There’s no such thing as a “customer” at Ferman Auto.
A customer sounds transactional. It implies that the dealership needs something from this consumer and that there’s no relationship formed. No, “customer” simply won’t do justice to the experience that any person walking into the Florida-area dealership experiences. “Guest” is a much better word.
In fact, fixed ops director Keith Britts says the dealership takes this distinction so seriously that any time an employee attempts to type the word “customer” on a dealership computer, a widget automatically changes that word to “guest.”
"Just by the fact that we view our customers as ‘guests’ is a method that we want them to understand that we value them,” Britts says. “Everybody down from the porters, we’re lucky to have them here. We want to give them a better level of communication and process, particularly in our service department. We want to have ht method to have the guest to do business with us in the right way.”
That philosophy of balancing technology and service experience is exactly why Ferman Auto has maintained a 77 percent six-month service retention rate, a 100 percent utilization of its online scheduling process, a two-time Volvo International Training Award winner, five-star ratings and a 100 percent recommendation rate on DealerRater and why it was named the first-ever Xtime Customer Experience Excellence Award winner for outstanding service department interactions.
"I wouldn’t want to tell you it’s from the day [new employees] start,” Britts says. “It’s the culture within each store. It’s not something that they get a prerequisite from day one. But by day five, they will have some of that training. Early on in their lifecycle with us, they understand the guest process.”
That process starts from the second that guests book their appointments, which Ferman Auto pushes them to do online. It’s why nearly 75 percent of guests book appointments online—up from 20 percent when they first switched to the Xtime service.
Should a guest call the dealership to book an appointment, the business development center (BDC) will utilize that same system and is able to coordinate the shop loads at all 18 stores. They can see the next available appointments and better schedule the appointments to the guests’ convenience.
“We’re working on bettering the guest experience and having people put in a time slot for an appointment where there’s not an extended wait of time,” Britts says. “They think they have to be here first thing in the morning. Some people can do it over lunch or dinner.”
Upon arrival to the service department, the entire process is paperless, so when a guest pulls up to the service department, a service advisor scans the vehicle and all the open recalls that werer missed the old-fashioned way automatically pops up. In addition to that, vehicle history is also readily available so when the advisor works with a guest, he or she can see what’s been done and what was previously recommended right on his or her tablet.
“You get what you need, fast, prompt, easy, legal. You don’t have to go anywhere to sign off on it. It really streamlines the whole intake process and communication process for anything in service,” Britts says.
There’s another advantage to that automation, as well: Let’s say a guest came in last week and Joe Smith was the one of 50 service advisors the guest saw. A week later, Joe’s on vacation or he’s out sick. Without that automation, the newly appointed service advisor has zero knowledge of the guest, his or her vehicle and his or her plan for your vehicle.
“Now, he sees that that you declined a repair and it pops a window and tells him. He’s loaded with some knowledge of your relationship with us. He’s not standing there looking stupid,” Britts says. “He has the tool to see that you were just here. It reduces the chance of us not being personable because you’re not recognize a guest when they come in.”
The advisors and technicians also utilize the same system for completing inspections, which every guest receives at no charge. This is where tracking comes in, Britts says. As the leader, you need to meticulously track to not only ensure that benchmarks are hit, but also that processes are followed in the first place.
“We can see the inspection, how much time it took to do the inspection per guest write-up,” he says. “If I see a guest that the writer wrote it up in less than a minute, I’ll watch his process and help develop him.”
That’s the whole point of effectively leveraging technology, Britts says; it’s not to replace human interactions, it’s to help improve them. After the repair is completed, the guest will soon be able to pay electronically, for example. And, keeping track of the guest with an effective system also allows Britts to not only stay in touch with the guest, but to ensure that the dealership isn’t overtouching them.
“We know by month, we assume some parameters for mileage, we know when you need to come in for service,” he says. “Once we set it up, it happens automatically. We can have the BDC call these folks and know when they’re due.
“If they don’t come back in, we can run a report and see what’s happening, Maybe they moved out of the market. We wouldn’t want to chase that guy.”