01 February 2011

Branding and the Automotive Dealership

Originally posted at Dealer Specialties

I’ve seen a lot recently about how the customer controls branding. Essentially this is not true, but the point it tries to make is. You, without a doubt control your branding. You control it in the message you deliver to your employees. You control it in the people you hire. You control it in the way you, as an entire dealership, treat your customers. I guess I’m just arguing the semantics of the word choice in who really controls your branding.

As dealerships, there is no manufacturing process, you’re not creating a product, and you’re only reselling it. That’s a choice that’s primarily been made, and certainly can’t be easily changed. So the product is predetermined for you. On a whole, most all of the modern new vehicle inventory is considered to be reliable, dependable, and most brands fill the needs of a certain market. However, obviously car buyers have a choice where they buy that product. Modern “branding” is conveying a consistent mindset to your staff, that permeates through them to your customers.

How do you set yourself apart from the other dealerships selling the same product, or a very competitive product. You already know the answer, its extraordinary customer service. Unfortunately, most dealerships seem to rely on every individual in the facility to determine their own definition of good customer service, or at least each department. I have rarely encountered a top down message, though those dealers are out there. Just one example, the sales person that can move the most units in a month is given more respect than the sales person who sold 2/3 of the amount of units, but did it in a way that will make them life long service customers.

Then the disconnect between Sales and Service occurs. Will a Service Writer’s definition of good Customer Service be so different from that sales person’s that those customers will be chased away from returning. This action subsequently costing service money and potentially a return car purchase from the salesperson. With so much out of the individual’s control, what’s the answer?

A corporate or owner driven customer relations message is the only way to make it all work together. Everyone in the dealer needs to know what “ABC Ford’s” definition of Customer Service is, and be held accountable to it. Surveys, and not the please give us all 10’s so the manufacturer knows we are awesome, but quick surveys the go straight to the top. Randomly chosen, depending on the size and scope of the dealer or dealer group, follow-up calls to sales and service customers from the dealer principle themselves, and another round of random calls from general management. Out of the box thinking is where it’s at, what about having different sales people, or service writers calling random customers with follow-ups?

Without the “Branded” message conveying the level of expectations to both your employees and your customers, they are always going to be winging it. Your customers may be the ones that will be expressing your brand to their friends, families and colleagues. It’s up to you to determine what message you want them to take to the streets.