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Keep the Customer Experience Front of Mind


There’s lots to celebrate this year when it comes to interest, sales, and participation in boating and fishing, but there’s also a potential flip side that we must be wary of as an industry: losing focus on the customer experience.

As sales leads have increased in some cases by 300 and 400 percent — and sales continue to hit record levels — the metrics we chart our success by continue to climb. But the bar charts related to the customer experience are on the decline, almost at an inverse rate.

Customer satisfaction scores declined by more than 6 full percentage points between April and June, according to Marine Retailers Association of the Americas partner Customer Service Intelligence, which charts customer satisfaction indices on sales delivery and service for marine dealers. In the first month of the quarter, those dealers had a 96.65 CSI score related to sales delivery; in the second month, it dropped to 94.39; and in June, the third month, it hit a low of 90.45.

In a normal year, the peak selling season always sees a slight dip, according to CSI, but that dip typically represents only a 0.5- or 1-point drop, not a 6-point drop. It’s worth noting here, as well, that any dealer that engages a company like CSI and pays for its monitoring (above and beyond the manufacturer CSI program) is a dealership that you can expect to be focused intently on driving quality customer experiences. If those dealers are close to dipping below the 90-percent CSI threshold, it’s scary to think what’s happening to dealers who don’t put as much emphasis on customer satisfaction.

Dealers’ net promoter scores, a measurement of loyalty with the dealership, dropped from the mid-90s in March to less than 75 in June. These are still solid net promoter scores, but a 15-point decline is notable. The 12-month NPS in the second quarter of 2019 was 83.1 compared with 2020’s second quarter, which was 76.88, a “substantial decline,” according to Becky Thompson, president of CSI. “Dealers need to focus on correcting customer issues to bring this NPS number up,” she adds.

A quick look at individual questions on the CSI surveys shows the culprit leading to poor customer satisfaction: follow-up, or a lack thereof.

Questions such as “were you satisfied with the explanation of features?” and “were you pleased with the overall condition of the boat?” and “did your salesperson treat you with courtesy and concern?” all garnered great scores: 95.5, 91.5 and 99.3, respectively. But the question “has your salesperson contacted you since delivery?” received a rating of 77.17, dragging the customer experience index down significantly.

“It’s scary to think what dealers’ ratings are when they don’t have a follow-up program in place,” Thompson says. “How many first-time buyers are never returning because of a mistake that was made just because the dealer is too busy to follow up and ask how things are going?”

According to a study released last year, first-time boat buyers have been leaving boating at a clip of about 40 percent in their first five years of ownership — during normal times. If that trend starts to accelerate, dealers may not have a second chance to make up for a lack of follow-up early in a customer relationship.

In any given season, dealers feel rushed. There are leads to nurture, customer questions to answer, trade-ins to evaluate, and deals to finalize. There are boats to prep, parts to order, deliveries to make and customer-mandated deadlines to launch boats. Dealers don’t even know how it will all get done. Leads accumulate, showroom traffic grows, and the sales team tries to hand the baton to service to take care of the customers. Dealers feel the tug of competing priorities: taking care of buyers vs. moving on to selling the next boat.

Meanwhile, boaters everywhere are hitting the water, service requests are piling up, parts and accessory orders are on the rise, and staff is frantically trying to meet every demand. And that’s during a normal year. In 2020, all of this has certainly been magnified by an overwhelming number of leads, record sales, factory shutdowns, depleted inventory, work-from-home mandates, appointment-only boat sales, social-distancing requirements and more. Dealers focus on keeping one ball in the air, and then another ball drops. Running a boat dealership demands a balance that is tricky to navigate.


There’s no doubt that with how busy dealers have been during the past quarter, mistakes are being made. CSI programs provide the ability to correct issues and save the customer. But they also require that dealers adjust tactics to influence the results positively.

“The customer can be saved when you are aware of the issues they are having and you take the opportunity to make it right by the customer,” Thompson says. “And that, in return, brings you customer loyalty.”

At MRAA, one way we’re trying to help dealers tackle this issue is through a series we developed called “Operation: Keep Your Customers Boating.” These articles, videos and downloadable resources (found at focus on the customer experience and tips to help ensure that processes stay on track. I encourage dealers to check out these free insights and resources, because even if they think their processes don’t need improvement, the numbers suggest otherwise.

Last month, we rolled out a program called the MRAA Virtual Business Development Center, which is designed to help busy dealers with the post-sale follow-up process by outsourcing a lot of the legwork and ensuring major issues are dealt with immediately. Dealers can read more about it on our website or watch the webinar where we launched it last month.

However, dealers choose to tackle the problem, I hope they take some time to consider how well they’ve been able to follow through on their commitment to each customer. As we move into the fall and dealers begin to help folks wrap up their boating season, there’s still time to have a connection that ensures customers retain a positive association with boating. In fact, building a true relationship with customers — the kind that builds loyalty, repeat and referral business — is a year-round effort.

At MRAA, we believe follow-up will be key to keeping this season’s new boaters in the lifestyle for many years to come. Let us know how we can help.

Matt Gruhn is president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. 


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