Marc White of Audi Greenville on award-winning customer service, getting his hands dirty, and the importance of saying ‘I’m sorry’.
Recently, Audi Greenville was ranked the country’s No. 3 Audi dealership by Audi America. The ranking was based on a Performance Index score that Audi calculates each month for its 290 dealerships across the country. UBJ sat down with Marc White, dealer principal at Audi Greenville, for a conversation about one of the keys to his success, customer service.
How has your customer service changed in the last four or five years?
Our customer service scores with Audi were average to below average. … So Audi brought in a consultant that spent several days with us and watched our operations, observed the way we were interacting with customers. … They said, “Hey, you guys need to greet your customer when they pull up. Don’t let them get out of their car and walk all the way inside and look around, like ‘Where do I go?’ Open the car door for them. Greet them by name. Make them feel like they’re at a luxury car dealership and not at the Chevy store.” And we’re like, “That’s a great idea, and we can do that.” … They looked at the refreshments that we were serving, and they said, “Hey, it’s kind of nice that you have a Diet Coke and a pack of cheese crackers for your customers, but that’s not really what the luxury customer expects. Have a really high-end coffee. Have fresh fruit. Have maybe some fresh pastries or fresh bagels.” … And we were like, “Gosh, that doesn’t cost a lot of money to do that. We can do that.”
Is customer service especially important for the luxury car business?
That customer has a lot of options, right? They’re spending a lot of money. They’re investing a lot of money in the car. They don’t have an issue of like, “Who can get me approved in financing?” They say, “Hey, I’ve got $600 a month to spend on a luxury car lease.” Well, everybody is vying for that business. I mean, Lexus would be happy to lease you a car for $600 a month. Mercedes and Audi as well. … So I do feel that, by making it very easy to do business with us on the sales and the service side, it causes a lot of those customers to say, “Man, I’m happy with Audi. I don’t want to change. I want to stay right where I am.” And that’s what drives up that loyalty rate.
What are some examples of what not to do?
I think we make it so hard to spend money with us sometimes. I have these frustrations in my own life where I say, “Gosh, I’m just trying to give you some of my money. Don’t make it so hard to do business with me.” We see that, and so we’re constantly working on that. … We actually have all of our incoming phone calls recorded and transcribed. So we have a service that literally listens to every call coming in and transcribes that and emails our managers when they hear a problem. And then we coach with that.
What advice would you give other business owners?
I think you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. One of my beliefs has always been not to be afraid of the customer. I think at certain levels of management you can kind of tap out and say, “I don’t really want to talk to this customer because they’re upset, so I’m going to pass it along to somebody else.” My personality and my approach to management have been not to avoid conflict. Actually, I look at it as an opportunity. So when that customer sends me an email or they call me and they say, “I’m unhappy with your dealership,” I’m disappointed, but I’m excited to talk to them because No. 1, I can learn where we failed. No. 2, a lot of times I can turn it around. And the statistics show that if we can turn that situation around and end up with a happy customer, they’re actually much more loyal to our dealership than they would have ever been if they had had no problems.
Also, I feel like it’s really important to say, “I’m sorry.” That means a lot to me when I have a frustrating experience and I’m hot about it and that business is in denial or they’re brushing me off. It means so much if a business says, “Gosh, we really messed up on this, and I’m sorry for that.” It’s very disarming, and I think once you get past that point, then you can have a fruitful conversation.