Article

Storybook Service: Piercey Automotive Gets Creative to Keep Customers

November 2008, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Jennifer Rincon - Also by this author

In “The Book of Lost Things” by John Connolly, 12-year-old David is trapped in a storybook world, winding through a gauntlet of mythical and frightening situations. Though at first he is pitifully dependent on those around him, he ends up leaving that world as a brave decision-maker.

Back in our own world, a group of California dealerships under the banner of Piercey Automotive and dealer William Piercey decided that the customer should be the protagonist of Service Land. Mike Spagle, vice president of fixed operations for all five Piercey stores, stated:  “Customers tend to do business where they feel they’ve had their best experience.”

What exactly makes up the best experience? Usually, it’s that precious ingredient, time. In San Jose, where residents work for companies with names like eBay and Yahoo!, some customers have told Spagle they would pay $50 or more to have their car picked up, serviced and returned—if it would save them time.

Piercey addresses this on a broader level by having all customers’ vehicles washed, even after an oil change, but time is just one element of the scale. If the service doesn’t measure up to a customer’s best experience, the customer will defect. If you exceed or at least match that best experience, you’ve gained a new hero for your book.

What about price, isn’t it more important than time?  “We found that, once the services are explained to the customer,” said Spagle, “they are willing to spend the money to maintain their vehicle.” Thus comes the foundational brick of educaton.
 
Education
David, the hero of “The Book of Lost Things,” was taught the “code” of the enchanted forest by a native woodsman. Piercey believes that many customers suffer from a lack of such guidance. Some customers wait too long before getting their vehicles serviced; others have their vehicles serviced when it’s not even necessary.

The California Integrated Waste Management Board Web site (www.3000milemyth.org) claims that changing oil every 3,000 miles is not only a waste of money, but also generates millions of gallons of used oil that can pollute our lakes, oceans and streams. Spagle agreed. “Oil has progressed over the last 30 years. Today there is a Class 5 oil, ACEA rated, that you can safely change once every 15,000 miles.”

Where does Piercey Auto fit in? It’s developing brochures to fight the old mindset about oil. In late 2008, Piercey will publish its own educational brochures and offer them free at the cashier station, service advisor workstations, in the customer lounge and on all the sales desks in the showroom. “Think of how much money could be saved, and all of the oil that would not go into the waste stream,” said Spagle. “People appreciate being told. By letting our customers know about this, we are earning their trust.”
 
Spagle makes sure that all the service directors have the means and knowledge to educate customers just as the woodsmen educated David. He works with all the Piercey stores: Piercey Toyota/Scion of Milpitas, Planet Acura of Buena Park, Rock Honda in Fontana, and two Honda World stores (one in Downey and one in Westminster). Another Honda store is breaking ground in Colorado Springs , Colo., the first Piercey store in a state other than California.

There are the usual duties: dealing with personnel issues, mining for the latest trends, keeping production up, improving sales and so on. Spagle does all this, but he also runs with the ideas of others. Here’s how it works:

The service directors, who are interacting with customers, constantly collect ideas for improvement. The seeds of these ideas, though frequently shared at the monthly meetings, can get choked by a busy schedule. “This is my niche,” said Spagle, “to facilitate our service people, who have very little free time to do strategic planning, by taking those ideas and expanding on them.”

“Call me, give me the project,” he urges his staff, “and I’ll finish it for you.”
 
Choices
Eventually, the hero must face a set of choices. Likewise, customers who arrive for their appointment are often presented with a set of unexpected choices beyond their scheduled maintenance: brake change, wiper replacement, etc. When those maintenance options are pressed down on them with no explanation, no choice seems inviting.

In the fall of 2007, a Piercey service director was discussing how the stores were going to transition from merely selling extra services to presenting service options. That discussion led to DealerLOGIX®.

DealerLOGIX® is a Web-based presentation that rounds up preventative maintenance choices into a simple, visual process. “Our motto is: All the options, all the time,” explained Mark Brandon, founder of DealerLOGIX®.

Step one is to input the customer’s car information. Service advisors invite the customer around the desk to see the computer screen with all options. Then, they review each option together.

Immediately, three service options are presented: Basic, Standard and Best Value. But customers do not just choose one and go. They can remove selections on each of the options – say, for instance, they don’t want their transmission oil changed – and the price is recalculated.

The next screen plainly shows what the customer did and did not choose. The same screen also suggests upgrades (e.g., tire balancing), which the advisor also explains. “The advisor makes a suggestion to the customer,” said Brandon, “but lets them make the decision.” The upgrades are added or subtracted, and the price is recalculated. Before their car is even serviced, the customer now has a printed checklist of all services chosen. “Because they are informed, customers feel better about the decision they’ve made,” Brandon summarized. “When customers are not shown all their options, they never ‘own’ the decision.” When the dealership owns the decision—that’s when the CSI scores may suffer.
 
‘Fountain of Youth’ Pit Stops
A good story lets the hero rejuvenate with a refreshing elixir, or a magic pool of water. To address this in the dealership, the staff at Piercey asked: How do we ensure that the customer’s needs are met, if they only come in for oil changes one to two times per year?  Why not offer a free ‘pit-stop’ service to ‘refresh’ customers’ cars? Spagle is excited over this soon-to-be-implemented way of keeping track of customers. Instead of going through a 25-minute process of meet-and-greet, write-up, etc., the customer drives onto a specialized rack for a free check-up.

Imagine the customer, still in the car, hoisted up into the air. Activity is abuzz as two people work quickly on either side to rotate tires, inspect the brakes, glance under the hood, check tire pressure and make sure the lights are working. The customer gets a printed checklist, and in 10 minutes, he or she is back on the road again. “There’s no paperwork to fill out, no bills to pay,” said Spagle. “The customers I’ve talked to would love to have something like this!”
 
The Council
David, the storybook hero, depended on the wisdom of a knight, and most knights are part of a roundtable of other wise knights. The roundtable at Piercey Auto is “a very strong management staff,” said Spagle. “All of them are long-term employees. Our service director at Piercey Toyota, for example, has been with us for 30 years.”

As mentioned earlier, the directors meet once a month to discuss new ideas. They also take advantage of frequent training programs through Toyota and Honda to keep up to date. Twice a month, Spagle takes classes through I-CAR, which holds numerous training classes in collision repair at college campuses, body shops and insurance offices.
 
The Messengers
That final, master touch is the occasional note left for the hero along the path, urging him on or redirecting his steps. The Piercey staff tries to stay in touch with customers regularly—not with a bird delivering a message on a scroll, but with e-mails and phone calls.

“Fifty percent of all customers abandon their dealership’s service as soon as the warranty expires,” said Spagle, and not just because the contract is over. “They’re also leaving because no one is calling them!” Advisors are required to call a customer before their car is finished being serviced. “If we do this all the time,” Spagle observed, “we reduce our ‘Rate of Customer Defection.’ You lose customers, not so much when you make them angry, but when you treat them indifferently.”

The customer who stays with Piercey long-term has the potential of being, like David, more mature and educated. The customer, after all, is the hero of the story.

Vol 5, Issue 9

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