Customer Experience Management
Gwen noticed that her car’s state vehicle inspection sticker was nearing expiration. She remembered that during a past tire rotation the technician observed that two tires were rather worn and that they might not pass the next inspection.
Gwen drove to her local tire dealer, pulled into a parking place and turned off the engine. Opening her door, Gwen noticed a uniformed employee hustling over to her with a smile on his face.
After first name introductions, she tells Dave, “I think I may need some new tires before I get my car inspected again.”
“Let me take a look,” Dave says, and he checks each tire and measures tread depths.
“You were right to get your tires checked,” Dave tells Gwen. “Your rear tires are still OK, but you have serious irregular wear up front. The front tires definitely need replacement and you would be wise to have an alignment to prevent rapid wear. We can mount and balance two tires and perform a full alignment in an hour or so if you want to wait. We also offer local shuttle service to work or home.”
Gwen nods saying, “I thought something might be wrong because my car has been pulling to the right. What is all this going to cost? I did some shopping online, of course, but I’m still not sure what I really need.”
“We will want to determine what tires you need, and then I can give you a firm price. We have a good selection in stock. Gwen, your inspection sticker expires next week, do you want us to go ahead and do the vehicle inspection while you are here?”
Gwen nods again. “That would be convenient for me. Thanks for thinking about that. How much longer will I have to wait?”
“To save time, we can complete some of the inspection while we’re doing the other work,” Dave says. “We will complete everything and get you safely on your way. Meanwhile, we have fresh coffee, free Wi-Fi, and TV in our waiting room, Gwen. Let’s go inside and I’ll help you determine which tires would best suit your type of driving. By the way, Gwen, how did you happen to choose our tire store?”
This short vignette represents the beginnings of a positive relationship between Gwen and the tire store. So far, she experienced immediate, courteous service from a pleasant employee, Dave. He quickly learned her needs and verified that two tires required replacement. Dave showed respect for Gwen and suggested how he might save her time by performing the inspection while she was having the new tires installed. Dave also mentioned the store’s pleasant waiting area as they walked toward the store entrance.
The age of relationships
The days of simply providing good products and service no longer help a tire dealer differentiate his or her store from other suppliers.
We are living in an age when the development of relationships helps create positive customer experiences. The retention of customers depends heavily on a store’s continuing efforts to provide positive customer experiences before, during, and after a sale or visit.
Dealers should identify and eliminate bottlenecks and problems that cause customer dissatisfaction. Customers may complain about long waits, broken promises, sales pressure, lack of progress reports on work being done, or a store’s unpleasant environment. One effective way for a dealer to determine strengths and weaknesses is to engage a mystery shopper service to provide specific, unbiased performance information.
It is a good way to step into the customer’s shoes and to make it easier to do business with that store. Another tip is to carefully examine all returns or adjustment credits.
Track how many complaints are for similar reasons, and then do what is necessary to eliminate those problems. Some tire dealers have taken a page from car dealer service departments.
The manager calls customers during the next day or so to make sure the customer was completely happy with the service. If not, the manager takes immediate action to rectify the situation.
A car dealer’s standing with the vehicle manufacturer is often affected by customer satisfaction scores.
Integrate customer-focused culture
Not all customer experiences take place at the store. More and more customers use the Internet and social media to research tire purchases and tire stores before ever contacting a dealer. Comparison shopping using dealer websites is common. Prospects look for reviews by other customers, good and not so good.
A savvy dealer recognizes the importance of a store’s ability to create positive customer experiences using the store’s environment, electronic means, as well as telephone etiquette and other media. Ideally, a tire dealer should build a customer-focused culture with seamless integration of all the ways the store interacts with customers.
Today’s digital technology can act as a “bridge” linking the dealer with additional off-site customer experiences. The goal is to make every customer experience a positive step in building relationships and loyalty, no matter how a customer wishes to interact with the store at the time.
The physical store is a real benefit to a tire dealer. The store can act as a customer experience lab, enabling observation of how customers are drawn to particular displays or how they receive technical advice from store personnel. The store also can act as a training ground for new employees.
