Firas Makhlouf is CIO of Driver’s Village, a Syracuse, N.Y., auto group that puts a premium on highly trained and informed BDC agents.
Car buyers who call Driver’s Village in Syracuse, N.Y., can expect to get more information and practical advice than they will get from a call to any of the auto group’s competitors. Led by CIO Firas Makhlouf and Director of Operations Lou Bregou, Driver’s Village’s BDC agents, collectively known as the “Customer Experience Team,” are equipped with all the information and decisionmaking power they need to competently handle nearly any sales or service call, often without having to transfer the caller.
“I want my agents to be transparent, so we put our prices upfront,” Makhlouf says. “We live in an age of transparency. But dealers think, ‘Get them in the store and I’ll try to sell them.’ That’s the wrong way of doing things.”
Your customers are demanding. They want faster service, knowledgeable representatives, personalized treatment and a fair price. They want to communicate over multiple channels and they want information now. This pressure is constant, and therefore your constant value proposition is customer service. Good or bad, it tells customers how you truly feel about them and how much you care.
The market is fast-paced, overserved and underdifferentiated. It can be difficult for dealers to keep up. Those who focus on customer service and providing an exceptional experience in every single interaction gain an advantage in the marketplace. It’s the only thing your employees have to differentiate your company, and it starts with the first contact with your business development center. The BDC agent who interacts with your next customer will set the stage for the entire transaction to follow.
The Choice Is Theirs
Customers choose a dealership based on one or more of these attributes: price, experience, reputation, location and availability. The customer’s experience — the way they are treated and the quality of your interaction — is the one thing your employees should be focused on, because they can’t control anything else.
- Price: The market controls the price, and the willing customer has the final say. Sure, you can create a perception that you’re cheaper than your competitor, and that’s good. It creates an opportunity for your employees to provide great customer service. Price and customer service are a parlay you play in the market. Customers will choose the dealership with the lowest price only when there is no difference in the level of service they expect to receive. When a dealership provides an exceptional experience, customers will pay more (as long as your price is competitive). Sure, the inflatable gorilla is an attention-getter, but customers would rather have a knowledgeable sales or service representative.
- Reputation: Your reputation precedes you. Your employees certainly influence the future of your reputation, but whatever’s out there at the time a customer makes a decision is already out of their hands.
- Location: It’s not your location that matters; it’s the customer’s location. Your employees have no control over either, but customers have shown over and over again they will drive past a competitor — sometimes hundreds of miles — to get to a dealership that provides a great experience and a fair price.
- Availability: Again, the market influences availability through demand, which motivates the manufacturer to create the supply. You invest in the services by buying equipment and hiring and training employees. Your employees don’t decide what to put into inventory or the menu of services you provide.
That leaves us with experience, the one remaining attribute of dealership selection your employees can control. However, the term “experience” is too broad. We need to narrow it down to what it really is: the quality of interaction with the customer. That could happen in the showroom or the service lane, but more exchanges are initiated by phone than any other method.
Check for yourself: Add up all your service ROs, your showroom ups, your Internet leads and live chats for a month. Now compare that to the number of times your phone rings and all your outbound calls. See what I mean?
Customer service is a constant demand. Prices and availability fluctuate. Your reputation has ebb and flow and customers change residences as well as workplaces. The quality of interaction is a real-time, continuous indicator of how you’re doing.
Make an Exception
The notion of “experience” runs deeper still. When we talk about customer service, it’s not free Wi-Fi and shuttle services or complimentary oil changes. These are not differentiators. Exceptional customer service is defined by the quality of interaction customers come to expect when they visit your showroom, service lane or website.
Since the telephone accounts for most of the interaction with your customers, your BDC is on the front lines of the customer service battle. Telephone etiquette is at the center of great phone processes. Simple rules such as warm transfers, voicemail greetings, voicemail notifications, paging etiquette and call routing boost phone performance immediately and quite profoundly.
Using a service-based language is a real differentiator in the auto industry. Customers associate the way they are treated with other services that treat them the same way. Phrases like “Certainly,” “I can help you with that right away,” “May I place you on a brief hold?” and “Thank you for calling” have a halo effect on your customers. They will assume that, since you sound good on the phone, they can expect great treatment when they visit, too.
Driver’s Village’s Customer Experience Team handles more than 20,000 incoming sales and service calls each month. Remarkably, they transfer less than 15% of the calls to the service departments. Agents are trained to resolve customer needs in one contact and they end every call by asking, “Are there any other transportation needs I can help you with today?” followed by “Thank you for choosing Driver’s Village.”
“Our goal is to get the transfer rate down to 10%,” Makhlouf says. “When the call comes in, you don’t want it to feel like a Mom-and-Pop store. We want to feel like the Ritz-Carlton.”
The result is predictable. The shops are full, customers feel valued, and the phone doesn’t bog down the service department. This allows the service advisors to pay attention and provide exceptional service to the customers in the lane.
Phone skills are just communication skills and they can be applied everywhere — face-to-face, when composing an email or leaving a voicemail, in a text, personal video or a chat transcript —excellent communication skills make customers want to do business with you.
Another easy differentiator is to identify your customer. When you interact with a customer who has done business with you before, don’t treat them like a prospect. This is easy enough with Internet leads, but with phone customers you have to ask. … And it’s easy! Find an appropriate time to say, “Have you done business with us before?” Now you know whether you are talking to a prospect or a customer. Accessing customer history while you’re on the phone will allow you to provide a more personalized experience, which translates to a better experience for your customer.
In the end, every phone call, voicemail, email and text message, for sales or service, matters. Provide exceptional service and treat your customers well. You will soon master your only true constant value proposition.
Greg Wells is president of AllCall Automotive Contact Center. He is a 25-year industry veteran and a nationally recognized expert in BDC and Internet sales. GWells@AutoDealerMonthly.com