Stop the attrition

It might have been a lapse of sanity. It might have been the product of successful motivation. Either way, I was convinced that I wanted to be a marine dealer. Call me crazy. One dealer did.

I was sincere, though. I had sat through most of Yamaha University, a two-and-a-half day dealer management symposium. We were covering business basics: planning, forecasting, communication and strategies. All specific to the every day business of marine dealers, with an overriding emphasis on customer service. And having heard all the problems that marine dealers have with servicing customers, I was convinced that, with the right attitude and approach, I could compete fairly well with the average marine dealer.

We can all admit that our industry has struggled bringing in and holding onto customers. At best, we’ve been flat over the last couple decades, attracting as many new boaters, on average, as we are losing each year. What does it boil down to? Customer service.

Here’s proof. It’s accepted as an accurate estimate that the marine industry carries an 80-percent Customer Satisfaction Index score. Most people believe that score is acceptable. According to Noel Osborne, who was a lead instructor at the Yamaha University event, a dealership is capable of adding about 20 percent to its customer base every year. And while it’s not an exact science and the math isn’t perfect, a dealership running at 80-percent CSI is perhaps losing 20 percent of its customers. So if a dealership is capable of gaining 20 percent more but is losing 20 percent of its current customers, how does it grow? It doesn’t.

Yamaha Marine Group President Phil Dyskow, in explaining the importance of improving customer service, gave what I believe is the perfect illustration of the situation. He said, “If 10 people come into the dealership to look at boats and nine of them walk away bitterly disappointed — let’s say that’s the current state of affairs — and then we have a fabulously successful Grow Boating campaign, and we bring in 20 people instead of 10, and we run off 18 and close two, we’ve just made a terrible mistake.”

The Grow Boating Coalition has set a goal to increase participation by a little more than 5 percent annually. So if 20 percent of our customers aren’t happy, and we optimistically estimate that 10 percent of them leave for another recreational activity, are we really “growing boating?” No. We’re still losing customers.

Programs like Yamaha University, in which the company has invested more than $1 million per year, present the perfect opportunity for dealers to learn how to improve customer service. I urge you to take advantage of them.

Do I really want to be a dealer? No. But if I — the guy who sits at a desk, talks on the phone, types on the keyboard and has only bought (not sold) a boat at a dealership — feel motivated enough to believe that I could be successful, what do you think these seminars could do for you? I’ll tell you what: They could help stop the attrition.

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