By Karin Gelschus
At Action Kawasaki Yamaha in Bradenton, Fla., it’s referring people to another store’s service department if their department is already booked.
At Friend and Friend in Ellsworth, Maine, it’s following up within 24 hours of a new unit sale with a call and later, a thank you letter.
Those are just two ways that powersports dealers are trying to improve customer service and satisfaction. National studies have shown that U.S. shoppers are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with customer service as retailers try to save money by making consumer processes more automated and less hands on.
But increasing customer satisfaction can result in huge bonuses for retailers. At a recent Arctic Cat national meeting, the manufacturer told its dealers that roughly 19 percent of them increased sales in 2007 and of those, most either had high or improving CSI scores.
The first step to improved customer service, said David VanAmburg, managing director of American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), is to find out what customers want. There are numerous ways a company can measure that, but the best way depends on the industry.
Since the powersports industry doesn’t have high product turnover (a longer duration to measure overall satisfaction), VanAmburg says dealers should look at measuring customer satisfaction in shorter terms.
“You have to focus more on the customer service side of it (as opposed to product satisfaction) to see if you’re getting higher marks over time for customer service,” he said. “If you’re improving customer service, you are in the long term improving customer satisfaction with the purchase and consumption experience, which should lead to improved financial performance.”
Whether it’s through direct mail, e-mail or in-store questionnaires, VanAmburg says a company must understand where it’s likely to improve the most in its customers’ eyes.
“What’s going to be the most helpful or useful to (the customers)?” he asked. “And that will be things like how do they want to go about their shopping or how to pay their bill?”
Although the shopping experience, price or location might be the initial reason a customer will do business at a dealership, Eric Patteson, vice president at Pat and Son Service in Annville, Pa., says service is going to determine if a customer eventually becomes a regular client.
“New companies often start off by throwing stuff out the door price-wise,” he said, “but in the long run, the average enthusiast is going to shop where they’re getting the best service as far as the sale and repair part of it. Sometimes the cheapest price isn’t always the best way to go in the long run.”
In addition to good service, Kyle Hildebrand, partner at Friend and Friend in Ellsworth, Maine, says customers want to have an enjoyable experience when they’re purchasing vehicles, parts or services.
“We discuss how it should be a fun experience,” he said, “and I think that goes a long way, and it should be easy.”
To satisfy their consumers’ needs, some dealers have changed the way they do business in the past few years. Here are some examples of those changes, as well as the results:
Doug Schwartz, owner, Harvest Depot,
Change in customer service: Harvest Depot is increasing customer communication by following up with them through e-mail after a sale. Through that, they’ve been able to let customers know about dealership promotions and open houses. The dealership also e-mails its customers about extended warranties. “If they didn’t get an extended warranty at the time of purchase, we let them know they can still purchase it,” Schwartz said. “We touch base with them about a month before their warranties are up.”
Results: Schwartz says the store has seen an increase in extended warranty purchases by about 15-20 percent because of the follow-up.
Eric Patteson, vice president, Pat and Son Service Center, Annville, Pa.
Change in customer service: One area of customer service the dealership focuses on is quick service. “We try to fit people in whenever possible,” Patteson noted. “I’m told people call other places for a simple inspection, and they can’t get in for two or three weeks. If it’s something as simple as an inspection, I can usually get them in, in a day or two.”
Results: The dealership has achieved the ultimate goal of customer service — repeat customers. Patteson says 70-75 percent of its customers are repeats.
John Havell, co-owner, Action Kawasaki Yamaha, Bradenton, Fla.
Change in customer service: The dealership refers its customers to other dealerships for service if Action Kawasaki Yamaha is too busy. “Right now is the busiest time of our year. We are getting certain products, like PWC, backed up almost a month, so we’re referring them to someone who isn’t as busy as us,” Havell said. “Even though we might be losing a customer because they might go to that dealership again, we’re helping them rather than promising them we’ll get to their machine in a reasonable time and then we don’t and people get aggravated. We’ve been trying to do that during the past few years, and we’re concentrating on keeping quality as opposed to pushing quantity.” The dealership has also signed up with some of the OEM programs that follow-up with customers after they’ve purchased a unit, and Action Kawasaki Yamaha holds customer appreciation days every few weeks. “We’re trying to cover as many areas as we can,” he said. “We don’t over promise.”
Results: The dealership has had a lot of repeat business. “It’s not transient like other areas. You really have to take care of everybody,” Havell noted. “If you don’t take care of one guy, it can really hurt you. You have to be up front with them. You can’t promise them that you’ll have something done or have a unit they’re looking to buy in the next couple days if you can’t.”
Kyle Hildebrand, partner, Friend and Friend, Ellsworth, Maine
Change in customer service: A sales employee will follow-up within 24 hours after a sale and then with a thank you letter later. “We’ve done it off and on for the past few years,” Hildebrand said, “but we’ve become more religious about it in the last two years. We try to keep a pretty open communication with the customer and let them know exactly what’s going on, whether it’s parts or service. We try to call the customer before they call us.”
Results: “We’ve noticed more referral business,” Hildebrand said, “but that might be because you’re encouraging them to mention a referral, not necessarily because you’re getting more referrals. You just might hear more about them.”
Marsha Hopkins, vice president, Aiken Motorcycle Sales and Service, Aiken, S.C.
Change in customer service: Aiken Motorcycle Sales and Service uses follow-up programs. “If we know we have a customer with a problem or concern, we try to address it with a phone call,” she said.
Results: “It’s very important to the customer when someone takes a minute out of their time to make a phone call. It’s personalization,” Hopkins said. “[The call] attaches them to the store. We get referrals. They feel good and want their friends to feel good, too. It’s like a free referral service.”
Greg Mellinger, owner, Motor Cycle Center, Villa Park, Ill.
Change in customer service: Both the dealership and one of its OEMs contact Motor Cycle Center’s customers. “That way, we can go back and answer any problems,” Mellinger said. “It’s a good process to go through. We make sure they’re happy with their service and their purchase.”
Results: “We make more money,” Mellinger said. “Happy people tell their friends. It kind of works in the opposite way — unhappy people usually tell 10 friends while happy ones don’t usually say much.”
Scott Riley, vice president, Sport Rider,
Change in customer service: “We’ve stepped up our direct mail and e-mail follow-up presence, and even in the wake of the horrible economy, we’ve hired a couple more people because we’re picking up business.”
Results: “We’ve seen more repeat business from existing customers. Manufacturers have been stressing that it’s easier to keep existing customers than attract new ones, so we’re spending more time after the sale to make sure that service is quick and efficient; that people are happy.”
Kevin Bowman, owner, Beaver Dam Honda Kawasaki, Beaver Dam, Wis.
Change in customer service: “We’re trying to do more with in-store sales and advertising, like with our grand opening,” Bowman said. “In September, a bunch of the [riding] clubs have an ice cream social and they use our place. We also do regular follow-up.”
Results: “[Having clubs meet at the store] definitely helps with accessory sales since they’re walking around when they’re here. It builds store awareness. A lot of [the club members] are newer people who haven’t been in the store.”