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Creating a customer experience brings boaters back

By Tim Hennagir

Forge an emotional connection to generate more business

How do top-ranking dealers create a customer experience that brings boaters back to the water? 

More often than not, establishing an emotional connection is a highly effective way of guaranteeing return business.

Port Harbor Marine’s mission statement is specifically designed to create the ultimate boating experience at all five of its Maine locations, said President Rob Soucy. 

Port Harbor was awarded a 2017 Top 100 Best in Class award for its customer service approach, which also included developing a unique service symposium.

“We discussed how all five of our locations can offer the same experience for our customers,” Soucy explained. “Each year we host or participate in an excess of over 15 events, all with the ultimate goal of promoting our brand and building customer loyalty.” While some events may be more sales focused, other events are designed specifically to keep customers engaged and creating a bond with Port Harbor’s employees, products, services and lifestyle.

“Every ‘walk-in’ is greeted quickly and with a warm and friendly welcome,” Soucy added. “We never lose site of the fact that we sell boats and fun and our greetings represent that.”

And once a boat is delivered, Port Harbor initiates a series of follow-ups conducted by the sales assistant and the dealership’s salespeople, Soucy said.

M&P Mercury Sales Ltd.’s Annual Sea Ray Rendezvous is a weekend-long family getaway event. Each Labor Day weekend, M&P employees invite clients to spend time together enjoying all the relaxation and excitement that the boating lifestyle has to offer. The 21st Annual Sea Ray “Pirates of Poets Cove” Rendezvous was a tremendous success; in 2016 the event theme was “Wild, Wild West.”

A thank you email is automatically generated by co-owner and director of sales, Marc Soucy. This email has created tremendous positive feedback regarding the sales and delivery process. Sales staff make a 72-hour follow-up call, and provide a custom Port Harbor Marine cooler and gift bag.

Each spring and fall the dealership offers a variety of classroom courses through its captain service provided by Norton Nautical as well as the U.S. Power Squadron. These courses are geared towards all levels of ability and experience.

“If there was one word to describe our dealership, it would be fun,” Rob Soucy said. “We make coming to work fun for our crewmembers and project that atmosphere to our customers, whether it’s the music playing around the dealership, the smell of popcorn coming from the showroom, the free snacks and drinks, or customer boating events. We project a fun place.”

Targeting the customer experience

M&P Mercury Sales Ltd.’s customer service program has always been top notch, but what truly made the Burnaby, British Columbia, dealership stand out as a 2016 Best in Class winner for customer service was its efforts to provide a memorable customer experience that complemented a new boat model.

M&P worked with Sea Ray on the development of its L-Class line, which debuted at the end of 2014.

The dealership determined several changes were needed to showcase the segment properly: the way the product was marketed, how customers engaged with the product, the purchase experience, the delivery experience, and the ownership experience, explained M&P Mercury Sales Ltd. President and Owner Bob Pappajohn.

The first thing M&P Mercury did was create a “Director of Customer Experience.” 

This individual was given full responsibility for creating five-star customer events and building relationships with like-minded, top-luxury brands in other industries.

“If you want to improve the customer experience, you need to target it,” Pappajohn said. The role was created and defined to take the customer experience, which was already very good, and elevate it to a new level of intuitiveness, effectiveness and inclusiveness, while respecting clients’ unique desires and sensitivities.

“We are extremely proud of the success we had with our L-Class Experience events, and we are happy to say that our investment proved to be incredibly worthwhile,” Pappajohn said.

The final event included invites to a hand-selected group of guests, who visited a $20 million private, on-water residence. An L650 was displayed at a private dock and luxury food and amenities were available.

Establishing key connections

A dealer can come up with plenty of creative ways to draw buyers into the showroom, but establishing a connection with future boating fans only comes from taking great care of the buyer before, during and after the sale.

That’s a philosophy that Austin Boats & Motors in Lakeway, Texas, embraced wholeheartedly as 2015 Best in Class winner for Best Customer Service.

