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Communication Has Changed: A Conversation with Joe Shaker

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How do you interview someone who is truly an industry heavyweight, a Massachusetts Dealer of the Year, the CEO of a Tech Company, and who has been interviewed so many times before? You prepare. And then you scrap your prep notes and questions and you allow magic to happen.  “I think the first-mover advantage is the first person to learn, right? Whoever learns first, has the advantage, and we've learned a lot.” Meet Joe Shaker , owner of the Shaker Auto Group and the CEO of TruVideo . Someone who is “trying not to be famous,” doesn’t exist on LinkedIn and openly shares his story with honest excitement, energy and a formidable presence that, honestly, left us invigorated.  Below is his story, in preparation for CXAUTO2022 . When I tell the story, I tell it from a point of: these are the real problems, this is what we've learned and this is what we did when we learned it. And then guess what? We learned something else. So when I say it's genuine, it's actually true. I wanted customers to see what they're paying for. What is being disrupted, what is changing? Communication is changing.  I think one of the key things that I like to remind people, and what I've learned myself, is that we forget about the big picture. Sometimes when we're talking about service or sales we get focussed on details that don’t matter. I tell Dealers: don’t change the way you do business, change the way you communicate.   Overall, 95% of customer experience is largely embedded in how well or how poorly you communicate. So we need to really focus on how we communicate and what it is that we are communicating. I like to joke around with the OEMs. I love it when I go to the meetings and people talk about trust and transparency or when the marketing team talks about meeting people on “their terms”: Yeah, just a quick question. How do you deliver on that? How would I execute that? Oh, you don't know. You're just saying that. Okay, great. Thanks for the punchline. So what we end up doing is going back to the theory without an execution model, but we can solve these problems! The stars have aligned for TruVideo and the reason I say that is because texting is the most used function on a phone and 10 billion videos are being watched daily on Facebook alone. Customer behavior has fallen inline for us, and with phones now taking high quality video, there has been an alignment between consumer behavior and technology. Asynchronous communication is how customers want to communicate. They love it, they click on it, they open it and, if you want to do business with a customer, it's the best way to maintain a relationship based on all the data and stats. Also, because of where we are in this journey, we can now also see how customers are interacting with the communication.  If we take it a step further, focussing on the customer experience, CX personalisation is probably the strongest underpinning right now. Video has provided this personalization which has allowed these communications to explode on the customer experience front as well as dealer revenue. Simultaneously, you get to take two bites out of the same apple. “TruVideo really took off within the sales department of forward thinking Dealers” We have a case study that analyzed 16 stores, within a large group, during December of 2020. The case study showed that when you sent the video to a customer that personalized their experience, the appointment set rate and show rate, both increased. We all know that when we are talking about leads and customers, we are looking at how many leads were generated, how many appointments were made, how many were confirmed and how many customers showed up to those appointments. The next layer, percentage wise, is how many vehicles were sold after this whole process. Any change on any level, with any of those factors, makes the number at the bottom go nuts because it’s a multiplier.  Well, with the case study group, they sent out just under 7000 videos and sold around 560 more cars during COVID than they did prior to the pandemic in December 2019. We started to realize that so many people were watching the videos over and over again and sharing them, we realized this data is actually more valuable than the website data. We can send videos, we can scrape words and phrases, we can really grab all this rich analytics and data and reach customers.  How are you able to manage your duties within Shaker Auto Group as well as deliver on your goals as CEO of TruVideo? One of my favorite quotes is: “Commit to the process, and surrender to the result.” Our Business, the car business, has been largely built around processes. When we hire, we share our process, our system, which we are willing to hire into. It is not a blank slate. We are willing to hire you to work within this ecosystem and we have spent a lot of time creating a systems and process driven environment. This means that hiring correctly and training people to thrive within our environment, really is our big picture.  We do behavioral profiling so that we get the right fit within the environment and we also have a different way of paying our people versus other Dealers. The reality is that someone like me is usually buying more stores to grow further. I have chosen to diversify what I do and how I do things through software and technology. I have a great management team that we have cultivated in order to run the process environment and this allows me to grow in different ways typical to the industry.  