To improve customer experience and help maintain its new company culture, car dealership Best Chevrolet repeatedly sends staffers for Disney Institute training.
Best Chevrolet, a 100-person Chevrolet dealership in Hingham, Massachusetts, has been regularly engaging Disney Institute from the mid-1990s to today in an ongoing effort to improve their company culture and boost their customer satisfaction levels. By adapting many Disney business insights, the dealership has achieved dramatic jumps in customer satisfaction scores to over 90 percent and industry-leading results in customer retention.
"The Bad Old Days"
"Our customers weren't happy. Our employees weren't happy. And you better believe I wasn't happy!" That's how Scott Shulman, president of Best Chevrolet, candidly describes what he now refers to as "the bad old days" at his Hingham, Massachusetts auto dealership.
Shulman, who started at his father's car dealership after graduating from college, confesses he made a lot of mistakes as a young manager. Once he took over Best Chevrolet from his father, said Shulman, "I had my own ideas of how I wanted to run the business but I lacked a system to do it."
Shulman realized he was constantly reacting to problems instead of anticipating or preventing them. "We were always putting out fires," he says. "We needed to change the way we ran our business."
Professional Development Course
After participating in a Disney Institute session on Employee Engagement in 1994 at a General Motors national meeting, Shulman, his General Manager and Service Manager signed up for a multi-day, Disney Institute professional development course on Quality Service in Orlando.
"If you take care of your customers they will want to come back," the Disney Institute facilitator explained to Shulman and his team during the course. They listened as the facilitator explained how important it was to make customers and employees happy. "That really resonated with us," remembers Shulman. "We realized we had to change our mindset and put our customers first. The stereotypical car dealer has been notoriously bad at working to please the customer."
On a visit with other course attendees to the Magic Kingdom they saw the Disney principles put into practice. "We learned that details mattered," says Shulman, who noted that Disney planned everything with its guests in mind, including exactly how far apart each trashcan should be placed or how the park's entrance areas are designed to make guests feel welcome. "It was an incredible opportunity to observe first-hand how Disney puts its time-tested processes into place."
For three days Shulman and his team listened, watched and learned as Disney Institute facilitators inspired them to adapt many Disney service insights to their car dealership. They left excited to implement these changes. "The Disney Institute approach radically changed the way we approached doing business," says Shulman. "It was a massive turning point for us."
Back at his dealership, Shulman began the hard work of implementing the approach he had learned in Orlando. At a staff meeting he announced the company's newly minted mission statement: "Make people happy." Explains Shulman, "That includes the customer and our people. Disney showed us that it's impossible to have happy customers unless you have a happy, satisfied staff. According to Disney, Quality Cast Experience plus Quality Guest Experience plus Quality Business Practices equal Success."
Sales staffers were retrained. "We stopped using pressure techniques to sell a car and focused on pleasing the customer," says Shulman. "We realized that many people who went to a car dealer dreaded the experience. So we saw there was an opportunity to exceed their buying expectations. We knew that if we did they would return and purchase from us."
Gradually, the culture at Best Chevrolet began to change. Employees were empowered to make decisions to boost customer satisfaction. Says Shulman, “I assured everyone that no one would get into trouble by making a decision that helped a customer.” Employees were encouraged and rewarded to create “wow” moments for customers by going above and beyond their expectations.
When a customer complained that he hadn’t received the full size spare tire he thought he’d been promised with his new pickup, a Best Chevrolet salesman immediately gave him one, with no questions asked. "Our employee didn’t need to ask me for permission," says Shulman, "he knew he would be supported. We are constantly working to develop a long-term relationship with our customers by doing the right thing."
Taking another cue from the Disney playbook, Best Chevrolet began, as Shulman notes, hiring for attitude, rather than aptitude. "Our goal is to hire for ‘nice’," he explains. "You can train someone to do their job but you cannot always train them to be nice to a customer or a fellow employee."
Inspired by their time with Disney, Shulman and his team also made changes to the dealership’s appearance. "Based on customer and employee feedback, we eventually re-designed all of our facilities," says Shulman. A new covered service drive features a valet who meets and greets customers. Waiting rooms were rebuilt to include computer workstations, children’s facilities, a full range of refreshments and more — all designed to exceed guest expectations.
Everything was re-examined. After the sales staff suggested adding a new car delivery area, plans were drawn up. " Now we have the perfect stage for creating memorable events," explains Shulman. "And we even added new trash cans, just like Disney." Another Disney touch, the dealership’s director of customer relations has been dubbed " Director of First and Last Impressions."
An Ongoing Process
Rebuilding a culture is an ongoing process and Shulman has continued to send several employees to Disney Institute training each year. So far the dealer has sent over 50 of his 100-plus employees to Orlando and he himself has been several times. "Everyone who goes comes back excited with new ideas and inspires others with their enthusiasm," says Shulman. " We have found that it’s the best way to keep our culture alive."
The results have been dramatic:
- Best Chevrolet’s retention rate, a measurement of the number of customers who still have their cars serviced through five years after purchase, has jumped to a whopping 64 percent, compared to an industry average of 39.7 percent.
- The firm’s Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) is in the 90s, compared to an industry average of 80.6 percent.
- Best Chevrolet’s current Fixed Absorption rate, a measurement of service, parts and collision revenue, is 92 percent, nearly twice the national average.
- Employee retention has also jumped. Almost 25 percent of Best Chevrolet’s employees have been with the company for more than 20 years.
- GM has been so impressed by Best Chevrolet’s results that it has featured them at national conventions. Thanks partly to Best’s results, all Chevrolet dealers are now required to attend Disney Institute presentations as part of their franchise agreement.
As a testament to Best Chevrolet’s emphasis on customer service, its website is full of testimonials from satisfied customers. Comments include, "This was as painless a car buying experience as I’ve ever had," "No pressure, no attitude; only polite and courteous actions," and "You should publish your service model to all other service companies."
Recently a customer was so pleased with the way he was treated at Best Chevrolet while buying a new Camaro that he told his uncle in California. The uncle was so impressed that he bought the entire dealership lunch by ordering 25 pizzas.
For Shulman, the CSI numbers are great, but it is stories like these that prove what they have gained by engaging Disney Institutea continues to pay dividends and his staff is taking their firm’s mission statement to heart.