Measure Customer Experience: If You Don't Ask, They Won't Tell - Customer Satisfaction
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SECTION: Customer Satisfaction

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Measure Customer Experience: If You Don't Ask, They Won't Tell

By Kris Rockwood

Article Date: 01-01-2011
Copyright(C) 2011 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Whether you prefer to manage a follow-up survey program in house or outsource this service, you'll build loyalty to your dealership - and maybe even fix problems you didn't know you had.

When new equipment sales are down, demand for parts and service goes up. It makes sense. As the trend toward extended equipment maintenance and repair continues, dealerships become more like hospitals than showrooms. Customers rely on dealer parts and service to keep them up and running as they weather tough times.

Instead of mourning lower sales numbers, the most successful dealerships embrace the opportunity to build a truly memorable customer experience. That means beefing up service and investing time to really find out what customers like, don't like, and how to better meet their expectations. The dealerships that do the best job of killing the pain with understanding and support will earn customers for life. So what's the secret?

1. Get inside their heads. One of the best ways to locate and fix trouble spots in the dealership is through customer surveys. Without feedback from the very people who keep your doors open, how will you know how they feel about you? Not everyone complains about a bad experience. Some will silently defect without a word to the dealer who apparently doesn't care anyways.

Customers naturally gravitate to the dealership that listens and responds. They know when their happiness is a priority to you. Even the smallest complaint can be a dealbreaker if left unanswered. Without a good follow-up survey, that little complaint may never see the light of day. It's in the asking that you send the message that you care enough to invest time and money in their well-being.

2. Request relevant data. Manufacturers survey your customers to know if a fix, update or recall is imminent, and what direction they need to take for future product design. Unfortunately, the data they collect is more valuable to them than you because it's focused on their goals, not yours. To act quickly to improve your customer experience, you need data that's specific to your operation.

3. Benchmark yourself. Even when you do something well, there is always someone who does it better. By benchmarking yourself against other dealers, you'll learn a lot about how you compare to similar operations. What would you do with information that suggests you have the longest lines at the parts counter? Benchmarking can provide a compelling action list, but unless you partner with other dealers from within your primary brand network, for example, it's not something you can achieve on your own.

4. Choose the best program for you. Okay. What's this going to cost? I prefer to think of customer experience management as an investment in your success. History smiles on companies that never lose sight of the real prize - a loyal customer. But to answer the question, there are costs associated with both internal and external customer experience programs.

Programs created and managed in house demand employee time and focus. Using higher paid employees to manage the process can be more costly than outsourcing. And actionable results often come after much trial and error. Keep in mind, however, that when outsourcing this service, expensive isn't always better. Some programs offer bells and whistles whose value doesn't outweigh the cost. Then again, an inexpensive service can leave you wanting more functionality.

Building the perfect program for your dealership is much easier when you're clear about your priorities, your resources and your limitations. Here is a simple exercise you can do to start to visualize the best solution for your dealership.

Whether your matrix results lean toward internal program or external service, you'll hopefully see trends that can guide you as you continue to build a better customer experience. You may even choose to redefine your priorities.

Some dealers, prefer not to add a lot of layers and people to track customer experience. Chris Holmes, vice president of parts at Nortrax agrees. "If we didn't have an outside customer experience program, we'd really have no measurement. We could try to make our own survey, but we're not experts at it. We're experts at dealing with customer issues."

For others, a deep employee pool, well-tended database and internal survey expertise make in-house customer experience management an ideal solution.

If in or out is the question, it's also the answer. Doing nothing is the most costly choice, because in the end, it's customer experience that builds loyalty. Customer survey programs play a key role in benchmarking dealer performance against both the competition and the expectations of the customers that keep you in business. Ignore the customer experience at your peril. The nearest competitor will be glad to siphon off a larger share of the market.

Drawing on 20 years of manufacturing and sales experience, Kristin Rockwood helps the construction industry achieve outstanding customer satisfaction. Today she focuses her talent on customer management and retention at SatisfYd. She can be reached at
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