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Is it time for a customer checkup in your dealership?

We’re not getting any complaints so we must be doing things right … right? Not so fast, according to Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas, co-authors of “Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business and Influence Others.” Sobel is recognized as a leading authority on the strategies and skills needed to earn customer loyalty.

Sobel points out that most research shows people don’t tend to complain unless something really bad happens. Therefore, it’s likely a dealership owner won’t even be aware that a customer is unhappy or annoyed. The fact is most customers won’t complain about small things until they add up. Then, they still might not make it known, but simply choose to vote with their feet. And losing existing customers, especially in lackluster economic times like these, is the worst thing that can happen to any dealer.

The importance of knowing the level of customer satisfaction is obvious. It can’t be assumed to be good just because no one is standing in your doorway hyperventilating. Even worse, if it is discovered that a relationship appears to be breaking down, blaming the customer will probably be wrong, too. Eight out of 10 times it’s the dealer’s fault the relationship has died because the dealer hasn’t actively communicated, responded and attended to the customer’s needs or disappointments.

Accordingly, it’s important to take inventory of the level of satisfaction being experienced by customers. A customer survey can be done by email, but a phone call survey would be the best because it’s a more personal contact. The goal is to determine that the relationship is thriving and growing, according to Sobel. “It’s like an annual checkup with your doctor. It usually goes pretty well, but occasionally they might discover something that needs to be treated,” he explained.

Let’s face it, today there is so much parity in the boat business. Every dealer has shiny new boats, powered by essentially the same engines, offering an identical warranty and all at competitive prices. Given that, any dealer who thinks that customer loyalty will be built on brand alone might also believe Donald Trump can prove his hair was born in the U.S.A.

The best way to differentiate a dealership from the others in the eyes of customers is to purposely develop an all-important, ongoing relationship with those customers. That doesn’t happen by chance, but by a concerted effort. Moreover, while I also think formal customer loyalty programs (like rewards programs) can be good vehicles to build customer loyalty, formal loyalty schemes are really customer retention programs designed to stay in regular contact with customers and encourage them to buy more when they buy, and do it more frequently. Anyway you choose to do it, the point is to do it.

So, with the offseason just ahead, there probably isn’t a better time for that customer satisfaction checkup.


2 comments on “Is it time for a customer checkup in your dealership?

  1. Franklin Pillsbury IV

    I toured 5 “high end” auto dealerships in the Dallas market yesterday.the bottem 3 all were not very exciting….the top two had great “energy” were very busy,and an inviorment that you wanted to do business in…the top store was servicing 100 cars a day,and had a large lineup on new delv.s for the day.It was not just one thing it was the sum total of everything that made the differance.

  2. Jerry Mona

    Hi Norm,
    Nice article and I completely agree with your point of “it’s important to take inventory of the level of satisfaction being experienced by customers”. I just presented the findings from our recent brand loyalty study at IBEX that showed that only 1 in 4 boat buyers (27%) repurchased the same brand. Further, it was found that increasing satisfaction from an 8 to a 9 (on a ten point scale) increases the chances of customer retention by 14% which can have a dramatic impact on one’s bottom line (complete report available at

    Though the study was conducted from a manufacturer’s perspective, I believe the same principles hold true for marine retailers as well.

    The key points are that it is important to encourage customer feedback and to closely monitor results and be prepared to quickly and professionally respond to customer issues that arise. Though you will not hear from 100% of your customers, if you see a pattern with some customers, chances are there are many others who are thinking/feeling the same way.

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