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Every year it seems that "hot topics" emerge in the automotive retail industry; this year much of the focus is on fixed ops and customer retention. Dealers spend a small fortune on websites and Internet marketing in order to capture customers; now they are realizing that an equal amount of resources and energy should be spent on servicing and keeping those customers.
If customer retention is the goal, keep in mind that true customer loyalty is achieved not by a product but by the customers' every day interactions with your business. And it's your employees who are responsible for those interactions. Are your employees giving your customers the experience they deserve?
Auto/Mate has one of the best customer retention rates (if not the best) among dealership management system (DMS) providers. My approach to customer retention has always been that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of the customers. By "taking care of" employees, I don't mean offering perks and bonuses, although these do have their place. I mean building a culture based on core values that the best people in the business (the people who you want as employees) can align with and want to get on board with.
Why Are Core Values Important?
Core values are the essence of a company's identity; they define the company's philosophy and support its vision. Core values are the bedrock that a company's mission statement and culture are built on. Core values help in the decision-making process. For example, if a core value is "customer first," then your employees should feel empowered to take care of a customer without management approval needed--and then should be commended for it.
Are You Walking the Talk?
If you do have core values, it's critically important that the leaders in your organization exemplify those values in their every day transactions with both employees and customers. If your dealership advertises honesty as a value, does everyone (from the principal down to the service technician) exemplify this value on a daily basis? If you claim to the "honest" dealer yet a sales manager or service manager advises an employee to mislead a customer about something, how do you think the employee interprets that? If it's okay for the manager to mislead customers, it's okay for the employee to mislead customers. Then take that one step further; if the manager is misleading customers, is he misleading employees? That's a reasonable assumption, and if so, then it's okay for the employee to mislead his manager and other employees.
How to Define Your Core Values
1) Create a list of values. Gather together a small group of senior management and have them brainstorm a list of values that your dealership currently exemplifies, or would like to exemplify.
2) Let your employees choose. Give your employees the list of values and ask them to choose the top three to five values that define your dealership's culture. Are their choices in alignment with yours? If they aren't, you've got some additional work to do in Step Four. If your employees choose the values you were hoping they would, then the next step is a lot easier. At Auto/Mate, we found that our employees values were very much congruent with those chosen by our senior management team.
3) Define your values. Whether you let your employees choose, or combine their choices with the senior managements' top choices, choose three to five values that best define your company culture and the people who work there. Keep in mind that when choosing values, it's best to come up with values that are already built in to your culture; rather than just picking a value out of thin air and trying to fit it into your culture. At Auto/Mate, our core values are: Be Passionate and Enjoy What You Do; Customer Centricity; Honesty & Integrity; Humility and Family.
4) Communicate and reinforce your values to employees and customers. There's a saying that if you repeat something loud and often enough, eventually people will believe it. You want to communicate your values as often and loud as you can until they become ingrained in every employee. Have the list of values posted in the break room, showroom and other visible places. In meetings, ask employees to provide an example of a transaction or customer interaction they saw recently that exemplifies a core value. Public recognition of values both reinforces your employees' awareness of a value system and inspires them to live up to it. If your dealership chooses an employee of the month, make it a criteria that they are chosen based on the extent to which they live up to your core values, not on how much gross they generated. Recognize and rate management not only by their performance, but by their ability to embody core values.
Core values create a sense of unity and help to create an environment where the employees know how to behave and what is expected of them. If your employees feel good about where they work and the company's vision, and if their values align with yours, they will know what needs to be done and they will do it--this includes taking care of the customers. What better customer retention program do you need than that?