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The 10 Commandments of a Great Customer Experience: Part 1

The 10 Commandments of a Great Customer Experience: Part 1

Is providing great customer service and a great customer experience the same thing? The two couldn’t be more different! In many F&I offices, the effort is focused on getting better at what we do instead of how we do it.

As an agent, the ultimate goal of your dealership’s F&I teams should be to provide great customer experiences. When that happens, customers buy more products than we could ever sell them. And they are glad they did.

Remember: Customer service is what you do; customer experience is how you do it. With that in mind, here is the first installment of 10 commandments to provide memorable customer experiences:

I. Listen to Learn.

Research suggests that we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That can be catastrophic in a needs-discovery process. Take the time to identify your customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is really saying. That includes listening to their words, tone of voice, body language and the level of their emotional attachment to a need or product.

The best listeners are the best producers. The ability to listen to learn separates the best from the rest. It divides managers from leaders and professionals from amateurs.

II. Diagnose Before You Prescribe.

Customers buy solutions to problems, not products. You must uncover the problems this particular customer might face during their ownership experience. In the F&I office, understanding a customer’s wants, needs and concerns must always precede any attempt to sell them something. Never attempt to sell a product because a lot of your customers buy the product. It must be specific to each customer to be consistently successful.

III. Make Customers Feel Important.

Customers understand that you value them when you demonstrate that you genuinely care about them and their needs. Every customer enters your office with a sign around their neck that says “Make me feel important.”

When your efforts clearly focus on helping customers make good decisions instead of trying to sell them something, they know the focus is on them. That’s exactly where it should be! The most important person in your world is the customer in front of you and your words, actions and focus must elevate their importance, not yours!

IV. Study the Art of Body Language.

Start with what your body language says to a customer. From the first interaction, smile, show genuine excitement about the car-buying experience, and assure that every word and action conveys a consistent message: “I’m glad you’re here!” Customers will reflect your level of excitement, comfort and energy. Give them a great example to emulate!

Next, learn what a customer’s body language is saying to you. If their arms are crossed and they keep looking away from you, frustration and resistance is building. Stop what you are doing and focus on collapsing the confrontation. If you ignore their body language and proceed to attempt to sell them something, then you are headed to a confrontation that you will always lose.

V. Go the Extra Mile.

Anyone can do what is expected of them. However, it takes commitment to go the extra mile. Enterprise became the nation’s No. 1 car rental company by telling its employees, “You can rise through the ranks and make remarkable money, but only after you demonstrate an ability to knock the socks off every customer that comes through the door.”

Knock the socks off your customers and your value will increase. Remember, great companies and great F&I managers provide great customer experiences by doing what others don’t!

We are halfway through the 10 commandments. Improving our efforts in these areas alone would provide an increase in our ability to help customers make good decisions. These are the traits you need to instill in your F&I managers to provide great customer experiences and great profits!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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The 10 Commandments of a Great Customer Experience: Part 2

The 10 Commandments of a Great Customer Experience: Part 2

Agents know creating a great customer experience makes their time with their F&I professional memorable. Here are the next five commandments that will make it happen for you and your trainees:

VI. Practice Purposefully.

If you ever played Little League baseball, you’ll remember the phrase, “You play like you practice.” Skills that are not practiced will never find their way into your customer interactions. That’s why it’s important to attend every training class you can, whether in person or online.

And once the lesson is done, be sure to practice what you learned so you can reach a comfort level that will allow you to put your newfound techniques to use with real customers. Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but professionals who practice purposefully produce more profits.

VII. Never Stop Learning.

A recent survey revealed that 42% of former college students never pick up a book after they graduate. I guess it’s because they learned it all in college. Well, that can’t be the case in the F&I office. Being motivated to learn all you can about your products and why people buy isn’t a problem when you’re new. It’s when you’ve been around the block a few times that learning tends to lose its luster.

Assign your F&I professionals to read a book about sales each quarter. Make sure they have subscribed to F&I and Showroom magazine. Instruct them to visit their dealership’s service department and learn about at least two parts on a vehicle each month. Make sure they know what they do, what happens when they fail, and what the cost is to replace them.

Continuing education will help your trainees provide an experience that is filled with facts and motivation and one that distinguishes them from F&I managers they have encountered in the past.

