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Sustainable Excellence in the Customer Experience: Start with Your Employees

What keeps a business going strong, year after year, for close to 65 years straight? At Ricart Automotive Group, the answer is uncomplicated: an unwavering focus on the customer from Day One.

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What keeps a business going strong, year after year, for close to 65 years straight? At Ricart Automotive Group, the answer is uncomplicated: an unwavering focus on the customer from Day One.

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Led by Rick Ricart, vice president of sales and marketing, the main path for the last five years to improving the customer experience at the dealership has been through improving the experience for each of its 541 employees.

“There’s an old quote, ‘Serve your employees, customers and vendors, in that order, or someone else will,’” Ricart said. “It’s still true today, 100 percent. Probably even more so today than 20 years ago. Happy employees make customers happy.”

In an industry where employee turnover of 90 to even 100 percent over a one-year period isn’t unusual, Ricart Automotive has succeeded in getting its number down to 19 percent. It didn’t happen overnight but, with a long history of ensuring that customers have the best possible experience at the dealership, and knowing that their experience is closely tied to the employees’ experience, Ricart had a strong foundation for reaching his goal.

Setting the Standard for Excellence

It’s hard to know just how much childhood shapes us, and in what ways. But one memory that stands out for Rick Ricart took place at his grandpa’s then 30-year-old car dealership in the early 1980s. The very young Ricart was walking around the lot with his grandpa, picking up license plate screws.

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“‘Do you know how much these cost?’ he’d ask me,” Ricart said. “He knew the value of everything — where each and every penny was spent.”

Paul F. Ricart had a tight hold on the finances, and for many of his years as owner of Ricart Automotive, a tight hold on just about everything else too. From new car sales to driving the old pickup out to retrieve a customer’s car, he did it all, six days a week. His hard work paid off, as he grew the dealership to one of the most successful in the region.

Automotive News ran a story in 1961 calling Ricart a “stimulator,” whose competitors were confounded as to how he was getting so much business, both inside and outside his primary market area.

“His competitors were convinced he must be cheating somehow, but it was strictly word of mouth. He took such great care of his customers that word spread far,” Ricart said.

And that is probably the most important thing the young Ricart learned from his grandpa: How to take care of his customers. For Ricart, it’s meant improving the employee experience first.

Straight to No. 1

Although employees have always been a priority at Ricart Automotive, the management team received a boost in taking the employee experience to the next level when they signed up for Ford’s Consumer Experience Movement (CEM).

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Before doing so, the team sent a survey to all employees to get feedback on job satisfaction.

“Unfortunately, the results weren’t anything you’d want to put up on your fridge at home,” Ricart said. “We took our efforts to make improvements very seriously.”

Ricart assigned a key employee to lead CEM implementation, whose role was later turned into a full-time job. He also provided employees with software tools that made their job easier and more enjoyable, including AutoAlert’s AlertMiner to determine the right offer for the right customer at the right time. Backed by powerful analytics of customer information and big data, the software creates a unique deal for every customer to upgrade or trade keys today.

(This tool allows us to) approach every customer with meaningful, pertinent information that the customer is interested in,” Ricart said. “It makes the conversation so much better for everybody.

It didn’t take long for things to improve. In addition to obtaining an impressive 19 percent turnover rate in just a few short years, Ricart Automotive began to get noticed by the local business media. After just one year of focused, sustained efforts to improve the employee experience, the dealership was named to ColumbusCEO’s list of 70 “Top Workplaces” in Central Ohio — after two years, it made the magazine’s top 10. And by the third year, Ricart Automotive was named the best place to work in the entire Central Ohio area. The list is created by a third party that surveys all employees.

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Other efforts to improve the employee experience included bringing in food trucks that are required to offer at least one healthy option, which the dealership subsidizes to encourage employees to eat healthier. There is also a Subway restaurant on premises and an employee fitness center.

 Providing Even More Value for Customers

Improving the customer experience may start with employees at Ricart Automotive, but it certainly doesn’t end there. The employee focus has paid off for customers as well. Customer satisfaction numbers are rising, and the dealership recently won Ford’s most prestigious award, the Triple Crown.

In addition to AlertMiner, other software that makes the employee’s job easier while improving the customer experience includes One-to-One Intelligent Marketing. Customers receive a deal every month for trading in their car, often with no changes in terms, no down payment, and no change in payment. The deal is specific to that particular customer, making the car buying experience easier and more enjoyable — no haggling, no pressure, just the best offer most pertinent to each customer’s real-time needs.

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“We’ve shifted our dollars from external to internal marketing,” Ricart said. “We’re selling 16,000 vehicles every year — it makes more sense to reach out to those customers with the best deals. But the message has to be substantial and grab their attention. That’s why One-to-One Intelligent Marketing is an absolute must.

Customers in the service drive at Ricart Automotive also receive offers unique to them. With PandoAlert, the Ricart team knows not only the best offer for each customer but also when to approach them. The customer with an expensive repair might want to trade in that day. For another, it might be best to present the offer at time of check-out, as something to consider later.

A partnership with AutoFi has allowed the dealership to offer online car buying for its customers, another perk. All the paperwork is handled online, and the customer just schedules a time to pick up the car and learn how to use its features.

Modern Marketing

It’s goodbye and good riddance to “spray and pray” marketing for Ricart. He couldn’t be happier to have smarter options for customers that are transparent and provide measurable results.

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Ricart advises dealerships “not to spread themselves too thin” by employing lots of marketing methods but, instead, to keep things simple by sticking with just a couple of primary partners “who are transparent, who share the data with you, and who actually care about your success. And then hold them accountable.”

Much of the dealership’s marketing is still done in-house, a tradition famously started by Rick’s father, Fred, when he and his brother took over the dealership in the 1980s. The dealership continues to stay organic with a large part of its marketing, creating much of it in-house and even more recently pulling its inventory from third-party sites like Autotrader and Cars.com.

Targeted Facebook ads and YouTube “bumper” ads (unskippable for six seconds) are a great way to reach your intended audience, Ricart said. It’s easy to reach only “auto intenders” this way for greater overall impact.

The future is bright at Ricart Automotive Group. Through paying attention to employee well-being, staying up-to-date with the best software, and using the latest, most intelligent marketing methods, Ricart sees continued success at the dealership for years to come.

I come into the dealership and I know everybody’s name,” Ricart said. “It’s a great feeling. We have such a strong team, and I’m excited about what’s next.

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Kendall Billman

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