As business picks up and you look to develop the best team at your dealership, what are some of the key practices for doing it?
In this week's From the Archives, we take a look at some timeless tips for improving communication and connecting every department in your dealership.
Each department within a dealership is working toward the same goal: Profitability. Given that common mission, a high level of teamwork only makes sense.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, but dealers who break down walls by encouraging interaction between departments both improve the customer experience and often generate financial return.
The process of establishing departmental connectors should be a gradual one that starts with simple improvements, such as providing service department contact information with a new boat purchase, says Lynn Bradfield, co-owner of Five Star Solutions, which directs the Marine Dealership Certification program.
By starting with easier connectors, Bradfield says dealer principals are able to slowly develop their employees’ ability to think outside of their department without overburdening them with new processes.
Part of that mindset involves believing every department needs to be successful in order for the dealership to be successful, says Rob Brown, owner of Clark Marine.
“How people view the company is how they view you,” Brown says. “We are responsible for each other.”
Bradfield says this approach forces employees to think about creating revenue for the dealership and not only their department.
For example, a technician working on a boat with repair costs exceeding $2,500 could notify a salesperson, who in turn could approach the owner about instead putting that amount down on a new boat purchase.
“The service department that doesn’t have that seamless connection with sales sees it as a big repair for my department instead of thinking that person could buy a new boat and continue to come back to us for repairs,” says Bradfield.
Setting the tone
Bradfield says the most logical starting point is with a company-wide meeting, where leadership can express the mission and collectively brainstorm connector ideas.
At Clark Marine, Brown says he has meetings twice yearly with the objective to spur such interaction between departments. The result is an environment that promotes teamwork.
“They can see when someone may need help and when they should jump in,” Brown says. “The different facilities work better by having that interaction.”
With every department represented, Bradfield stresses not to take on too much, too quickly. It is important to start with simple connectors and build from there.
Incentives within departments are often key drivers to an employee’s performance, but Bradfield also recommends incentives that promote dealership-wide success.
“It is all about getting people to think that we are all together,” Bradfield says. “If they are rewarded for that [mindset], you would be surprised to see how quickly that happens.”
At Kelly’s Port in Osage Beach, Mo., for example, non-sales employees are given cash bonuses for referrals that lead to boat sales, a promotion that started a year ago and has since paid off. The bonuses are handed out at dealership-wide meetings.
“It serves as a reminder to everyone that there’s some money on the table if someone can find a prospect looking to buy,” says Kyle Kelly, executive vice president at the dealership.
Connecting service to other departments is a good place to begin, according to Bradfield, who says the first step can be as easy as introducing new boat buyers to service personnel.
At Oyster Harbors Marine in Osterville, Mass., general manager Peter Maryott says his salespeople introduce new customers to the service manager so they have a face connected with the person who will be fixing their boat.
For future mechanical work, customers first contact their Oyster Harbors salesperson, with whom the customer is most familiar. The customer-salesperson relationship is able to stay intact with the ongoing communication, and the service department can be fully briefed on any issues prior to speaking with the customer, Maryott says.
“[The service department] won’t be blindsided by [the repair] and can look around and see how it will work logistically,” Maryott says. “They are fully tuned in by the time they talk with the customer.”
Mike Hoffman, owner of Marine Center of Indiana, says he tuned in his entire staff by installing televisions throughout his dealership that show the service department’s schedule. Any staff member has the ability to update customers on their boat in rigging or service by referencing the televisions.
“We are able to give them more accurate information quickly, so it makes us look a bit smarter,” Hoffman says.
Also, the service director is able to focus on more important tasks, rather than constantly fielding phone calls by customers inquiring about their boat’s status, according to Hoffman.
During the delivery process at Clark Marine, Brown says, a service technician completes the walkaround with the customer. The technician can both demonstrate his familiarity with the boat and form a relationship for future service.
“That way when the tech may need to make a house call at a customer’s boat, that person knows who will be showing up at their home because they have made that relationship,” Brown says.
