Salespeople sell cars. But brand ambassadors make your customers so happy that they tell other people about you and return to do business with you time and again. It’s obvious which type of person a dealership would prefer to have on staff. And more than ever, dealerships possess the tools required to cultivate brand ambassadors.
What Exactly Is a Brand Ambassador?
I think we all know a brand ambassador when we meet them. They’re the ones on the lot who take a personal interest in their customers and advocate for them. They know their customers’ wants and needs for a car, but they also know their customers – their opinion of the latest Avengers movie, where their kids go to college, what their commute to work is like, and so on.
Brand ambassadors advise their customers on the right car to match their lifestyles and steer them away from a not-so-great fit even if doing so means selling a less expensive car. And their passion for customer service translates to their digital presence. Great brand ambassadors consistently earn five-star reviews and help their dealership get great reviews, too.
Why Brand Ambassadors Matter
To win in the era of digital retailing, dealerships need to develop more ambassadors. Cars are still bought and sold one at a time between two people, and people increasingly influence shoppers’ perceptions of a dealership. Consider a few facts:
- 97 percent of car buyers prefer to select a salesperson before arriving on the dealership’s lot.[i]
- More than 41 percent of five-star reviews single out the ability of a dealership’s employees to provide a great customer experience.[ii]
- On the other hand, consumers indicate that one of the largest drivers of negative reviews consist of sub-par staff.
Dealerships that cultivate brand ambassadors – meaning they train everyone on the lot to uplift customers with customer service, not sales – wield a strong advantage in the age of digital word-of-mouth marketing. In the era of the empowered consumer, happy customers can be compelling brand advocates, or people who tell others about your dealership. Brand advocates post five-star reviews on your website, happily pose for photos with their new car, and share their experiences on their socials. They put Facebook, Instagram, and all their other preferred socials to work for you – and as happily as an enthusiastic fan would. (In fact, my company, DealerRater, was founded by someone who wanted to be an advocate for his dealership back in 2002. There was no platform to do so. And so our founder, Chip Grueter, built DealerRater.)
The Key to Cultivating Brand Ambassadors
You cannot cultivate brand ambassadors unless you first insist on centering your entire experience on the customer, which is what retailers such as Amazon and Nordstrom do, resulting in consistently strong customer reviews. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently discussed why the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked Amazon Number 1 for eight years in a row.[iii] In his most recent letter to shareholders, Bezos discussed developing a culture of high standards. He wrote:
“Building a culture of high standards is well worth the effort, and there are many benefits . . . People are drawn to high standards – they help with recruiting and retention. More subtle: a culture of high standards is protective of all the ‘invisible’ but crucial work that goes on in every company. I’m talking about the work that no one sees. The work that gets done when no one is watching. In a high standards culture, doing that work well is its own reward – it’s part of what it means to be a professional.”
Bezos points out something crucial: brand ambassadors look to make the customer experience better even when no one is looking. They are not simply trying to look good on the surface. They go over and beyond.
Three Steps to Take
Based on my experience, I suggest dealerships take these steps to cultivate brand ambassadors:
- Put in place a system for collecting reviews. As I noted in a blog post, “How to Get Started Managing Online Reviews,” your customer review collection approach should be comprehensive, identifying all the places where your customers talk about you, and monitoring what customers say. You can’t get better unless you have someone on your team actively mining reviews for customer feedback and identifying stumbling blocks to taking your customer service to the “brand ambassadorship” level.
- Leverage reviews for celebration and accountability. People who want to become brand ambassadors don’t shy away from constructive feedback. It’s the job of the dealership to provide that feedback regularly, while at the same time, celebrating great reviews with your team of what success looks like. For example, highlighting individual success stories in team meetings rewards and encourages the customer-centric behavior you want to see regularly.
- Empower staff to build their brands. For example, posting individual profiles on your website – ideally including customer reviews – is essential. Your brand ambassadors should be encouraged to humanize your dealership by providing details about themselves that make your business more approachable and real, such as the personal hobbies of each team member, their photos, and whether they speak a foreign language.
Fortunately tools such as DealerRater make the process of building reviews and employee profiles easier. DealerRater automates and amplifies the collection and publishing of reviews, resulting in your dealership making your brand ambassadors more visible and approachable. (You can learn more about our approach on our website.)
Cultivating brand ambassadors will ultimately create the network of brand advocates that lead to more sales and stronger customer relationships. Investing in your salespeople will also improve your retention. Our own data shows that dealerships employing DealerRater Certified Salespeople enjoy lower turnover rates than the average reported by the National Automobile Dealers Association.[iv] Happier, more motivated employees are your best ambassadors. Invest in them and enjoy the strong returns.
[i] Survey of 6,413 recent car shoppers on DealerRater.com, March 2016.
[ii] Cars.com/DealerRater Q12018 internal analysis of 1.4 million consumer reviews from 2017.
[iii] Amazon 2017 letter to shareholders, April 18, 2018.
[iv] DealerRater Certified Employee Retention Data November 2016 & NADA 2016 Dealership Workforce Study