VIII. Seek the Input of Others.

Truett Cathy once gave a presentation to high-level executives. After he was done, someone from the audience came up to thank him for his presentation. Cathy then said, “Please tell me one thing I could have done better.” Mr. Cathy has been asking that question since the day he launched his restaurant chain, and it has been one of the keys to his success. It takes a humble individual to open himself to the input of others. But to be good at what you do, you need to strive to be that person.

IX. Focus Like a Laser Beam.

One of the major tasks each day is deciding what to give attention to and what to ignore. Don’t waste time trying to fix things you can’t control. Yes, there always will be issues of concern, but don’t let them distract you from your main purpose, which is to help customers make good decisions. That is something you can control! Your trainees should focus on coming up with more effective ways to sell your products.

X. Choose Your Associates Wisely.

Every dealership has its fair share of whiners and complainers. Instruct your F&I teams to avoid that crowd. They should seek out colleagues with a more positive outlook, those who are always looking to improve their skills. Few things affect our ability to create memorable moments with our customers — be they dealers or car buyers — more than our attitude. Your trainees should guard theirs like the treasure it is and feed it regularly with positive input.

Great experiences are what successful F&I managers create every day. All their effort and focus are on this one function. It lives itself out in the manner they practice their skills, their positive interaction with customers and the excitement they bring to their efforts each day and to all those around them. Sell on!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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What Sank the Titanic Will Sink Your Dealers!

What Sank the Titanic Will Sink Your Dealers!

“Iceberg, right ahead!” is the shout Fred Fleet, the lookout for the ill-fated Titanic, is said to have given when he saw the ship’s doom ahead. How could the Titanic, such a large and well-designed ship, ever sink? History tells us numerous factors may have led to its sinking. The F&I office has become a much larger “ship” in the overall profit of every dealership. Using factors that sunk the Titanic comparatively can sound alarms for the F&I offices we work in. Responding to the alarms might help avoid a catastrophic failure! Let’s look at a few.

1. An Opportunity Was Missed.

Before Titanic left the English port at Southampton, a smoldering fire broke out in the ship’s coal bunker boiler rooms and weakened the ship’s structure, making the iceberg crash more devastating than it could have been otherwise. A consistent inspection of the ship could have avoided catastrophe.

Tracking every indicator of F&I performance consistently, including production numbers, CSI scores, training activity, and product income vs. reserve income can alert us early to potential problems that can be corrected before they become a threat to sink the ship!

2. Warnings Were Ignored.

Captain Edward Smith felt the warning concerning icebergs was not urgent because it lacked a certain prefix that identified it as such.

Low CSI scores can be an indicator of too much pressure in the F&I process. Low commitment levels to training activity can indicate someone has stopped learning and that will eventually sink a ship in the ever-changing waters of F&I!

3. Confusion Cost Precious Seconds.

The ocean liner was operating with two communication systems that were in direct conflict with each other. The command for a sharp turn of the ship eventually came across as the opposite direction they needed to go in order to avoid the iceberg.

The F&I office, sales manager and general manager must all be operating under clear instructions of how to handle the buying process. As we say in the south, we all need to be singing from the same hymnal.

4. The Structure Was Weak.

Material scientists have claimed the pieces holding together the steel plates of the joints of the ship were made of low-quality iron rivets that could have broken more easily upon collision.

What builds a great F&I team? Like any sports team, it boils down to a great game plan, training to prepare for the big game, and holding them accountable for results. Does every manager you work with have a plan for how they are going to reach their goals? Is training consistent and tracked? If the results are lower than expected, make sure proper materials are used to avoid a crash.

5. There Was a Shortage of Binoculars and Lifeboats.

The person with the key to the locker where binoculars were stored was bumped from the crew at the last minute. Binoculars may have enabled them to see the danger earlier. The 20 lifeboats onboard were only half as many needed for the 1,718 passengers, and only 700 passengers survived. The lack of proper tools led to disaster.

The most important tool in the F&I office is a customer focused, needs based approach to building value in our products. Utilizing an interactive and visual effort with today’s customer is critical for success.

As independent agents, we can help assure our partners have everything they need to succeed. We can track effort and production, facilitate good communication between departments, help develop a game plan, and provide the tools that will lead to success. … and hopefully avoid the icebergs!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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Blockbuster Customer Service!

