Every business wants to know what its customers think of its operation. But what does a business do with that information when it is received?
In the dealer channel and independent aftermarket, the answer to that question can be a mixed bag. This is unfortunate because when well collected and evaluated, customer feedback can be leveraged to make substantial improvements to customer interaction. According to those in the market who are capitalizing on customer feedback, turning customer comments into superior customer service requires an understanding of where feedback comes from, how to evaluate it and use it to build customer-facing solutions.
Acquiring customer feedback
One area where customer feedback is frequently acquired is immediately after equipment purchases. Multiple truck OEMs support customer feedback initiatives through their dealer channels that auto-generate customer satisfaction surveys after equipment is sold. These reports are often compiled at the OEM level before the results are distributed back to dealers, enabling those at the point of sale to see how their performance was perceived by their customer and compares with their fellow network partners.
Some nameplates support similar surveys for parts and service performance, though most dealers say the data they acquire about those departments comes from self-managed surveys or online sources, such as Google reviews, Yelp and social media. New technology exists to support both options.
Peach State Truck Centers recently started using a third-party reputation management program that enables the company to monitor all customer exchanges on more than 100 social media platforms, says Rhonda Gauthreaux, director of marketing.
By using the tool, Gauthreaux says Peach State can now route customer feedback instantaneously to managers and department heads impacted by the information and quickly reply to the customer. Gauthreaux says Peach State has been fortunate; thus far, an overwhelming majority of feedback the business has received online has been positive.
“We’ve made it a point to reach out to every customer,” she says. “A lot of times when a customer gives you five stars they won’t tell you why. We want to ask them so we know what we did well and can repeat it.”
But not all customer feedback comes through surveys and the written word. Dealers also receive a substantial amount of verbal feedback during customer interactions and capturing those comments is equally important when attempting to leverage customer feedback. These comments are best recorded by leveraging application program interfaces (API) between customer relationship management and dealer management systems to make the information available throughout a dealership, says Duff Bell, Karmak software applications specialist.
“We encourage our team to ask customers for reviews of our performance,” says Micheal Toribio, director of marketing, West Michigan International/K&R Truck Sales. “We want to make sure we’re doing the right things to take care of customers.”
Such disparate strategies is indicative of the lack of consensus around customer feedback throughout the dealer channel. According to a January 2020 survey of trucking and equipment dealers by Randall-Reilly, publisher of Trucks, Parts, Service, only informal conversations with customers (82.9 percent) are relied on by more than 50 percent of dealers as a method for acquiring customer feedback. OEM solutions were second at 41.5 percent, with customer feedback solutions that integrate with CRMs coming in third at 26.8 percent.
Acting on customer feedback
Once channels of customer feedback are opened, data must be validated so it can be analyzed. This requires further engagement with customers to contextualize their initial responses and confirm their sentiments.
Toribio says West Michigan International/K&R Truck Sales has found phoning customers to be the best way to understand the feedback it receives. She says short phone calls enable customers to describe the experience they had with the dealership that motivated them to speak out, which therefore helps the dealership understand how its performance stimulates a customer response. This validation is important, Toribio says, because it ensures any action the dealership takes is based on real information, not spur of the moment emotion.
Post-event satisfaction surveys and engaging with customers on social media can provide similar information for analysis, then action.
And turning feedback into action is a must. Dealers say there is little point to listening to customers if you don’t intend to heed their advice.
Good feedback can illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of a department, sales team or corporate process, aspects of a business most (or least) appreciated by customers and a general opinion of how a business rates against its closest competitors.
“Our organization wants to know how we are perceived. That’s a big priority for our leadership,” says Gauthreaux. “Today there are so many places where content lives. There is so much information out there. If you can’t see it; you can’t affect it.”
Other dealers feel the same. According to Randall-Reilly’s dealer survey, 56 percent of dealers say they believe a formalized method for gathering, analyzing and acting on customer feedback is “Very Important” or “Extremely Important” to their operations. Those same surveyed dealers also chose to “Better understand our customers’ needs” and to “Evaluate our current customer service” as the biggest benefits of a comprehensive customer feedback action plan.
So how can dealers turn feedback into tangible change?
Gauthreaux says Peach State has focused on discussing feedback during department meetings and empowering managers and front-line associates to use feedback constructively to alter corporate procedures. Toribio says West Michigan International/K&R Truck Sales does the same. In both cases, the dealers say discussing customer feedback internally have proved valuable to improving customer satisfaction externally.
“We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to take care of customers,” Toribio says.