Understanding the driver-dealer relationship

One good way to help customers is to talk to their customers, and that is precisely what Ian Coburn, president of GPA Training Inc., set out to do last Sunday.

GPA Training is a soft skills training and development company with a dealer focus. Formerly, Coburn was the dealer training manager for Navistar. Coburn wanted to get a clearer picture of the impact soft skills have on the dealer/driver relationship, so he set out with his 3-year-old son, an avid truck fan, to the DeKalb oasis on I-88 in Illinois. There, Coburn surveyed 20 drivers with four simple, multiple-choice questions, and got some very surprising answers.

Question 1: If a dealer didn’t give you good customer service, when would you want them to get customer service training?

Coburn says he expected to get mostly ‘Now’ as a response. Instead, he got six ‘Within one year’ and 14 ‘Never.’

“The six explained with their routes, they typically wouldn’t get back to the same dealer location for at least a year, while the 14 relayed they would never go back to that location,” Coburn says.

Question 2: If you stopped going to a dealer due to poor customer service, would you tell them?

This was very interesting, Coburn says. The six drivers who answered the first question within one year all answered ‘Yes;’ the 14 who answered the first question ‘Never’ all answered ‘No.’

Question 3: If your fleet has an agreement to use a certain OE dealer, do you follow it if another dealer with much better customer service is available?

Every driver answered ‘No,’ about double what was anticipated, Coburn says.

Question 4: What is the best way to get dealers to practice customer service?

For this one, Coburn says he anticipated getting ‘Drive a Truck’ a lot. Instead they received seven ‘Training’ and 13 ‘Talk to Drivers’ answers.

GPA Training adds some drivers took the time to share their best and worst dealer experiences.

Doug, an owner-operator with a 3-truck fleet, remembered how a dealer saved a truck he thought he was going to have to scrap, simply by asking a few questions no one else had bothered to ask, enabling them to discover the cause of a problem that kept taking the truck out of rotation. He also reminisced about buying his first truck.

“I was so excited. I worked and saved so hard. A month after buying it, I went back to the same dealer to purchase parts for another truck. They didn’t treat me well and didn’t even know I had bought a truck from them. When I spend $110,000.36, you should know I bought a truck from you,” he told GPA Training.

What does all this mean for dealers? GPA Training has three conclusions:

  1. Poor customer service can cost you business you consider locked-in, while good customer service can earn you business you consider untouchable. “I routinely have customers who grab parts business from other dealers simply by showing up at their fleets where they haven’t seen their current parts dealer in months or years,” Coburn says.
  2. Customer service is more than being polite and phone etiquette. It’s the gamut of soft skills, including controlling the conversation, interdepartmental communication, objection handling, pipeline management, and navigating the marketing funnel.
  3. Include soft skills in your budget. “Typically, dealers don’t include soft skills in their budget, which results in them doing a one-day training event from time to time,” says Coburn. “It’s expensive, time consuming and results aren’t sustainable. A program that enables you to continually train and retrain your team in bite-sized trainings throughout the year is far less expensive, doesn’t interfere with your staff schedule, and sees sustainable results.”

GPA Training, Inc, offers an eLearning development program for every role in the dealership. The courses may be found HERE, including links to six modules for no cost. The short modules can be viewed as often as wished, function with or without an LMS, and work on mobile devices, as well as computers. GPA Training also enables dealers to own the content outright, as a lifetime license.

“The eLearning also puts dealers on the forefront of this technology, which we’re very excited about doing for the industry,” Coburn says.

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