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To Improve The Customer Experience, First Learn What It Is

by Mike Esposito

It seems like improving the customer experience is this year’s catch phrase. Everyone is talking about it, from dealers to consultants and technology vendors. But to improve the customer experience, you must first have a good understanding of what that experience actually is.

As a dealership principal or manager, you are not treated like a customer in your own store. You’re treated like the boss, and when you walk by your employees they are always on their best behavior.

So how can you know what your customers’ true experience is at your store? One way to learn is to hire an outside consultant who can do the research for you. Or you can act like your own consultant. It shouldn’t take much time or expense to gain an understanding of what your customers’ experience is. Here are a few tips:



When was the last time you were in the service lane at 7 a.m. on a Monday morning? When was the last time you watched someone walk into the showroom and, instead of alerting a salesperson to that customer’s presence, simply observed what that customer’s experience was, viewing it through their eyes? When was the last time you called your dealership’s phone number to ask about a vehicle listed on your website?

On a daily basis we are all caught up in our list of what must get done. It’s easy to run around the dealership without really noticing what’s happening. But if you’re serious about improving your customer experience, this is a critical step. Slow down. Observe. Try to be surreptitious. If that’s impossible, ask your managers to participate in this exercise. Don’t immediately judge or correct; your objective here is to simply learn.



Conduct a customer survey. Host a customer night. Call several customers who recently purchased a vehicle and customers who did not purchase a vehicle. Call customers who recently got some service work done. Ask them directly what their experience was and how it could be improved.

When your customers call, are they getting connected with people who can help them, or are they sent to voice mail? When a customer walks into your showroom, are they greeted like you would greet a guest in your home, or is a salesperson treating them like their next meal ticket? In your service lane, how long does it take to drop off a vehicle? Are your customers notified when their car is ready or do they have to call to find out?

Note your customers’ comments and your own observations. From these two exercises alone, you should be able to identify one or more processes that need improvement.



Address your process breakdowns. It’s not always enough to have a process in place. You have to understand why it’s not being followed. Is it a process problem, a people problem, or both?

I’ve found the best way to fix a process is to first make sure that everyone understands what the process is. Write it down then ask your employees for feedback.

The goal is not to ask, “Why aren’t you following this process?” because that puts people on the defensive. Instead, ask “Is there a problem with this process that makes it difficult to follow?” If there is, ask for a solution. When employees take ownership of a process they are much more likely to follow it.



It’s difficult to improve your customer experience unless you and your employees know exactly what type of experience you want them to have. Is it a fast, efficient, no frills type of experience? Or is it a luxurious VIP experience with plenty of personal attention? There’s a place and time for both, and it may depend on what type of dealership you run.

Customer experience is created not just by process, but by emotion. How do you want your customer to feel when they walk into your showroom? How do you want them to feel when they pick up their car from your service department? What types of interactions with your employees are necessary in order to generate those feelings?

This customer experience is something that should be defined and shared with your employees. Just saying you want to improve the experience doesn’t mean anything. Your employees should know exactly what your expectations are and how to deliver.

If you’re serious about improving the customer experience at your dealership, first learn what it is. Establish a baseline, set your expectations and measure your progress along the way.

What tips do you have for improving the customer experience?


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