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Building Relationships Part 1: Handling Angry Customers

Growing a dealership is a journey. When a business of any kind starts out, anyone who has a pulse and can fog a mirror is a good potential customer. Since you don’t have many customers, each one is important and you do anything in your power to take care of them. I call that stage one of business. We have all been there, but then changes start to happen. Because of the way we have cared for our precious few customers, they have told others and we start the process of growth.

After your business gets busier, you may find that you can’t keep up. Customers are waiting at the door for you to open and, at the end of the day, they are still trying to come in even though the doors are locked. The phones are ringing off the hook and your staff is complaining that they can’t get their work done because those pesky customers just won’t leave them alone. You no longer are concerned about getting customers, you are now trying to keep your head above water so you can get everything done.


At this point — and many of you have reached it — you are now taking customers for granted, assuming they will continue to come in. They are kind of like buses in the city: if I miss one, so what? There will be another one in about 5 minutes.

I am here to tell you that if you have that attitude, you have reached a very dangerous place in your business. If you don’t begin to make a correction, your dealership will begin to fade away and eventually go out of business.

You have to get back to the place where your customers are cherished. For that to happen on a large scale, your employees have to be involved in the process as well.

Empowering Employees

How do you do that? It is through a number of things like training and empowering your employees to think like owners.

I would always start with training. I don’t think many dealers today have trained their employees on how to deal with angry and upset customers. It’s important to hire people who have the personality to work with people and, most importantly, to help solve problems. While training is important, it’s easier to train a person who already has the right personality instead of someone who easily gets frustrated with people. 

Again, keep in mind that one angry or unsatisfied customer can have a huge impact on your dealership. Anything we can do to turn that customer around is going to benefit everyone.

If you have one angry customer, you have to ask yourself if letting the customer walk out angry is worth losing 100 other potential customers. Or, should we find a way, even if it costs us a little bit of money, to make them happy.

They may not come back and do business with you again, but they leave neutral. They don’t go out with a mission to hurt the dealership’s reputation. And that comes back to training people on how to deal with angry customers. By empowering your employees to think like an owner, you set your employees and customers up for great success.

Sometimes when I visit with a husband-and-wife ownership team, they think that the concept of creating a culture for leadership is the same as empowering employees.

The culture you create will draw out the leadership qualities that exist in all of your employees. When you empower your employees, you are giving them the tools they need to achieve success. And the most important tool is a clear picture of where you are going as a dealership and what role they play in helping you move the company toward that future.

This is also interconnected with your dealership’s values. As you instill your values into your dealership, this gives your employees the power to take care of your customers like you would, without having to question whether they can make a certain decision. They know that if it fits within one of your company’s values, they can pull the trigger.

Your primary job as an owner is to make sure that all of your employees have a clear understanding of what you are trying to accomplish and how their effort, each and every day, helps move the company toward that objective. As I work with service managers and their techs, I am constantly preaching the vision of the shop: “We do it right the first time, with as little bench time as possible!”

My role is to empower the manager, service writer, service coordinator and techs to understand the objective and to give them the tools and processes to make it happen. By having a clear and simple focus, the employees only have to ask themselves, “If I make this decision, will it achieve our objective, which is to do it right the first time, with as little bench time as possible?”

Your goal is to create a culture where the employees not only know what to do in any given situation, but also how their actions integrate with the big picture. Empowering your employees also means giving them the necessary tools to succeed. If you ask your employees what they need to accomplish the objective, you must be willing to deliver what they need.

Create a High Performance Dealership with Bob Clements is a new series brought to you by Yanmar.

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Building Loyal Customers

Managing customer relationships after they leave your dealership can seem like an impossible task to do. You may not even know where to start. How you handle your customer relationships after they leave your dealership is how you move them from being satisfied to being loyal.

What is the difference between a satisfied and loyal customer? A satisfied customer is happy with you until the next best thing comes around. Whereas a loyal customer will come back to you over and over again.

For instance, where I live, there is a car mechanic that my family has taken our cars to for years and years. I am a good mechanic and have given them the chance to cheat me, but they never have. As a result, I have moved from being a satisfied customer to a loyal customer — to the extent that we haven’t taken our cars for service anywhere else in over 10 years.

When you move from satisfied to loyal, it’s not about the money anymore it’s about the relationship and service the customer receives.

How do you start this process? Simply start by going through your customer database and touching each of your customers every six months. This shouldn’t include a company Christmas card or a company calendar. Let’s be honest, where do you think your company Christmas card goes in most homes? Probably the same place you put Christmas cards or calendars you get from companies you do business with, in the trash.

You have to come up with something that is unique and that your customers will get when they are least expecting it. Try thinking out of the box for ideas. You could send an anniversary card to a couple a few weeks before their anniversary.

Or, is there a local theme park that you could buy a one-day family pass and send as a thank you?

One thing we do is to send gifts to our customers on “off” holidays. Sometimes, it’s a small jar of candy that doesn’t cost a lot, but shows up for no reason. It gives the customer that “wow” moment we are looking to achieve. Remember, it’s the little things that make can move customers from satisfied to loyal.