Connecting boat sales
Boat sales both retain and bring in customers, so Bradfield says promoting the sales department should be a staff-wide effort – even if it means a short-term loss for other departments.
Bringing in sales to encourage a customer to replace his or her current boat, as opposed to paying for a large repair bill, represents an overall gain for the dealership, according to Bradfield.
Bradfield also recommends the sales department check with service to see who is coming in the next day for repairs. If it is a past customer, the salesperson can be ready to greet the customer and inform him or her about new products or even a new boat model.
Some dealerships take that to the next level by offering those in the service department’s waiting room a demo ride of a boat model one step up from their own boat, according to Bradfield.
“If it is 80 degrees outside, a customer would probably rather be on the lake than sitting in a lounge,” she says.
The in-house referral program at Kelly’s Port helps non-sales employees become a part of the sales process by giving them an avenue to contribute to its success.
“Techs who were on a service call at a customer’s house would hear them talking about upgrading, and they would get the customer on the phone immediately,” Kelly says.
Bradford says she has also seen dealers who incorporate technicians into the sales process to inform the prospect on the boat from their in-depth perspective – a tactic that makes the most sense when the customer is also versed in the operations of the boat.
“One customer was a technician himself, and he appreciated what the tech had to say to maintain the engine, what you had to do to prep it each year and things like that,” Bradfield says.
Connecting parts and accessories
Although they may not be a dealership’s largest revenue centers, a superior parts and accessories department is vital for overall customer satisfaction — and by having clear lines of communication with service and sales, it can become a major contributor.
At the time of the sale, customers are offered a variety of accessories, some of which they decide to put off purchasing. Bradfield says sales personnel should notify parts and accessories of those items so they can make sure they are in stock the next time the customer visits.
At The Great Outdoors Marine in Lavalette, W.Va., owner Phil Daniel says his parts and accessories personnel keep a lost sales log to ensure sales are not lost due to an accessory being unavailable.
“It helped when we communicated with different departments to make sure our stocking and restocking was as good as it needed to be,” Daniel says.
Sales of parts and accessories can also begin in the service department, Bradfield says. Technicians can check with parts and accessories to find what applicable accessories were not sold at the time of the boat sale or inspect the boat and recommend an accessory.
“It is an example of changing how you look at things,” Bradfield says. “You are not only looking at it for a repair, but also what opportunities there are for accessories.”
At Traverse Bay Marine in Traverse City, Mich., service writers are cross-trained in the parts department to ensure slowdowns do not occur when parts employees are inundated with requests, says Jim Rautio, president and CEO of Traverse Bay Marine.
Now, when a technician is in need of a part and all parts personnel are busy, they go to the service writer, who is trained in both pulling the parts and charging them on the repair order.
“This greatly increases the fact that the tech can then get back to working on their job quickly and get the boat back to the customer quicker,” Rautio said.
The finance and insurance employee at Traverse Bay also assists the parts department by being its receiving clerk and unpacking incoming parts, inputting them into its computer system and calling customers who had a special part order.
The impact of connectors
Implementing department connectors increases employees’ commitment to the success of the dealership, which in turn promotes staff-wide teamwork.
Beginning with initial connector brainstorming, the barriers and white spaces between departments are broken down, and the doors are opened for those on the frontlines to recommend ways to improve the entire dealership, Bradfield says.
“You are building the team elements by just simply doing the connectors, but you are also letting them have a say and get involved with the dealership,” Bradfield says.
The result of having an impact at a dealership is caring about its overall success.
Since connecting staff members, improved communication at The Great Outdoors Marine has been vital in its mission to provide total customer satisfaction.
“By trying to monitor reoccurring problems and communicating, we are working together to ensure mistakes do not happen to more than one customer,” Daniel says.
Whether it is by executing an inter-department connector or just to help, Brown says his employees’ dedication to dealership-wide success now fosters a culture of accountability.
“It transitions from an air of my service, my facility to our jobs, our company,” Brown says.