In an environment where everybody is focussed on training, how do you truly integrate training into your environment? Theory without execution is hallucination, and I don’t like to hallucinate. People do and say things, buzzwords, but don’t execute on them. When people say they do training, I want to know what that means. Usually, theoretically they are right but I want to understand how they execute on these things. And I think that's really the secret; we won't sign up with vendors if we don't believe we, as the dealership, can execute on it. There is a difference between those who flippantly use  training  as a component of their operations and ourselves. It’s part of our system, our process, it’s a religion with us. What can we expect at CXAUTO2022 TruVideo has really been an incredible experience for us and some of what I'll be talking about at the Event is  conversational commerce ; what it is and how we found ourselves there. We knew we were doing something different but found out that the concept existed, we were just executing it in a very unique way. When we started learning about the communication chain, we realized everyone was getting the same message. We had to fix that and, then, that’s when we really started learning. We spent the first few years really focussed on solving the customer problem. The word  engagement  slips in all the time but when we really think about it, has the message been delivered and not just the text lines? Maybe we know the open rate of an email, but do we really know anything else? “I want to talk to the Doctor, not to the Receptionist” In 2021 we released the ROVI Report; We wanted to share data from our first 7 million videos. One OEM partner that shared data with us showed us  a 1.1 million repair order sample. The ROs that had video were $55 more, and, simultaneously increased CX scores. Customer “Intent to Return”, went up 4 points on the Net Promoter Score and “Value for Service” went up 3 points on NPS. Some of our OEM partners have exploded on the JD Power Service Index; so we are truly seeing the impact on the customer.  Following the data has shown us that we can not only eradicate doubt, but fix the communication chain. We realised we had data when we saw 35% of videos being shared in service. The inspection from the technician was no longer diluted by going through various people. The same transparent message was now going to the advisor, customer and any friend or confidant.  What matters about data and analytics is: how do we make it actionable? How many times are people watching, sharing, what is the real time data? We can show that through our dashboard, allowing managers to know what they need and allowing the Dealer to control the communication.  Our high-energy conversation ended with us sharing our personal views on how the world needs  more . More communication, more technicians, more perspective, more creativity and more acceptance of differing skills. Especially when it comes to breaking negative cycles through inclusive thinking.  See Joe live at the CXAUTO2022 in Marina Del-Rey next month! We would highly recommend it!
Curing your COVID Hangover

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If you ordered a new vehicle and were told it could take a few weeks to come in, and all you had to do was leave a deposit and wait, you’d be pretty excited right? Well, what happens when a post pandemic global chip shortage starts to squeeze automakers’ abilities to deliver their vehicles to their dealer network? Dealers are now delayed in scheduling retail deliveries with their customers, and have to disclose missing items. The chip shortage is creating catastrophic wait times, crippling dealers’ ability to offer vehicles containing the high-tech features many customers want. The outward-sensors are controlled by microchip processors and therefore some manufacturers are building vehicles without the features altogether. Others are simply pausing production. Either way, it’s not a happy problem to have. There are a variety of anomalies occurring in the automotive industry currently. The biggest challenges we face include: managing customer expectations, factory constraints, and used vehicle valuations skewed by current market conditions. The values, because of low supply, are at an all-time high. Meanwhile, increasing delays leave some customers wanting to back out of their orders. The others customers remain waiting weeks and months more. When they do finally take delivery, the sales process suffers greatly. In the customer’s mind, they were lied to and ignored. They are extremely frustrated. They are anxious about getting their new vehicle. Increases in MSRP and egregious dealer addendums, have customers feeling squeezed by the charlatans. After being ignored by their salesperson for the last few months, they have no patience left for our process and they certainly aren’t interested in spending extra time in the business office listening to our pitch. The customer has the cashier’s check in hand, made out to the penny, and can’t wait to torch you on the factory survey. Those customers are also highly likely to leave a really nice 1-Star Google or DealerRater review. Did I miss anything? Vehicle sales plummeted to some of the lowest levels at the start of COVID and now that we have sold through the bloated inventory, we struggle to build back up again. We are reminded that after enduring what we have all experienced during this pandemic, including its shortage repercussions, people’s psyches have changed. Not only our employees, but our customers too! It’s time to re-adjust our approach, our attitudes, and our actions.  To fix this, we start with an attitude adjustment and increasing the amount of engagement. Simply reach out periodically with updates, and let your customers know what’s happening. It makes people feel nice when you call or text them. It makes them feel like a priority. They are happy you didn’t forget them and they know someone is paying attention to their vehicle and its arrival date. We change our negative attitudes regarding low inventory, it’s low everywhere. Next, pay attention to our appearances and the vibe we give off. When people are dropping $100,000 on a new Escalade, they want to know we care about their purchase. Finally, take action! Start realizing one of the biggest perks our industry is experiencing - low volume and high profits.  How fortunate are we? You’ve never had to sell fewer vehicles for more gross profit in history. Commissions are at an all-time high and life is pretty good considering. Get excited about having more time to spend with each customer. During busy times when we give cars away for little to no profit, we are always rushed. We never seem to get quality time, connecting with them and solidifying meaningful relationships. If you spend extra time with customers now, you can set clearer expectations. This allows you to manage communication more effectively during the waiting process. This ensures the delivery is more successful and brings the customer back again for their future purchases in sales and service. It’s time to get re-connected with our customers and stay there.  
