Technology vendors typically excel at communicating clearly how their wares will help auto dealers sell more vehicles and service them more profitably.
Should dealers who buy these products and services expect vendors’ enthusiasm to remain as energetic toward the dealership after the sale?
Dealership enthusiasm for technology purchases rarely wanes because the product is an utter flop. Instead, delight more often falters when the promised silver bullet jams due to start-up setbacks, user-application frustrations, unrealized benefits, insufficient training and product issues.
In other words, what does a dealership do when the vendor’s support for the business seems to have fallen away?
Dealership retention is as important to vendors as customer retention is to auto dealers. The solution to both loyalty objectives is surprisingly similar: delivery of stellar customer care.
J.D. Rucker, director-new media for the dealer-services company KPA, asks in a recent blog: “What happened to the days when vendors were forced to have strong technology and amazing customer service rather than today’s trend, which seems to force dealers to choose between one or the other?”
The National Automobile Dealers Assn.’s website offers some guidelines, making this point: “Encourage your staff to develop a good working relationship with the people who provide your IT support.”
Dealerships also would benefit from a good working relationship with the vendor’s training and client-support teams in addition to vendor support consultants and management.
Consultant Stan Sher, president of Dealer eTraining, says dealers should expect vendor-support personnel to know the environment in which their product – and support expertise – is offered.
“When I was a manager at a dealership, I would qualify vendors by making sure they knew what they were talking about,” he says. “It is just ridiculous to have someone with no sales or service background sit down and try to have an intelligent conversation with a car dealership.”
Kyle Warner, training director for AutoAlert, a customer database analysis and sales strategies company, suggests dealers evaluate vendor after-sale support using considerations like the following:
- How extensive is support? Initial user training and ongoing IT support should be minimally accepted support services.
- Does the vendor offer additional training, whether in-class, webinar or video? Is the help desk capable of promptly resolving technical issues, answer questions and provide process guidance to help users maximize system productivity and therefore return on investment?
- Do support reps know automotive retail? Support personnel having in-dealership experience, either in IT, finance and insurance, sales or service better understand dealership processes and see the big picture.
- How often do sales and technical reps visit the dealership after the sale? Ideally, training and support should include upper management to insure maximum buy-in.
“Great vendor care starts with having a team of people who work with me, dedicated vendors whose main responsibility it is to help us use their systems better,” says Ben Hodor, sales manager at the Mike Sullivan dealership group’s Lexus Santa Monica, crediting AutoAlert for doing that.
“Dealerships should expect their vendors to be troubleshooters and partners in their success,” Warner says.
Microsoft, in a white paper covering vendor management, says the most successful service-vendor relationships build trust, communicate clearly and “use best practices that go beyond the formal agreements.”
Key points from Microsoft include developing common expectations, assigning designated contacts on both sides, proactively evaluating and managing risk and building resilience to handle the unexpected.
Xtime assembled a dedicated team of customer-care advocates to better service its dealership clients.
“We’ve instructed our advocates to climb any mountain to serve a customer, and as a result have been quite effective in keeping our customer-satisfaction and renewal rates very high,” says Allan Bird, director-customer care and engagement for Xtime, a firm that provides service-department customer-relationship management and online scheduling.
Jim Leman writes about automotive retail operations from Grayslake, IL, where he also works on keeping a ’46 Plymouth Business Coupe on the road.