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Dealer’s Voice: Reputations are lifeblood of dealerships

Published June 9, 2014

In the course of an average working day at our dealerships and collision centre, our staff has interactions with hundreds of customers and prospects.

Each point of contact — whether it’s answering a phone call or delivering a vehicle — represents an opportunity for us to impress customers. Our aim is to make every experience the best it can be for each customer.

The sum total of customer interactions and daily business activities is part of what makes a dealership’s reputation, which is no different than any other retail business.

But what exactly is a reputation in 2014? How are reputations built, managed and tarnished in this age of lightning-fast communications and always-on connectivity?

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That’s a question that dealerships and marketing companies wrestle with every day. Before the 1990s, dealerships relied largely on brand loyalty to generate business. There was a large degree of predictability in year-to-year sales based on past buying patterns.

Nowadays, it’s a different story. Reputations are built upon many tangible and intangible factors, such as consumer reviews, online commentary, customer satisfaction, quality of workmanship, individual personalities, punctuality, pricing, trust, community involvement, accessibility and friendliness.

It’s never one thing that builds a reputation but a combination of many things. Quite often, a dealership’s reputation is founded on a personal relationship between a single employee (i.e., a service advisor or sales consultant) and a customer.

It’s the service advisor who stays after closing to accommodate a customer who is running late.

It’s the sales manager who coaches minor hockey and volunteers at the local food bank because he wants to give something back to the community.

It’s the product advisor who calls a customer back precisely at the time she said she would, and follows up with that customer if there is an outstanding issue.

These personal relationships are just as critical in building and maintaining a reputation as the latest marketing materials and new vehicles on display inside a showroom.

The thing about reputations today, compared to the pre-Internet era, is that messages are now broadcast and amplified for the world to see — quickly. Many websites and forums are available for consumers to voice their opinions and discuss their experiences.

All of this communication and transparency is generally good for consumers.

The only caveat is that reputations can also be tarnished as a result of malicious or unfair comments, and dealers don’t always have a chance to address issues before comments have been aired publicly (if there is no response to a negative story, remember there are two sides to every story).

In our business, mistakes happen, but only 3 per cent of complaints are brought to the dealer’s attention (97 per cent of unhappy customers won’t come back).

I view complaints as gifts. They allow us an opportunity to examine our business and make the necessary changes so that we can improve.

Overall, the advent of the Internet (social media, in particular) has meant that dealerships have had to continuously improve all parts of their business, which has helped enhance customer experiences across the board.

Dealerships have been improving in all areas. They have become better at communicating with customers online and in real time. They’ve become better at diagnosing mechanical issues and adapting to new technologies.

They have upgraded their product knowledge and communication skills so that the customer experience is positive and purposeful. If dealers don’t continuously improve, customers will take their business down the road.

Dealerships work hard and invest a lot of time and resources in building reputations. My advice to consumers is this: Provide your dealer with constructive feedback so that they can continually improve to serve you better. Allow dealers an opportunity to impress you.

This column represents the views of TADA. Email president@tada.ca or visit tada.ca. Bob Verwey, president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, is a new-car dealer in the GTA.

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