Changing the Narrative to Sustainable Profit

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Sustainable profit - Profit which everyone benefits from, growth driven by things you become. Unsustainable profit - Where one group benefits at the expense of another, growth driven by things you do. I can vividly remember discussing a car deal with a sales manager and him telling me, “Get all the profit you can, it’s not like they are going to be back to buy another one.” To me, coming from a Ford store in Michigan where most buyers were A-plan and exceptional customer experience is what made loyal customers, this statement hit hard, I could not believe my ears. Years later, after starting my own agency, I considered also starting Unsustainable Business Models Anonymous, I jest. You see, it is not the business model, because no dealership sets out to provide a poor experience for their customers, they just do not have a plan in place not to. The biggest difference in sustainable and unsustainable profit is how we get there. Sustainable profit is growth driven by what we become; unsustainable profit is driven by things we do. One key factor is the view of profit and loss. A sustainable view begins with an action that takes care of everyone from within and grows by influencing others to join. Unsustainable profit represents a pessimistic and single-minded view of life, where the primary goal is survival. Objectification places people in an out-group vs in-group dynamic, where competition exists, hence scarcity. Sustainable businesses have a solid foundation to prove it, they invest in assets that work for them in present and future conditions, allowing them to achieve new objectives. Today’s customers are looking for more than just a functional vehicle. Vehicles and the ownership experience must satisfy other critical needs as well; both physical and emotional. From the moment a customer enters your dealership, you have an opportunity to make an investment in their lives and in return get more than just profit. Sustainable profit is more than just numbers on a sheet. Sustainability is being honest and open with your customers so they can see you as human beings, not just as participants in a transaction. As such, sustainable profit is best realized in the long term by building trust and relationships along the entire lifecycle of a customer. This process begins at that first meeting when that customer enters your dealership and continues until long after the sale. So, where do you start to build a model of sustainable profit? Where can dealerships make investments everyone, including customers, can benefit from? Where results are realized in both the short term and long term. On the sales side, leading with pricing based sale or themed sale is an example of something you do vs something you become. These types of events, while profitable, when not conducted properly are band-aid solutions. For sales, focusing on finding ways to serve your customers in a way which positively impacts their lives, an example, working with a diverse credit group. Investing time and effort in customers with less than perfect credit will grow loyal relationships. You would be amazed at how deeply reliable transportation can impact a person’s life. Benefits of working with a diverse credit group include deepened relationships with your customers, wider market reach, and increased customer satisfaction as reach to meet customer needs. This is an opportunity to increase your sales and serve a greater customer base.  An even greater opportunity lies in Fixed Ops, sorry Sales I still love you! If you want to focus on the long-term sales, Service Advisors are the individuals with the most customer contact, largest impact on CSI, greatest opportunity for gross, and a major factor in whether a customer will return to make a vehicle purchase. Service Advisors are the first, and sometimes only, dealership’s representatives customers have contact with during their time at your location. They are the first impression of a dealership and can create trust through information gathering and interactions that lead to a successful purchase, or distrust that leads to an unsatisfied customer. We have all heard the adage, "Sell the sizzle, not the sausage." I am here to tell you that in most dealerships we have drifted from that process. Customers want value and they want options, so we must pay attention to both needs while interacting with our service customers.  What is a stellar Service Advisor without a solid Technician? Wait, those are in ridiculously high demand you say? Ahhh, yes, so you have an opportunity for an advantage if you are bold. This is going to come down to pay, culture, and resources, not necessarily in that order. When you find a technician with experience, strong training and customer service skills, honesty, and a love for what they do - you have a unicorn. These unicorn technicians are those that go beyond the call of duty, they can be a rock for a team. Not only do they keep your core services running, but a great one is also a living, breathing documentation library on your systems - documenting loose ends and potential pit falls. Find the best techs, unicorns if you can, and do what you can to get and keep them - you will never regret this move. In short, growth driven by serving customers, rather than the customer as your competition. Bring your customers along on your journey, help them grow with you.
