The amount of time you devote to this training defines your level of commitment to your program. Too little time, and your employees will see this as just another “annoyance” and will continue to do “business as usual.” I recommend that one to two days be devoted to retention training at small-to medium-sized stores in order to accomplish the goal of creating a new culture.
Beginning with the day after training, your staff should be implementing your retention program with every customer encounter. You ensure this is done by constantly monitoring their work process to confirm it includes at every interaction with a customer the mention of your retention program. This must be done on a recurring daily basis, and with the goal of 100-percent compliance by every employee.
Holding your managers accountable for fully implementing your program should be the new norm – and not the exception. This can be done by continuing training and focusing on the new retention program at every opportunity. It is crucial that the dealer principal and general manager be the driver of this program in order for it to become culture.
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