Why Car Dealerships Need to Embrace Continuous Improvement Programs

When you look at successful business models to determine why they consistently outperform others, what becomes evident is that they have structure, systems & processes in place for their people to follow and held accountable. With that said, every dealership wants to be successful. They want to generate a fair profit, have happy and productive employees as well as loyal customers that keep coming back and continually send referrals.  Seems simple, right? Well it actually is because all these aforementioned points are outcomes that can be process mapped or reverse engineered to ensure the business’ goals are attainable.

The wild card however is not the plan; it’s the people and their level of competency to execute the requirements of the plan is actually the variable in the equation. This is the challenge that dealerships face daily when they are encouraged by the manufacturers to implement process improvement or marketing programs where the outcome depends upon the employee and the skills that may or may not be a part of the individual’s knowledge base. This is the dealership’s Achilles heel and the #1 reason why they must fully embrace the continuous improvement movement so they can begin to learn the strategies necessary to overcome this systemic issue.

The continuous improvement programs that have been sweeping across the automotive industry carries with it some mission critical gems that would never have found their way into dealerships unless mandated by the manufacturers. Because most managers are not familiar with process and its importance in developing solutions to address the challenges they face daily, many see these programs as unwanted intrusions and do the bare minimum to meet expectations so they can move on.  Furthermore, because the concept is foreign, they have difficulty seeing the importance of embracing the change so that they can leverage these programs as tools to make quantum leaps in employee performance and profits. So let’s connect the dots.

CarMax is one of the few businesses that have successfully adopted the Disney & McDonald’s methodology of using frameworks that teach employees how to deliver an exceptional customer experience. CarMax has set the expectations for their customer experience with their slogan, “this is the way car buying should be”. Then they defined each step, teach and reinforce the best practices for every aspect of the client interaction and continually hold their associates accountable for maintaining the standards. By adopting this approach, they ensure that shopping at CarMax in Chicago is the same experience as in LA. They have accomplished this by listening to what consumers were complaining about during the car buying experience and then created something better, and it worked! From the initial greeting to the transaction process to leaving the building at the conclusion of the sale, there is little resemblance of the traditional car buying experience in the CarMax process. Okay, so what’s the take away?

Consumers consistently give CarMax high marks for their sales, service and most importantly, the customer experience, even though they All pay full price! Here is the point, the client experience matters. It even matters more than price!

It’s a strategy that demands more than lip service if the business owner or selling professional plans to succeed long term. So intentionally investigating programs that can improve the customer experience is a top priority for most dealer principals today. From facility upgrades, to improving the client interaction both on and offline, to the post sale and product servicing experience, they are constantly being reminded of how easily the public’s perception of their business can be impacted either positively or negatively by a post or a tweet.

Consequently, over the past few years there has been a resurgence of companies like True Car offering pay-to-play services to dealerships, where for a hefty fee they sell back clients that these dealerships already owned free & clear. These types of companies unnecessarily take big bites out of the dealer’s bottom-line and are categorized as revenue leeches because the expense can be avoided. Another form of revenue stealer includes BDC departments where poorly conceived and executed initiatives leads to a 60% or more closing rate within a two year period. Both of these initiatives are being sold to dealerships as solutions to address an under-performing sales staff that has been labeled by some as incapable of being true professionals.

With that said, what’s fascinating to me is that even though the industry, as a whole, has acknowledged the importance of the client experience, identified the critical touch points and more importantly, have determined what excellence should look like, why then is there still an execution gap? Could it be that what is yet to be introduced are the standards to measure the individual’s competency to ensure they can meet expectations or is it that dealerships need unrestricted access to a training resource for continuing education and development or is it both?

Let’s see, these professionals continually fail to meet expectation for a job description that was never properly defined, a role they were never properly trained for, and activities for which they were never truly held accountable. Think about it, if realtors have to be certified & licensed to sell homes; and McDonald’s employees cannot flip burgers without being trained and certified; and Disney’s cast members cannot sweep floors without being properly trained and certified; then why is it that dealership professionals do not have a formal process for teaching them standards for professional excellence as part of their development process?

The fact is, because of the Internet, change for today’s dealership is no longer a ‘should’ but a must. Because of the Internet, the shift in consumer buying habits has permanently disrupted the reactive selling process that dealerships have been accustomed to and has spotlighted the need for an update, not only in the sales process but also in the dealership’s approach to business development and customer relationship management.

It’s hard to believe that it has been over 20 years since the Internet became a reality. And what’s even more alarming is that very little structural change has taken place in how we acquire, train and develop dealership professionals. As a result, we can actually trace the high rate of employee turnover, the strained customer relationships, and the over-inflated cost of acquiring customers back to the industry’s slow reaction to introduce a more comprehensive professional development program.

Yes, addressing this issue from the entire industry’s perspective can seem daunting, especially when we take into account the varied education and demographic background of each practitioner. However, by establishing standards, even basic requirements for professional effectiveness in key roles within dealerships, we will ensure that there is forward movement towards attracting individuals that can meet these minimum requirements as well as provide them with a pathway towards a respectable career and professional competency.