A dealer can gain quite a bit of information about each customer during face-to-face conversations and as part of the estimating and invoicing activities. More captured information means a greater ability to personalize the customer’s overall experience.
Electronic communications are important before and after the sale. A well-designed website full of useful information invites a prospect to visit the store. The website may provide tire and vehicle maintenance tips, or allow customers to make an appointment to visit the store. The website is a dealer’s “cultural calling card” where a customer can experience friendly, helpful, pressure-free information.
A long list of positive customer reviews may well be the deciding factor for a prospect! After the sale, having gained a new customer’s telephone number and email address, the dealer can send a follow-up survey along with additional information to help the customer better maintain the new purchase, or a coupon for a future visit.
The little things count
Positive customer experiences help create customer advocates who loyally return time after time, and who refer their friends and family to the dealership. Happy tire buyers return for vehicle service and vice versa.
It is a fact that it costs much less to retain a good customer than to replace that customer with a new buyer. The time to improve customer relationships and grow the customer’s perception of value is before a dealer’s sales decline, not after.
Often, it is those “darned little things” that mean the difference between a returning or lost customer. That means more attention to staff training to gain consistent positive customer experiences. Ask Patty.com is a popular service that offers automotive knowledge and referrals to dealers who are trained and certified “female friendly.” It means exerting greater effort to gain customer information and feedback. It means allotting more marketing resources to loyal customers in the form of rewards and coupons, along with seasonal specials directed only to loyal customers.
A dealer may even offer specials that apply to the loyal customer as well as to a customer’s friend (a valuable referral).
Maintaining a customer-focused organization is a rapidly moving target. A focus on customer experience and customer success is necessary to help a dealer sustain business success.
The concept is not new, but the tools available to improve customer relationships and increase customer loyalty are becoming more sophisticated by the day.
Customer experience management
The World Wide Web on the Internet has been available for about a quarter-century now.
Not long ago, having an active website meant cutting-edge marketing. Then came a concept dubbed customer relationship management (CRM) with dealer software that dealers used to log detailed customer contact information and keep track of key interactions like sales history and the frequency of visits.
Such tools helped companies to better personalize their offerings. The focus still was on optimizing the dealer’s revenue and profitability, and only indirectly on a customer’s experience.
Today, customer experience management (CXM) urges a “sea change” where the dealer’s focus moves toward optimizing each customer experience. The customer focus creates higher perceived value, thus greater customer success. To accomplish that, the numerous ways a dealer interacts with customers needs to change.
The basic assumption is that when more customers experience greater success, their success ultimately will bring optimum dealer success, a true win-win outcome. Even now, there is a Customer Success Association that promotes the growth of this recent business model.
Companies are still looking at the CXM model and its assumptions, trying to figure out how they might gain a real competitive advantage through its implementation. Sophisticated customer experience models must integrate internal data from all company functions with other external data streams. The Internet and popular social media applications put instant communications and powerful knowledge at a customer’s fingertips. Technology is rapidly evolving, so it should not be long before customer experience related software becomes available to tire dealers.
The future of marketing holds even more astounding possibilities. A consulting firm in San Francisco has patented a process called customer relationship intelligence (CRI) that attempts to optimize both customer success and business profitability. This might be considered business science fiction except for the fact that the process structure already exists to map and track customer interactions and the overall customer experience. ■
Dick Morgan is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and president of Morgan Marketing Solutions Inc. in Dallas, Texas. Morgan helps leaders accelerate profitable growth by enhancing a team’s ability to create and deploy right actions, right now! He has been involved in the tire and rubber industry since 1974, first as senior vice president of marketing for Long Mile Rubber Co. Since its founding in 1989, his consulting firm provides business advisory services to tire dealers, retreaders and rubber manufacturers. Morgan is one of the judges for Modern Tire Dealer’s Tire Dealer of the Year. He also is on the board of Religence Inc., a technology consulting firm. For more information, visit his website at www.morganmarketingsolutions.com or call (972) 931-7993.