How do customers see your dealership?

It’s a question more retailers should ask.
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Examining a boat dealership from the customer’s point of view isn’t easy because it doesn’t come naturally. But it’s worth it if you are serious about maintaining current customers and acquiring more going forward.

So suggests Micah Solomon, a customer-service consultant, speaker, bestselling author and the principal in Four Aces, Inc. He contends that every dealer has a point of view about his or her business, the customer’s experience and the quality of his customer service. But for many, that point of view can be off by 180 degrees. In essence, it signals a failure to experience how the dealership feels, looks, tastes, and even smells from the customer’s view point. It’s amazing, even chilling, how different this perspective can be, he notes.

Solomon gives a simple “chilling” example. Ever wonder why it’s so chilly in your favorite restaurant? The reason: Restaurant work is hard, physically active work. Employees are on their feet, hustling all the time. Good employees, helpful employees. But no one realizes that sitting down and expending zero calories as a customer waits for dinner is likely to cause that guest to have a different sensitivity to temperature.

In assessing how customers perceive the business, it’s important to review and eliminate things that are intended to be simple but are actually confusing or difficult. For example, online, does the dealership’s website violate common usability rules and expectations? Or, at the showroom, is the well-intended handicapped-accessible entrance actually blocked by some boat(s) or products or racks of marketing materials? According to Solomon, that’s quite common.

It’s important to make visiting the dealership easy, not arduous. For example, it’s not a good move to put a customer into a bad mood by the time he or she even gets into the showroom because it’s hard to park right up front, or the address and signage aren’t clear, or the hours are incorrectly posted on the website.

Particularly important is eliminating elements that make a dealership come across as untrustworthy. A textbook example is pricing that leads the customer to assume it’s all inclusive but isn’t. Signage should always be clear. Signs that say, “from as low as $$$$” should also include information such as “Boat, as shown, is $$$$$$.” Also, whether tax, title and delivery are included or not. And remember, with the Internet, customers are most likely to have researched prices before arriving. That frame of reference, good or bad, will have them make a quick judgment about a dealership’s trustworthiness.

Solomon makes the following suggestions to get your assessment started. First, the stark reality is there’s no “we’re there now—we’re done” in customer service. It’s a process that continues as long as you’re in business.

Next, do things like park where your customers park. If that’s not near the showroom entrance because the staff has parked there . . . well, you know what’s needed. Now walk into the showroom through the same door customers enter. See exactly what they see. What’s the message being sent?

Always try to read what your customers or prospects may read such as online reviews of the dealership and your boat brands. It’s also advisable to take time and read what people are saying about the competition. It’s important to recognize a customer’s journey to a dealer may not have begun on your dealership’s website or your showroom’s front door. And, regularly log in the same way customers log in to check the website.

Solomon’s books and articles that regularly appear in magazines like Forbes, are great reading. Take his answer, for example, to this enduring question: Is it true that the customer is always right? “No, the customer is not always right,” continues Solomon, “but you want to make them feel like they are.”

There is rarely value in correcting a customer when they’re wrong. In fact, this is, usually, exactly the wrong thing to do, especially if they’re mad as a hornet at the moment. Instead, stick religiously to your customer service resolution method. (You do have one, right? If not, here’s an article on his MAMA system for calming and turning around an upset customer.) And if you don’t, yet, have a customer service recovery system in place, remember this: you should always start with listening, rather than rebuttal.

Subsequently, if you do need to correct a customer, don’t lead with your correction. Remember: They do believe that they are actually right, albeit from their own perspective. So, start by showing an understanding of where the customer is coming from, and only after that, if needed, you can, like a good cop in a thousand TV shows, have them “walk me through that one more time.” If your customer is truly in the wrong, let them slowly come around to that reality. You don’t gain points by aggressively pointing it out.

Solomon offers a lot more insights and suggestions in his books (www.micahsolomon.com). But his recommendation that every dealer make a point to look at the dealership just like a customer will can be a right step to increased sales, better customer service and, eventually, loyalty.

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