A Better Car-Buying Experience Starts With Empowered Employees

Don’t let the human element—the last mile of the customer experience—keep consumers away from your dealership


After six years of strong sales, the auto industry is rightfully fearful of decline.

A survey of recent car buyers by Deloitte Digital found that age-old complaints persist: Auto dealers are “arrogant, cold, scheming, and pushy,” customers feel profiled based upon their clothing and jewelry, and personalization is absent as dealers push products based upon margin and sales incentives, not individual customer needs.

No wonder then that trust in dealers ranks below even bankers, lawyers, and insurance companies, and just above Congress, according to a Gallup News poll.

Despite billions spent by OEMs and dealers on modern showrooms, slick mobile apps, and armies of social media managers, the human element—the last mile of the customer experience—is keeping consumers away from dealerships and crippling the auto industry.

The good news is that every employee is an opportunity. An opportunity to empower people to change bad situations, and to eliminate the negative experiences of what is usually a small minority.

Take the story of the United Airlines passenger being bloodily dragged off a plane: Thousands of employees can show up and do their jobs without incident, but all it takes is one employee following a rigid corporate process and acting without customer empathy to sully a brand’s reputation.

The company’s other employees must be empowered to make things right. Companies often focus on customer experience in the form of wait times and automation, but neglect the importance of empowering employees to do the right thing when it really matters.

To improve the customer experience, dealerships need to focus on the hard truths of the last mile. Changing the dealership experience won’t happen by dictate.

Overcoming the last-mile challenge means changing the way your dealership implements change and—in a world where just one employee can be the difference between success and failure—requires the buy-in of all employees, so that if something does go wrong, they are empowered to focus on the customer.

Successful dealerships can focus on the last mile by:

Involve frontline employees in strategy

Bringing the employees most likely to be affected by change into the strategy development and planning process not only helps build frontline support for change initiatives, it also helps ensure that proposed changes are grounded in the actual challenges faced by frontline employees.

Dealers could learn from UK travel company Virgin Trains, which ditched an endless cycle of employee surveys in favor of face-to-face meetings with more than 600 employees from all parts of the business to inform its customer experience strategy.

Invest in education

Change initiatives often create fear around loss of employee autonomy and the roles of employees in the post-change organization.

Employees not only need to understand why change is necessary, but also need the skills to execute the change—skills such as new forms of product knowledge or fresh approaches to negotiation.

For instance, faced with increasingly knowledgeable customers, Audi reinvented its sales training program to better educate dealership employees on the technical aspects of its vehicles, and provided dealers with new training to help reduce negotiation time and complete sales more quickly.

Communicate the “why”

Communication is consistently one of the greatest challenges for organizations undergoing change initiatives, but even organizations with strong communications capabilities find that they need to communicate the right messages to overcome last-mile challenges.

Although many organizations effectively communicate what they want frontline employees to do and what changes they would like employees to make, few effectively articulate why they are asking employees to make those changes.

One organization that does, Ford Motor Co., uses a network of coaches assigned to every dealership to help better explain why the corporation wants changes.

Set realistic timelines

Want to change your dealership’s behavior? Creating new goals and incentives is key, but change will take time, and unrealistic timelines can be counterproductive.

Not only can missed deadlines contribute to a sense of skepticism and doubt, but they often also lead to constant project rescoping and a focus on meeting arbitrary deadlines instead of impacting the customer experience.


Imparting true change can take time. In the early 2000s, Fujifilm—aware of the decline of its traditional film business—famously spent four years restructuring its business to eliminate reliance on film revenue, and investing in new products such as skincare.

The data doesn’t lie: Dealers continue to fail customers with real, human consequences.

The biggest obstacle to creating positive customer experiences is not the lack of funds or resources, and not the lack of ability or expertise. It’s a refusal to admit current reality.

Dealers must fully understand the impact each and every employee has on their brand, and empower their employees to act with the best interests of customers in mind.

Lior Arussy is CEO and president of the Strativity Group, and one of the world’s authorities on customer experience, customer centricity, and transformation. Arussy is the author of six books, including Exceptionalize It! (2015) and Customer Experience Strategy (2010).

Lior Arussy

1 Comment

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    Chris Jans December 21, 2017

    Very insightful article. Thanks for sharing.

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