Before diving into this topic, I want the readers to understand why dealerships are so near and dear to my heart. While it’s true that I run a small company that provides technology and advertising services to lots of industries; I actually enjoy being in and working with car dealerships.
You read that right: I like being in dealerships; I like working with car dealers. In fact, my favorite place to be that doesn’t involve my family is probably at the sales desk of any fast-paced dealer. It’s like a front row seat to the best reality show in America.
So, beyond running my primary company, I try to spend as much time working with as many of America’s car dealers as my schedule will allow. My goal is to make dealers better off than they were before my visit. Better off in terms of revenue and profit, yes; but – more importantly – also better off in terms of turnover and satisfaction. (That’s employee turnover and customer satisfaction.)
I want every dealer I train to have employees who are there because they love it; and to have customers who are so wowed by their experience that they go out of their way to tell others.
If you know anything about the state of auto retailing in America today, you know this can be a tough job.
So, let’s get to it. What is it that I sincerely hope my local car dealer can learn from Tire-Rama?
A lot… but all of it rests on three things: 1) A sincere welcome; 2) A customer-first perspective; and 3) Long-term thinking.
I first heard the name Tire-Rama after I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2010. To be honest, I always thought the name was kind of cheesy and, often, downright dumb. It turns out – because they also do oil changes and brakes and mufflers and tune-ups and shocks and batteries and other things – that the name Tire-Rama is kind of dumb, relatively speaking.
Despite the dumb name, I had a problem that needed resolving. I had a tire that had been slowly leaking air for several months. The leak was slow enough that we only added air every five or six weeks, but it was beginning to become annoying. I decided this was too small of a job for my local dealer, so I headed over to Tire-Rama.
Let me repeat the first part of that last sentence: I decided this was too small of a job for my local dealer.
A SINCERE WELCOME
You see, my local dealer’s team always treats me as if I have three heads when I show up. Invariably, they seem absolutely shocked that anyone dares walk through the door marked “Service.”
Despite calling ahead and scheduling my service, I doubt I have ever arrived at a franchised dealership’s service department without having to go back to the very beginning to explain my issue. Moreover, if my issue doesn’t “smell” like it’s going to cost thousands to repair, the service advisor seems to become disinterested very, very quickly.
There are some jobs (in the consumer’s mind) that are too small for their local dealer. Oil changes, brake jobs, wheel alignment, etc… In my case, I didn’t want to feel the wrath of the advisor if I dare show up needing only a quick, $30 tire repair. (And I like working with dealers.) How dare I waste their time with something this trivial (and inexpensive)!
When I walked through the door at Tire-Rama yesterday morning I was greeted with a kind of wave from the gentleman behind the counter. He was on the phone with a customer, but did take that split second to acknowledge my arrival.
After he hung up, he greeted me with a pleasant and welcoming “How can I help you today?”
I explained what I needed and he asked for some information, my keys, and then went to work.
What he didn’t do was frown, say they couldn’t get to it today, or explain that they had a minimum labor charge of $70. He just went to work.
A CUSTOMER-FIRST PERSPECTIVE
I had my laptop with me, so I decided to wait for the repair rather than have them shuttle me home. This is going to sound strange, but their waiting area (like the rest of the store) was clean, clutter-free, with a working television, working customer Wi-Fi and fresh coffee.
Nothing fancy, of course, but then again, this is a tire store.
But doesn’t your local car dealer have all of those things?
In theory? Yes. In practice? Not so much.
As I detailed in my recent, incredibly long-titled post: THE 5 THINGS DEALERS AND OEMS CAN DO TODAY TO STAY ON TOP DURING THE NEXT DOWNTURN dealers must begin to take the need for an exceptional customer experience seriously; and this means little things like working Wi-Fi.
During my last visit to a franchised dealer for service, I sat in a dirty chair, watching a too loud infomercial on a TV with no remote, using my smart phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot because their customer Wi-Fi was inoperable, while wondering if anyone was going to make a pot of coffee.
It’s the little things that matter to customers. It really is.
It’s important to reiterate that this was my first ever visit to a Tire-Rama. That means I didn’t buy my tires there. I had never spent a dime with this tire store before this visit.
As it turns out, I still have never spent a dime with Tire-Rama.
When the repair was complete, the gentleman behind the counter came into the waiting area and let me know my vehicle was ready. I followed him back to the counter with my wallet in hand, ready to hear something between $30 and $50 for the repair. (And happy to pay it.)
He explained that the tire had no damage, but that it was leaking from the “bead area of the wheel.” (This means the franchise dealership where I had the tire sensors installed did not seal the tire correctly. Which, not coincidentally, was about six weeks before we had to add air for the first time.)
He said they cleaned the area, resealed the tire and inflated it. Then he said the two words I did not expect to hear:
I was floored. I didn’t buy my tires there. I had never set foot in any of their locations, ever. As far as he knew, I was never coming back. Why didn’t he take this one chance to get a few bucks from me?
Tire-Rama, it seems, thinks for the long term. They are willing to gamble that the $30 they could have received from me today will turn into an $800 set of tires in the future. And you know what? They’re right.
This little gesture may not fully guarantee that I will be a customer for life, but it does guarantee that they will get first crack at my business whenever I need tires or an oil change or brakes or mufflers or… you get the idea.
I sincerely hope my local dealer can learn these three simple things. I really like being in dealerships.