March 8, 2010: Top customer service tools of the trade

The repeat customer, never one to be taken lightly, has reached a new zenith. They are king, or queen, in a sputtering economy.
They have risen to the status of dealership nobility as manufacturers and dealerships alike size up their shrunken marketing budgets and ask the question: Who do I target with what I have available?
At the same time, word of mouth has become gold. The ability to do business and then build on it by profiting on a former customer experience is priceless.
In such an environment, the best customer service dealerships take on added prosperity. And with this exclusive view of some of the industry’s top customer service dealerships, also added acclaim.
But this Focus section isn’t about rankings. It’s more about revelations. It’s about how dealers who have performed at an incredibly high customer service level have performed at such high levels. What they do that’s potentially different, but more importantly memorable to the consumer.
To accomplish this, Powersports Business has worked with three industry partners to find some of the best customer service dealerships in the United States. In the eye of the consumer, the elite dealers.
Because this task was confined to three partners that do not encompass the entire industry, it is not meant to be an industry-wide ranking. It defines what “elite dealers” do, but it does not attempt to define who the best of the best is. We’ll leave that for another time and place.
For now, with the spring selling season upon us, we believe defining what consumer service approaches and methods the elite dealers use is of paramount importance. If the industry at-large can mirror what some of the elite dealers do day in and day out, then the chance for us as a whole to capture more of the consumer disposable income is only heightened.
So what does an elite dealer do that makes them, in the eye of the consumer, that much better than the store down the street? Part of it simply comes down to the environment of the dealership, or what one elite dealer describes as the “Cheers” effect. You know, where a middle-aged, somewhat overweight guy steps through the door and everybody shouts, “Norm!”
“It really is,” Keith Obermeyer, owner of Obermeyer Yamaha in Jasper, Ind., said of the importance of the store environment. “They’re plopping down at the parts counter, they’re ordering up parts and they’re talking about this and talking about that,” he said, before adding with a laugh. “There’s a lot whole lot of talk going on and some spending.”
But in all seriousness, Obermeyer, whose dealership is one of the elite stores featured in this Focus section, points to this consumer group as an incredibly key component of the industry right now. “Repeat customers are valuable right now,” he said. “I mean, they’re always valuable, but right now that seems like really all we’re seeing.”

Different standards
To highlight effective consumer service approaches that can really turn the profit needle, it only makes sense to find dealerships that have been given high marks by consumers. However, as in most things, there are conflicting opinions on what is the best way to approach consumers on grading dealership performance. Do you do so right after they purchase the unit and the dealer warranty registers it, so the dealership experience is fresh in their mind? Or do you wait a bit until after the “honeymoon period” is over and the consumer has a chance to really think about what happened in the sales process? Or is asking the buyer, who was obviously happy enough to make the purchase, less educational than actually interviewing a “prospect” and determining what could have them a buyer?
All three strategies have made their believers and naysayers, and all three methods are practiced in the industry. With this report, we did not want to identify the pros and cons of each method in hopes of finding a “winning” formula. Instead, we simply wanted to be able to identify top-scoring dealers from each of these consumer or prospect strategies and ask them how they achieved such high marks.
So Powersports Business approached three companies: Yamaha Motor Corp., American Suzuki Motor Corp. and Pied Piper Management Co. The latter conducts an annual national study that examines the effectiveness of the motorcycle industry’s retail sales force through the eyes of prospects. Yamaha and Suzuki, in contrast, use traditional CSI formats that differ in when and how often consumers are surveyed. Each of the three companies provided a list of dealers that have scored at an elite level for their particular scoring systems.

The place to go
The reality is too often much of the discussion revolving dealership performance grades as issued by consumers or prospects center around quirky judgment on the grader’s part. One of the elite dealers mentioned in this Focus section tells a story about getting a less than stellar score from a consumer who marked the dealership down for “the process of getting the vehicle in for service.” To many, that category suggests the effectiveness of the service writer or the dealership as a whole in setting the stage for the service work. To one customer, to this dealer’s dismay, it was much more literal. The customer graded the dealership poorly because he didn’t set his trailer hitch correctly and when he attempted to wheel a Rhino on his trailer, it promptly came off the ball and drove quite a gash into his truck’s tailgate. Thus, the dealer’s “process of getting the vehicle in for service” score was graded quite low. “If I teach them how to operate the trailer, maybe I ought to teach them defensive driving and how to buy groceries too,” the affected dealer said. “Where does it end?”
But with every such story, there are infinitely more that are not told about how a dealership performed a service so well and to such a satisfactory level that their store is now permanently ingrained in the consumer’s mind as “the” place to go.
It is with that thought — that priceless recipe for favorable word of mouth advertising — that we present this section of elite dealers and their highly thought of customer service and sales approaches.

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