Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature where I share stories, insights, and reflections about business and life.
I just finished polishing my new pride and joy. While I was doing it, I reflected on the events that led me to even buy this car, beginning with my search for it last September. Suddenly, I realized there’s a story to be told, and of course, lessons to share with you, my readers.
It all began when my wife, Sue, and I decided to downsize to one-car. Sue hardly ever drives anything other than our golf cart. Living in sunny Arizona, we primarily drove our 2-seater convertible. We kept a sedan for the occasional times we needed 4 seats.
I’m blessed to have a wife that loves driving with the top down. So, we set out to find a late-model, low-mileage, 4-seater convertible. After searching the internet and visiting several dealerships, we settled on a Mercedes. But since this is likely to be our last “fun-car” fling, it couldn’t be just any Mercedes convertible. I made the mistake of test-driving an AMG® E53 Cabriolet, and from that point on, nothing else was going to fit the bill.
With five Mercedes dealerships within 30 miles, I anticipated no problem finding a white or silver, low mileage 2019 or 2020. However, due to COVID-19, there weren’t very many 2020s made, which made the 2019s scarce as well.
One benefit of searching on the internet is that you can build out a car with all the “whistles and bells” you want, and it finds it. However, even when I expanded the search to 200 miles, the only cars that matched our criteria were dark colors – not what we wanted in the Arizona heat.
Interestingly, whether you call it keyword search, internet marketing, artificial intelligence (AI), or good luck, a used, white, 2020 equipped as we wanted kept popping. But it was at Mercedes Benz of Pleasanton, California, over 750 miles away; so, I just kept closing the popup box. When I finally clicked on “show me more,” it turned out to have only 220 miles on it! The Carfax showed that the first owner only had it a couple of weeks, which made me suspicious.
Coincidentally, one of my best high school friends, Jim Berson, lives in Pleasanton, and I asked him to check it out for me. It turns out that he’s good friends with both the dealership owner and pre-owned car manager. He visited them and got the full story. It was purchased by an internet gazillionaire for his wife, but it was too powerful for her. So, they traded it back in on another car – hence, it’s a used car with only 220 miles on it!
From my first internet inquiry, the company’s internet rep, Mostafa Khweled, was professional, friendly, and promptly answered all my questions over the phone and via text and email. We finalized the purchase details, signed docs via FEDEX, wire-transferred funds, and the car was delivered to me in an enclosed car trailer. It was a perfect low-touch transaction – or so I thought.
While the delivery driver was a nice guy, he was no more familiar with the car’s operation than I was. I quickly saw why the first owner was intimidated by this “beast.” It wasn’t just fast; it was fast on steroids. My old cars were nicely equipped, but this one was like driving a computer, and I’m not all that computer savvy. I found myself wishing I’d waited to buy one at a local dealership so I’d get all the coaching I’d need to drive this “rocket ship.”
I spent hours watching how-to videos on the Mercedes Benz website and pestered Mostafa at the Pleasanton dealership with mundane questions. He suggested that I go to a local Mercedes dealer and ask for handson help. While he assured me that dealers cooperate with one another in these situations, I dreaded asking a dealer who didn’t make a dime on my purchase to spend time teaching me about my car.
Ultimately, I reconciled myself to the fact that at some point, I was going to have to form a relationship with a nearby dealership for maintenance services and any warranty issues. I decided to bite the bullet and visit Mercedes Benz of Gilbert, Arizona.
So, with hat in hand, off I went. I must confess that I felt like I’d become the guy that brings a used transmission into your transmission shop to have you install it. To make matters worse, Mercedes Benz of Gilbert is a massive, brand new facility. Now I felt like an orphan looking to be adopted by a wealthy family. It was truly intimidating.
A cheerful young lady greeted me and immediately put me at ease. She said, “Nice car! Are you here for the service department?” When I explained the situation, she smiled and showed me where to park. She said she’d be right back with someone to help me. That was the beginning of my People Factor experience.
She introduced me to Jose Martinez, a Sales Advisor. Jose took an hour out of his precious floor time to patiently show me all the features on my car – things I didn’t even know the car had. He helped me through the “computer setup process,” customizing many of the features to my preferences: seat settings, performance options, interior lighting, comfort settings, etc. He even took me to his office and connected my phone to the i app that allows me to contact Mercedes Help and remotely start, lock and unlock the car from my phone.
Next, Jose introduced me to my new personal service advisor, Eddie Trueblood. Like Jose, Eddie also took extra time to explain the service intervals and performed a search for TSBs or recalls on my car. Good news – there weren’t any. Next, he entered my contact and vehicle information into their system so, whenever I call for an appointment, he’ll have it all at his fingertips.
I didn’t feel like an imposition; they made me feel welcome. It was an extraordinary experience that exceeded my expectations in every way. I wrote a glowing review about my experience, and I’m looking forward to a long relationship with them.
I’ve shared this rather long story to make a few points regarding doing business better in our low-touch world.