Blockbuster Customer Service!

In 2000, Blockbuster was on top of the world of video entertainment. The founder of a fledgling company called Netflix flew to Dallas to meet the CEO of Blockbuster with a proposal that the two companies forge a partnership. The record shows he was laughed out of the room. The Netflix business model of utilizing DVD rental by mail to distribute movies was an idea that would never work.

However, 10 years later, Blockbuster was bankrupt and Netflix was exploding with profits. And it wasn’t just that another company had outsmarted them. It really came down to two mistaken beliefs about customers and how to treat them. Let’s look at them.

1. Profit Was More Important Than the “Why” Behind It!

Blockbuster earned an enormous amount of money by charging its customers late fees, which had become an important part of their revenue model. The ugly truth was that the company’s profits were highly dependent on penalizing its patrons. Their primary focus became profits over people.

Any business that does not focus on helping customers will eventually be overtaken by those that do! As consultants, we have a unique role to play in molding the “why” of the dealership partners we serve. When customers feel we have their best interests at heart, they will listen to our recommendations and buy more products than we could ever sell them.

Having a selling purpose beyond making money, winds up making you even more money.

An F&I department that seeks to provide real value and realize their job is to improve each customer’s condition will always outperform those focused mainly on profits. Every customer leaves knowing why they need the products they bought, how much they paid, and how to use them when the need arises. And they leave with one thing that is priceless: the good feeling of having been heard and helped!

Unfortunately, there are still some F&I professionals so consumed with profit that the customer has been forgotten and their process has degraded into something less than customer-friendly. When we encounter these situations, whether it is a lone F&I manager or the entire dealership team, we must be bold in our efforts and challenge them to forge a path back to a customer-centric approach.

2. They Refused to Change, Even When the Market Demanded It!

Blockbuster’s directors essentially stated the same thought of many when faced with the call to change to accommodate the needs of their customers: “It will never work.” Those four words can kill a company — and in this case, it did! It is much easier to call new ideas and new ways of doing business crazy, ridiculous or simply wrong than to admit that our way may be outdated or unproductive.

We are in a rapidly changing market. Customers are demanding that we provide the same experience they are enjoying in other retail arenas. They are asking for a more time-efficient and transparent process utilizing technology that allows them to do a portion of the F&I transaction online before coming to the dealership.

One of the most profitable services we can offer our dealership partners is to help them define the path to constructive change that will enhance the customer experience. The customer response will be more products purchased and more repeat business, all of which are our ultimate goals.

In car dealerships nationwide, we are facing a “blockbuster” challenge. Will we embrace change, or will we fight to keep doing things the same way? The answer to that challenge will determine if we will be left behind (Blockbuster) or be leading the charge to change (Netflix). I cast my lot with the changers!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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Do the Work!

Do the Work!

Selling intangible products is hard! I’ve never seen a customer so excited about buying a vehicle service agreement that they can’t wait to show it to their friends. Selling an intangible product requires discovering and helping the customer see their need for the product. You must make the product and its benefits come alive by painting a picture and putting the customer in that picture using the product. It’s a unique skill set that must be developed by researching the products and role playing the effort to move customers to buy.

Great F&I managers are rarely operating on just the natural skills they were born with. It takes a lot of work and effort to become highly successful at selling the intangibles — work that many are hesitant to commit to. Those who make the commitment can accomplish what others can’t!

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, practicing, sacrifice and love of what you are doing. One of the most powerful things we can provide as independent agents (a.k.a. coaches) is the framework and accountability structure to assure those we influence to “do the work” to be successful. As Pro Football Hall of Famer (and arguably No. 1 NFL player of all time) Jerry Rice once said, “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”

I am an avid SEC college football fan so I like to use those letters as an acronym as often as I can. Here are three components of an effective strategy to assure those we are coaching are doing the work to get the results everyone is looking for:

S is for Schedule

Schedule practice consistently through the month. Anything that is important must be scheduled. Provide a “growth calendar” that includes several specific assignments each week. It can include role-play sessions, research or team-building exercises, all of which turn professional growth from an occasional effort to an ongoing process.

