If you’ve been to an automotive industry conference in the past several years, you’ve likely seen service providers offering some combination of artificial intelligence, digital retailing or subscription/alternative ownership solutions. They promise that these features will lead to increased loyalty, customer satisfaction and improved margins.
The question is, are these evolving tactics really the keys to success today? What do customers say is the key to satisfaction and increased loyalty?
Recently, we were fortunate enough to be connected to Kholida Karimova, PhD. Karimova is a member of Northeastern University’s Data Analytics Bootcamp and came to us in search of a dataset to use in her capstone project. As a young company, this was an incredible opportunity for us to explore the value of the data we collect.
During our first conversation, Karimova interviewed me in search of the types of questions I thought, or hoped, we might be able to answer through analysis of our dataset, which consists of thousands of customer reviews from the most recognizable review sites.These are post-transaction comments from real, live customers. It seemed to me that they would be invaluable in answering questions like, “What makes a car shopper happy?” or “How can the automotive industry improve satisfaction amongst sales and service customers?” Once we came up with a set of questions, Karimova was off to perform her analysis.
Right about now, many of you are likely drawing your own conclusions about what we found.
The data set included tens of thousands of reviews with a roughly equal distribution across sales and service profit centers.
Results demonstrate that the distribution of the frequent terms from positive reviews for the entire dataset as well as by brand, dealership group and sales and service profit centers are very similar. Recurring patterns include:
• Adjectives with a positive connotation, such as “wonderful,” “fantastic,” “exceptional”
• Adjectives related to a person, such as “patient,” “knowledgeable,” “courteous”
• A person’s name
This suggests the importance of quality personal attention and positive attitude during customer service interactions. It seems that customers are particularly happy when they have productive communication with a specific agent.
Notably missing from the dataset is any mention of chatbots, online finance applications, service schedulers or trade-in tools. Yes, it’s likely that these and other tools were used by these customers, but they were never listed as what created a satisfying purchase or ownership experience.
Distribution of the frequent terms in negative comments also commonly include terms pointing to a personal interaction between the customers and sales/service agents, and specifically “managers.” For instance, “rude,” “salesman” and “supervisor.”
The word “talk,” which is the most frequent in negative reviews, was typically included in the following phrases and situations:
• “Talked down”
• Salesman or service agents “talking” and not paying attention to the customer
• Agent “talking over” the customer
• “Talking” to a manager or agent in various circumstances
• Wanting to “talk” to a manager/agent and not being able to
Other popular reasons for negative reviews include a delay in the service/sales process, long wait times, multiple attempts to solve the problem and dishonest practices (e.g. bait-and-switch, warranty coverage). Interestingly, “finally” was the most frequent term in negative reviews for sales-related interactions, it’s typically in reference to getting something done “finally” after a long wait or multiple attempts.
Karimova’s research strengthened a belief I’ve held since joining the auto industry: The primary reason for customer happiness or dissatisfaction is the quality of interactions with personnel at the dealership. Regardless of how that traffic was “captured” or “converted,” customer service is king. Yes, new strategies and tactics can and will have an impact on customer acquisition costs. Certainly, we need to satisfy our customers’ demand for new and different ownership models. But are we spending an inordinate amount of time in the glitz and glamour of the “next big thing” while we’re missing out on the number one way to create loyalty and customer satisfaction?
While that’s up to each individual operator to determine, I encourage you to take a look at how you spend your time and resources. Are you hiring and training the very best employees so that customer interactions are satisfying and meaningful? Are you engaging at every opportunity with your best foot forward? Most importantly, are you listening to feedback from your guests and taking action to meet their needs? Our data shows that these are the questions that you as a business owner should be asking. Invest in your customer and they will continue to invest in you.