Communication is key


By Myron Love

Cheryl-Lyn Loughlean recalls her first effort at auto sales: “I was working on the sales floor for a dealer in Waterloo,” she told delegates attending the Manitoba Motor Dealers Association 2010 Convention in Winnipeg. “Because I was new, I wasn’t getting any opportunities on the sales floor.”

Loughlean began going into the service area and offering to drive service customers home. That is how she began to build up a client base and how she began to see how the walls between departments prevent dealerships for maximizing profit.

“You have two areas of opportunity for increased profits,” Loughlean, the vice-president of Dealermine Inc., told her audience. “One way is to streamline and improve communications with your customers.”

She noted that traditionally each department sends out its own information to the customer. “It can become overwhelming for a customer receiving calls from five different departments,” she said. “It is more effective having a business development centre or one dedicated individual dealing with customer services and communication.”

She added that the business development centre or designated individual could better develop an ongoing relation with the customer.

Not only would the customer be kept informed of the appropriate times for bringing in their vehicle for servicing, but the dealership could also keep track of important lifecycle events and respond accordingly.

The other major way of maximizing profits, she suggested, is to break down the communications barriers between departments and create a real sense of teamwork.

She recommended having a company bulletin board with news about what is happening in the different departments whether sales or celebrations.

“The dealership should also have daily huddles at maybe 10 a.m. so that everyone can get together to learn about new dealership promotions and programs and recognition of employee achievements and special occasion,” she added. “That builds a sense of community.”

When a customer comes into the showroom to buy a vehicle, she said, they should also be introduced to the service and parts managers.

And everyone should have some idea what everyone else’s job entails.

Another tip that cuts across departments is to invite customers waiting for servicing to test drive a new model with a sales rep.

“There should be no sales pitch,” she said.  “Just have a conversation and leave it to the customer to bring up questions.”

The service or body shop is also a potential opportunity for used car sales, she noted.

“See if the service customer might be willing to sell if someone else is looking for that particular model,” Loughlean suggested. “You might get two deals out of it.”

She recommended that when vehicles are brought in for serving, you might want to have the body shop manager come in and assess the vehicle for dings and dents and provide an estimate.

Among her other suggestions – provide customers with information in their glove boxes about what to do in case of accident; create maintenance schedules for used vehicles; send customers e-mails showing what their vehicles would look like with different accessories; and have new and used car customer appreciation evenings.

“You only get one chance to make a good first impression, especially with younger people,” Loughlean said. “And the real relationship with the customer starts in the service department.”