An Excellent Customer Experience Needs the Human Element

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Think about the last time you had a really great conversation.  When I think about a great conversation, my mind goes to those a-little-too-long lunches with business colleagues. Game night with friends on the weekend. Laughing until I cry until the wee hours of the morning after not seeing family for some time.  Great conversations stay with you. You reflect on them warmly, and often, they feed future conversations. They become a part of our fondest memories.  I believe in all of these situations, I am being sold on something.  Authentic Conversations Make for Authentic Sales Interactions  I feel like I must clarify — I don’t want to cheapen the authenticity of these wonderful moments with a sales analogy. Rather, I want to do the opposite. My aim is to enrich the authenticity of sales opportunities by comparison. In those moments, I’m being sold on a good time. I’m being sold on a connection, relatability — a togetherness that keeps me present in the conversation with a desire to keep it going. I feel heard and appreciated.  We should be authenticating the sales experience by tapping into and drawing from those moments. Make customers feel heard and seen at every point in their shopping journey!  In car sales especially, which have high-pressure connotations even with a lack of pointed pressure from sales, a great conversation can shatter the fog of “dealership dread.” A point of connection between shopper and associate can open up the conversation beyond the product. Good conversation puts customers at ease. It welcomes them; they let their walls down a bit.  A.I. and Chatbots - No Human Experience In Sight  This is the age of the digital dealership. Without context, recommending A.I. to accompany your digital dealership might sound logical. Sane even. Fielding your online, or "digital", clients while your team concentrates on delivering the best possible in-store experience is an objectively good idea. Except that these consumers aren't digital, they are humans using a digital platform. How better to set yourself apart with a "wow" than humanizing your digital platform? Sure, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a bit of a wrench in onsite visits. But at the end of the day, if there isn’t a living, breathing person at the end of a dealership’s communication touchpoints — well, let’s just say there are other dealerships down the road, and certainly on the internet. The usefulness of A.I., and A.I.-powered bots, begins and ends at that first point of contact. They can’t hold and sustain that all-too-important conversation.  Let’s look to Carvana briefly. Consumers are attracted to that straightforward process that saves them time. But they still lack that conversational touch that makes great, welcoming salespeople at dealerships a more trusted resource. I believe if dealers can engage in this straightforward way of handling business while maintaining that human connection, they can win big.  A conversation isn’t just a simple exchange of words and information.  It’s so much more than that. In automotive sales specifically, car shoppers are about to make what is likely the most expensive, emotional purchase they can make. And they aren’t just buying an engine, wheels, and seats. A vehicle is an extension of a unique human being with specific interests and lifestyles. Does it make sense to utilize a tool that can’t emote?  How can a chatbot relate to the mother of two who needs all of the best safety features? Or the owner of three dogs who needs ample space for them when they go on their beloved outdoor adventures? A.I. can’t sympathize and empathize with a customer's perspective.  They don’t share that human experience.  Those in automotive sales know that you have to act fast on a lead. Customers need to be engaged promptly so you can keep them on the line. At the same time, it might serve us better to slow down. Ask some different questions upfront - get to know your customers on a deeper level. Discover their yet undiscovered needs.  Create and foster a great conversation. Make this a memorable experience, one that they can reflect on later where they felt like they mattered. There’s something about great conversations that make you want to have them again and again. What better way to build customer loyalty than by bringing that human experience to each and every sales interaction?  No matter what, in and out of the showroom: keep having great conversations. I know I will.
