Consumers are doing much more of their car shopping online these days, but that doesn’t change the need for a good customer experience at the dealership. And offering that good customer experience starts with hiring the right people, Melissa Hansen, manager of client relations at McGrath Acura tells Automotive Buy Sell Report.
“Our biggest customers are the internal customers, the employees,” says Hansen. “If I don’t have happy employees, the best part of their personality is not going to shine through.”
Customer experience is crucial to a dealership’s profitability. McGrath Acura knew that when it hired Hansen to be its first manager of client relations. That has helped make McGrath Acura Westmont the number one Acura dealer in the Midwest by volume for the last fifteen years.
Hansen gives her employees a lot of the credit. “There is much more online activity but employing the right people with the right personalities has not changed,” says Hansen.
She is responsible for ensuring all customers – in the showroom and the service department – have a great experience. Hansen even follows up with customers personally to make sure the dealership met all their expectations. She handles client relations at both McGrath Acura in Westmont and McGrath Acura of Downtown Chicago.
Hansen has learned to adapt her follow-up method to match the store’s customers. The Westmont store, where she started her client relations management career, is in suburban Illinois. The buyers there are mostly small business owners or moms who are home with kids, she says. They like getting a phone call.
When McGrath added the downtown dealership, those customers were hard to get hold of on the phone, she says. So she leaves one voice message letting them know she will send them an email inquiring about their experience.
Her job stretches far beyond follow-up calls, however.
“I wear more hats than the typical client relations manager,” says Hansen. That includes process improvement and being the cheerleader for dealership employees.
From a sales star to customer relations czar
Hansen, 45, first worked at McGrath Acura in 1995. She was a sales person and excelled, winning sales person of the month then of the year.
“I really was passionate about the car business,” says Hansen. “It is such a charismatic, dynamic industry.”
After four years, she took a three year break. When she returned the store’s sales volume had doubled. Hansen wasn’t looking to be in sales again, however. The dealership had two months to be validated under an Acura customer loyalty and customer care program. The store’s general manager figured Hansen was the perfect person for to make that happen. That was 2004, the beginning of her client relations career.
The main change since then, says Hansen, is how much more of the sales process takes place online. But the McGrath dealerships are still focused on client relations, so her position is still key.
“While customers have changed, customer service really hasn’t changed,” she says.
McGrath Acura is expanding, and Hansen is looking to bring more women into the organization. That will help with sales to female customers, she says. McGrath markets itself as a female-friendly team, and “women are exhaling when they see a woman salesperson.”