People don’t bother to write or report on average, expected, or typical service experiences. They report on extraordinary experiences – extraordinarily good or bad. Meeting expectations doesn’t even cut it anymore. People are apathetic about routine, to-be-expected service experiences.
If you take a few minutes to read some online reviews, you’ll find that most are negative, some are positive, and almost none are anywhere in between. I addressed this phenomenon in my October 2014 GEARS article titled Apostles, Terrorists or Apathetics.
THE PEOPLE FACTOR
Have you ever given a review on an internet website experience? Most of us have, but it occurs to me that giving a 5-star review on a computer-driven website experience is rather silly. Even websites with the most advanced AI technology can only deliver what they’re programmed to do – no more, no less, and never extraordinary. Sure, some sites are better than others. Still, at the end of the day, the best experiences occur when a live person is inserted into the process – The People Factor.
When it comes to service experiences, The People Factor is the differentiator. The red-carpet treatment I received at the dealership is a good example. Even though Mercedes Benz has a fantastic website with many how-to videos, it took people to make my experience outstanding. Even though the dealership was beautiful and impressive, it wouldn’t have been extraordinary without the warm greeting and friendly, helpful people.
CUSTOMER SATISFACTION SURVEYS
Many shops have started to use surveys to encourage more reviews and to measure customer satisfaction. I caution you to use discretion when doing this. Make your surveys short and focused on what really matters. Don’t make customers jump through hoops to complete them. Before they start, tell them how many questions and how long it will take.
For instance, I recently was frustrated by a survey about my new cell carrier. Every question was rating them on a scale of 1 to 10, and each time I didn’t give them a 10, I couldn’t go to the next question without explaining what they could have done better to get a 10. I finally got so frustrated that I didn’t finish the survey. By the way, I’m delighted with the service, and now they don’t know it.
In the auto repair business, I think a satisfaction survey should be done on the phone, if possible, and it should be just 3 questions. Below is a sample survey that tells you all you need to know. It can easily adapt to written or live formats.
- We find that most of our new customers are referred to us by happy customers. Are you happy with the service we performed on your car?
- If the answer is no, the survey should end with: We’re sorry to hear that. When can you come in so we can resolve your concern?
- If the answer is yes, go to question 2.
- That’s great. When you tell your friends about us, what’s one thing you’re likely to tell them?
- We’re always looking for ways to improve. Is there one thing we could have done differently or better to have made your experience with us even better?
- Thank you for your answers. Remember to call us if we can be of further service. By the way, here’s a link where you can submit a review. We’d appreciate it if you’d tell other folks about us.
RESPONDING TO REVIEWS
Most shops respond to negative reviews. However, many shops ignore positive reviews. I believe it’s more important to thank customers for their positive reviews. When you do this, it encourages more people to write positive reviews. There’s an old saying, “What gets rewarded gets repeated.”
When responding to reviews, don’t use canned responses like: “Sorry to hear that you’re not happy. Please come back at your earliest convenience;” or “Thank you for your nice review. Please tell your friends about us.” Instead, personalize each response, mentioning their name and vehicle.
When it comes to internet sales, over-relying on your website could be a mistake. In a recent panel discussion with some shop owners, we talked about handling internet inquiries. They all said that internet lead quality is low when compared to phone calls. They believed that internet shoppers don’t want to have personal interactions, and that’s why they go through the website. They said that they reply promptly to the inquiries, but internet shoppers just want a price, and once they have one, it ends there.
This reminded me of conversations I had with shop owners back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. They used to say that phone shoppers were a waste of time. They just wanted a price so they could continue to shop for the best price. They felt that serious customers would make an appointment or drop into the shop.
Guys like Terry Greenhut, Maylan Newton, and I made small fortunes teaching shops how to convert phone shoppers into appointments. We treated callers with respect and invited them in for a road test and trans-check to give them an accurate estimate.
Consider this possibility. In both scenarios, even if you have the best prices, highest quality, and the most customer-centric procedures in town, unless the customer gets to experience your People Factor, they can’t differentiate you from anyone else. They’ll miss out on your extraordinary service and therefore, won’t tell anyone else about you.
Like the shops of the ‘80s and ‘90s had to learn how to handle phone shoppers, today’s shops need to figure out how to convert more of their internet leads to appointments. I don’t have the answer, but I’ll bet it will have something to do with getting to speak personally on the phone to more of them rather than exchanging an email or two. Customers haven’t changed. They only ask how much because they don’t know what else to ask.
My experience with Mercedes Benz of Gilbert reminded me that no matter how low-touch our world becomes, we’re not in the car repair business; we’re in the people business. We don’t just fix cars; we fix people. That’s The People Factor – Still Important In Our Low-Touch World.
About the Author
Thom Tschetter has served our industry for nearly four decades as a management and sales educator. He owned a chain of award-winning transmission centers in Washington State for over 25 years.
He calls on over 30 years of experience as a speaker, writer, business consultant, and certified arbitrator for topics for this feature column.
Thom is always eager to help you improve your business and your life. You can contact him by phone at (480) 773-3131 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.