Building Customer Relationships with Tactile Action-Based Marketing

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If you’re like most dealers, you invest thousands of dollars each month into various marketing channels. Some of which you may be deploying right now: TV, radio, digital, email, direct mail, social. If you’re not active in your community while building positive connections to your dealership name, and your team, you’re missing out.  I call it tactile action-based marketing, it’s people building relationships in your local community. Your store doesn’t have to be in a small town to make it work or to make a significant impact. I advocate for this type of outreach because it’s hands-on, cause and effect marketing, which builds relationships with both community members and local businesses. It begins with an action on your part, social media is a great launching point, and turns into word of mouth in your community. Done properly, it turns observers into engaged fans. It is also simple, cost-effective, and you can start right now. How does it work? Instead of focusing on the dealership, put the emphasis on your customers and the community, two subjects that hold people’s interest. Consider how many people pass by your dealership on any given day, does seeing your sign or building spark a positive response in them? Imagine building great relationships with people who aren’t even your customers...yet. How do you know if you need to implement tactile action-based marketing? A quick scroll through your Facebook or Instagram will give you the answer. It’s time if your pictures primarily show your staff, vehicles, or vehicle deliveries. If in your advertising, all you talk about is money, it’s time. If your posts are dominated with phrases like: “Here at ABC Dealer” “We want to buy your car” “The 2021 Make Model…” “Our goal is to…” It’s time, right? Your followers will stop paying attention if it’s "the all about you" show. Start by sharing customers’ wins Share about their businesses. How about posting what their children accomplish? Don’t forget to recognize community member’s accomplishments, sports team’s wins, and academic accomplishments. You can be a positive light in your community. Show gratitude Engage your social media followers with #thankfulthursday, each week on social media give away a gift card to a locally owned restaurant or small business. You just made a potential customer happy while supporting and promoting a local small business. Win/Win! Support your schools and teachers whenever possible Not only are you showing the teachers what they do is important, but also, you’re showing the parents you value their children. Parents are especially responsive when someone tries for the benefit of their children. When you say, “We care about providing you an excellent experience at ABC dealership” the community knows this to be true because they have seen your actions in the community. When you say, “We go to bat for you to get you the best interest rate,” this carries weight because you have been going to bat for them in their businesses and their schools. One hand washes the other, see how it works? Let’s start creating an amazing experience all the time though changing your social media approach and building relationships using tactile action-based marketing, you won’t regret it.
Creating the Ultimate Dealership Customer Experience

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I was talking about mindset with my good friend Tommi Weeden and I was explaining to her that sometimes I work with guests that require A LOT. What I meant by that is they seem to take longer to get through the process. They can be walking "time bandits" in all honesty. She told me something that really resonated with me. Tommi told me: remember that everyone is different and we all process things differently. For this reason, don't look at your customer as "high-maintenance". Consider them "white-glove". That's when the lightbulb went off for me. Reframe Your Mindset White-Glove by definition means marked by special care or attention. By shifting your mindset and reframing from a negative to a positive, the whole experience is different. These days, automobiles, for the most part, have become commoditized. Meaning, unless it's a rare used car with low miles and custom modifications, or a new car with limited production, when they want a new car, the customer can send out the same email to ten different dealers and the race to the bottom is on! Therefore, we must focus on the customer experience, now more than ever before. The manufacturers are pushing this with surveys and secret shoppers on the customer's side; while simultaneously tying the dealers' trunk money to various programs that sound like alphabet soup. If you don't achieve certain metrics on these surveys, your dealerships' payouts are reduced, or altogether eliminated. Working at a Cadillac-Buick-GMC dealership, I can tell you firsthand, they want us to create what they refer to as, "Cadillac Moments". This is the "wow" factor. Honestly, it's not a bad idea. It's also not something we needed the factory to convince us to do in the first place. After all, you can't retain customers if they don't enjoy the experience. For us, this is second nature. To a struggling store who has bad or no processes, these factory programs can be life saving for the dealership's longevity. Consider These Four Questions To Create Your Dealership "Wow" Factor What are some ways you can personalize and white-glove your guest's experience? How can you surprise and delight your customers? How do you create lasting, memorable moments with your customers? What can you do to make the deal appear to be quicker and simpler, regardless of how long it actually takes? Why not start out with something as simple as offering them something warm or cold to drink when they come into your office? Find out if they are purchasing the vehicle to celebrate a recent success or promotion and make this all about THEM! The purchase of a new vehicle is a VERY exciting time for many people, and this is a simple way to build excitement with them. How about finding out what kind of music they like to listen to ahead of time, and have that playing when then enter your "House of Happiness" as my mentor GP Anderson would say. When you are about to give them two tickets to the magic show, why not make them as comfortable and relaxed as possible; this will result in giving you and your dealership a competitive advantage over your competition.  By custom tailoring your presentation and your behavioral interactions with each guest, you will ultimately build and develop deeper loyalty and trust with each customer you engage. You can really only achieve this by taking the time to understand and even anticipate the needs of your customers. This allows you to "outrun" objections to issues prior to them being raised by the customer, thus preventing issues and resulting in a pleasurable experience for your guests. You have to do the deal and process the paperwork, regardless. Therefore, why wouldn't you make it fun for you AND the guests, and by doing so, increase your grosses and your ultimate satisfaction with the process? This to me sounds like More Winning! #bing #noextrachargeforapositiveattitude