BusinessWeek recently announced its 2010 Customer Service Champs.   The fourth annual customer service awards celebrated repeat winners and newcomers that figured out how to treat recession-weary customers right.  Here are the top 5, and what they do differently to take care of their customers:

1) L.L. Bean – When faced with a financial need to close a call center in 2009, the company opted to let employees work as home-based agents instead of out-sourcing calls so that the company could maintain a consistent customer experience.  (They also have priced-right products and a lenient return policy.)

2) USAA – The financial institution began letting customers make deposits by simply snapping a picture of the checks with their iPhones and using an app to e-mail them to the bank.

3) Apple – The company pioneered a new approach to the buying process by giving their associates the tools to scan products and process payments anywhere within their stores – gone are the days of waiting in long check-out lines.  (By the way, their customers can “go green” by choosing to have their receipts e-mailed rather than printed.)

4) Four Seasons – With the luxury business travel industry hit hard in 2009, the high-end hotelier began cross-training back-office employees so that customers would not notice when they may be understaffed.  (A human resources manager could be manning the spa desk.)

5) Publix – The employee-owned grocery chain completed the installation of an automated inventory replenishment software system reducing “out-of-stocks” by 19%.

What can new car dealers learn from these service giants?

It might be easy to draw the conclusion that providing a consistent customer experience; making it easy for customers to buy; and having the right products at the right time are the keys to excellent customer service.  (In many instances this may be the case.)  But, being a Customer Service Champ is really having a customer-centric philosophy.  What does that mean?

  • knowing what is important to your customers
  • knowing how your customers make buying decisions
  • doing everything that you can to give your customers what is important to them

This sounds simple enough.  But, the execution is much more difficult than the theory.  It takes a concerted effort from everyone within a Fixed Operations department to make customer service the top priority.  And, in most cases it takes some deep soul searching to identify current practices and processes that are NOT customer-centric.  If we are honest with ourselves, the history of a typical new car dealer’s Fixed Operations did not have customers at it center.  (It was more likely to have the manufacturer or the sales department at its core.)

Yet, as with anything worth doing, the reward is worth the effort.  Taking steps toward becoming a Customer Service Champ will create loyal customers that work as ambassadors for your organization.  Imagine hundreds of your customers telling their friends and family members why they will never have their vehicles serviced anywhere other than your dealer.

What is the first step toward becoming Customer Service Champs?

The first step toward becoming a Customer Service Champ is knowing what is important to your customers and what influences their buying decisions.  (By the way, this does not mean review your CSI Survey results.)  Ask your loyal customers why they service their vehicles at your dealer.  Ask them what would make their customer experience better.  Then (after you are really feeling good about what they tell you), ask them when and why they go elsewhere for anything related to their vehicles.  (Yes, ask your loyal customers this question – the answers may surprise you.)

How can we help one another be Customer Service Champs a bit quicker?

Most of you have been “around the block” a few times.  So, let’s share some best practices that are already helping to exceed your customers expectations….  What are you doing differently (and most importantly better) to take care of (and keep) your customers?
(Please post your response to this question in the comment box below:)

The 2020 Service Retention Report Is Here!See what nearly 2,000 service customers said about why they return, why they don't, and what dealerships can do about it.