All professionals practice, in sports and in business. Every individual comes to the table with natural abilities and a foundation of skills they were born with. And yet, very often, I see less talented individuals outperform the naturally talented because they are willing to do the work to be great at what they do.

As coaches, providing this growth calendar to those we work with can be one of the most important tools to drive success. Once this is in place, we must follow up with intentional effort to assure the work is being done.

E is for Effort

Everyone tracks performance, and the goal is record-setting performance, right? However, one of the great illusions in our industry is focusing more on the outcome instead of the process. A healthy and consistent process will do more to improve performance than almost anything else we do. If the process is right, the results will follow.

Holding people accountable for the effort they are exerting to improve their skills on a weekly basis will ensure that improvement is taking place. Demanding improvement in performance absent of an accountable training process leads managers to seek increases in production through less desirable ways. That might include exerting pressure on customers to buy and can even lead some to use deceptive or questionable efforts. When effort is tracked, performance improves.

C is for Connect

We must connect results to the execution of the process. With new skills learned and consistent practice in place, the F&I manager knows where they need to go and how to get there.

Knowing what to do is often the easy part; doing it is the hard part. Accountability is simply monitoring to assure the new skills and actions that will bring success are executed in real customer interactions. Attending a class and implementing regular skills practice won’t lead to execution success any more than having a fitness magazine on the coffee table will lead to losing weight. It’s all about execution.

Coaching a team to success includes scheduling regular practice, tracking all team members efforts to improve and measuring the level of execution during the game. That will lead to wins in college football and in the F&I office as well!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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Safe and Sound!

Safe and Sound!

The founder of online music store CD Baby, Derek Sivers, once said, “The single most important thing is to make people happy. If you are making people happy, as a side effect, they will be happy to open up their wallets and pay you.” In the F&I office, one of the most important things we do for our customers is prioritize the effort to put them at ease.

Customers come into any selling environment apprehensive that someone is going to talk them into doing something they will regret later. Customers who feel safe will listen to you, trust you, ask questions, and seek recommendations from you. If they don’t feel safe, they will avoid interaction with you, share only limited information, and seek to end the process as quickly as possible.

I recently went into a metro-area Apple store to pick up a new phone I had ordered online — and nothing else! I was disheartened when I saw 100-plus people inside and every Apple employee busy with a customer. I knew this would take forever and looked for a place to sign in. But I was immediately greeted by an employee with an iPad who welcomed me and asked how they could “help.” They communicated wirelessly and had someone bring my phone to me in less than five minutes.

But the most important part of the process was the initial greeting. “Mr. McCormick, I will have someone bring the phone out to you immediately. We will provide you all the help you need to get up and running right away, answer any questions you have, and assist you with any additional purchases if you need them. Would that be OK?” I was “safe” now. In about 20 minutes, I was leaving, and yes, I purchased two additional products.

What are the ingredients to produce this safe environment with our own customers? Let’s look at a couple:

1. Listen Deeply and Laugh Often.

When customers enter an F&I office, they expect to be forced to listen to a sales pitch. When the F&I manager urges the customer to talk 70% of the time and the customer realizes someone wants to listen to them, it creates a safe environment to talk.

… And talk they will! They will tell you everything you need to know to help them see their need for several products you offer. Don’t forget to make the experience fun! They just bought a new car and they think the fun is over. If the customer laughs in the first two minutes of meeting you, the tension is leaving the room and is replaced with a feeling that this experience will be different.

Most car buyers have had a least one tension-filled experience in an F&I office. Make this experience different and the outcome will be different!

2. Provide Value That Has Nothing to Do With Selling Anything.

Helping customers and providing a safe environment requires that we do good things for them. In fact, we may do things for our customers that have nothing to do with selling.

A great opportunity is with the recent Equifax security breach that impacted millions of Americans. When we review our customer’s credit history, their personal information is exposed to us. They are concerned that their Social Security number and birthdate are part of the public record now. They want to know what steps they should take.

Providing a simple one-page document with websites and phone numbers of the three credit bureau reporting companies along with some solid recommendations of what to do next will build great value with customers. They will see you helping them, not selling them, and when it comes time to discuss products you offer, they are more likely to listen.

I have seen this transpire in dealerships recently. I saw the quick change of the tone when customers realized this process was going to be different and they felt safe to talk and buy in. And buy they will!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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