Port Harbor Marine’s annual Easter Egg Hunt entices potential customers by providing entertaining kids activities and a limited number of colorful egg-collection buckets, which are decorated with a highly visible sticker promoting the dealership’s location.

“Without the emphasis we place on customer service throughout every aspect of the buying/ownership experience, these strategies would not promise lifelong customers,” said Austin Boats & Motors Owner Martin Boyer. “Customer trust is paramount in all aspects of the purchasing process.”

Progressing through their life stages, many customers purchase second and third boats from the dealership.

“As a family-owned and operated business, each and every customer comes to realize our commitment to them comes not only before the buying experience, but also all the way through the actual purchasing process and into the fun of the boating lifestyle,” Boyer explained. “Our central Texas authentic ‘laid back’ way of life makes it easy to promote the family boating lifestyle. This easy living attitude makes customers like friends and neighbors the moment they walk through the door.”

The customer focus begins with the salesman and is carried all the way through the process to the on-the-water orientation by the delivery captain and to the service after the sale.

The delivery and orientation is one of the best opportunities to achieve customer satisfaction. Each delivery is conducted by a delivery captain trained by the company’s Make Ready Manager. The MRM is responsible for regularly verifying and improving the process.

Always create positive outcomes

George’s Marine & Sports has always been keenly aware of how to best serve its customers. Last November, Pride Marine Group LTD expanded into Eastern Ontario by acquiring George’s, which operates locations in Ottawa, Kingston, and Eganville. President Jeff Wilcox became a general manager with Pride Marine as a result of the transaction. Wilcox was at the leadership helm when George’s Marine & Sports was named a 2014 Boating Industry Best in Class winner for customer service.

George’s addition of a Relationship Management Centre helped improve overall CSI scores through dedication to customer care, follow-up with service department customers, communicating occurrences that could lower the dealership’s CSI score, and acting as the entry point for all leads.

While the RMC is dedicated to customer care, George’s emphasized the importance of focusing on customer service at all times.

“Every time a customer emails, speaks on the telephone or in person to one of our associates, the outcome must be positive,” Wilcox said. “Even if the customer has a problem, we want them to know they have been listened to and we are doing everything possible to resolve their issues. If we can’t solve a problem immediately then we keep the customer in the loop though the entire process until they are happy with the result.”

George’s added accessibility training for its employees and owner Joan Marie Wilcox underwent extensive training herself to cross-train staff on how to help and support those with disabilities in a meaningful and non-demeaning manner. The dealership installed ramps and other infrastructure to create easy access for the disabled.

Employees complete the connection

Located on the shores of tiny Lake Geneva in southeast Wisconsin, Gordy’s Lakefront Marine has remained family owned and operated since its inception in 1955, priding itself on consistently exceptional customer service. 

Between its dealership, marina, storage and rental businesses, bar, pro shop and Boat House restaurant, its staff always seeks to provide guests a wonderful experience, even while waiting for a quote, service work or a dinner entrée.

Gordy’s was Boating Industry’s 2013 winner for Best Customer Service and is a current member of Boating Industry’s Top 100 Hall of Fame.

The Boating Industry Top 100 Hall of Fame recognizes dealers who have won the coveted Dealer of the Year award twice. 

Managing and retaining quality employees is a critical element in creating a continuously positive customer experience, said Owner Steve Whowell in his recent Hall of Fame Best Practices comments.

“We believe that if our team is extremely satisfied and truly enjoys working on the Gordy’s team, then that will translate to them executing an exceptional level of service to our customers,” he said.

Creating high levels of employee satisfaction starts with the company’s culture, Whowell added.

“Over many years we have worked hard to create a culture that is built on a hard work ethic, integrity, teamwork, and having a positive attitude,” Whowell said. “We highly encourage our team to have fun. After all, we are in the business of delivering fun and memorable experiences.”   

 

One comment

  1. Recruiting quality team members who enjoy building long term relations with customers is vital and takes time and commitment from management.

    If done consistently, the outcome can be that customers become advocates for the company and refer their friends.

    That is a great reward for any company.

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