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Kevin Baumgart

How to Improve Your Customer Experience with Better Employees

Businessmen talking

You never want your dealership to become infamous for poor customer service. No company wants that sort of stain on their brand image. And in today’s always-on, always-connected society, it’s incredibly easy for poor customer experiences to go viral and impact both sales and your brand image.

Comcast has a well-documented history of infuriating customers. If you recall this internet phenomenon from 2014, there was an encounter between customer who was trying to cancel internet service and a Comcast employee who worked tirelessly to convince him otherwise. The recording of the conversation is painful to hear. Even a company as customer-centric as Amazon has been drawn into the crossfire through a poor customer experience during a live chat session where the customer was called the wrong name and gender throughout the encounter.

Needless to say, the internet is an unforgiving place in many respects when it comes to showcasing poor customer experiences. What’s more, a clear takeaway from each of these examples is that the individual employees have a significant role in shaping these experiences and perceptions as a whole.

With better employees, you’re able to make substantial progress towards creating a dealership culture and operational standard that consistently provides exceptional customer experiences.

How To Get Started with A Hiring Strategy

According to an article for Harvard Business Review, companies that effectively manage the entire customer experience see improved customer and employee satisfaction, stronger loyalty and higher revenue. From a hiring perspective, you need to implement a standardized process to select better quality employees who will provide your customers with a higher quality experiences.

Improving customer experiences doesn’t happen by addressing a single interaction with a customer—it involves everyone in your dealership. It’s truly a cultural shift, and one that needs to be reflected in the attitudes and core competencies of each and every employee.

With that in mind, here are a few qualities that you should look for in each candidate:

  • Listening abilities – In a customer service position, being able to focus your attention exclusively on the customer sometimes feels like a lost art—and like assessing artwork, trying to be objective about a person’s listening skills can be tricky when you’re not given the right tools. This is the type of soft skill that will likely present itself during a phone or in-person interview with job candidates. Take this opportunity to measure the accuracy of their responses to pointed questions, whether they talk over the interviewer and if their body language indicates they’re paying attention to you.
  • Empathy – Like listening skills, empathy is pretty difficult to judge unless you see a candidate in action. However, pre-screening tests and assessments can provide insight into whether a candidate will respond to a hypothetical situation in the right way. At the same time, you can ask open-ended questions that allow you to see whether the candidate exhibits empathy in response to a customer’s issues.
  • Technology literacy – While a great deal of customer experience management comes down to face-to-face human interaction and people skills, you need staff that understands how to get things done from a technical perspective. The kindest, most accommodating person in the world will still rub a car buyer the wrong way if he or she can’t point out specifications or talk about key vehicle features such as infotainment or Bluetooth connectivity with customers. Skills assessment test are ideal for this sort of situation, providing you with an objective metric by which to score job candidates.

Understand Your Customers

At the foundation of your shift toward providing exceptional customer experiences is knowing your customer through and through. According to the annual J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, the number one thing new-car buyers look for in when they’re selecting a specific model is reliability and durability. So, if your sales team member immediately starts off by how cool the customer will look in the vehicle, they may be getting off on the wrong foot—or, at least, isn’t addressing the customer’s priorities.

You need employees who have the listening skills, attitude and know-how to get to the bottom of what your customers want from the get-go. That means smarter hiring. Dealers with a process driven approach are much more likely to find and hire quality candidates. In fact, 70% of our auto customer’s new employees hired through Hireology are rated as high-quality hires.

Take a data-driven approach to hiring that leverages skills assessments, pre-screening tools and interview checklists that help you objectively evaluate candidates.

Thanks to NCM Associates’ partner, Hireology, for sharing the guidance on employee referral programs. Learn more about Hireology. And join NCM’s experts for more actionable advice for hiring the best people for your team in our Finding Top Talent and Success-Driven Pay Plan classes.

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Susy Campbell

Five New Options for Your NCM 20 Group Meeting


Your NCM 20 Group meeting is filled with serious discussions regarding financial data, best practices and action plans, but that doesn’t mean you can’t relax outside the meeting room.  Whether golfing or deep sea fishing is your passion—or just quiet time at a spa—outside activities are a unique opportunity to get to know your fellow group members.

Here are details on five of our favorite destination hotels. Take a look, and consider trying something new for your next 20 Group meeting.

Gleneagles Luxury Hotel, Perthshire, Scotland. When this luxury spa and golf resort opened in 1924, it was described as the Riviera in the Highlands.  It’s probably best known for golfing with its three championship golf courses, but golfing is just one of many activities offered at the hotel. Guests may enjoy such activities as horseback riding, shooting, archery, tennis, biking and fishing. Wildlife photography and off-road driving are a novel way to experience the stunning Scottish landscape. And, of course, you should check out their world-renowned luxury spa.

Le Germain, Québec City, Canada. Located in a century-old building, the hotel is situated in Québec’s Old City, which was declared a world heritage site in 1985. You’re just steps away from the city’s art galleries, charming boutiques, cafes and some of the best restaurants in North America. Make a plan to visit the Ramparts of Québec National Historic Site; Québec is the only remaining fortified city north of Mexico, and you can see stunning vistas from its walls. While you’re exploring the city, check out Old Port, a favorite spot for tourists and locals to relax. You’ll love the charm of Rue Saint-Paul with its art galleries, antique stores and sidewalk cafes—the perfect place to people watch!

The Pearl, Rosemary Beach, Florida. Situated on Florida’s panhandle Emerald Coast, The Pearl is an award-winning resort in the heart of the state’s trendiest beachfront towns. Guests can relax with a luxurious spa treatment while also enjoying full privileges at the St. Joe Club & Resorts, including their beach club, kids’ camp, tennis facilities, bike rentals, free canoe and kayak rentals and access to beach bonfire services. With cutting-edge perks, such as an interactive iPad app for concierge requests, free high-speed Wi-Fi and in-room AppleTV for streaming your favorite shows, it’s a great meeting location.

Montage Deer Valley, Park City, Utah.  This authentic mountain retreat overlooks historic Park City, Utah, and is the perfect home base while you enjoy visiting the Utah National Park, Sundance, Snowbird and Alta. The 220-room resort offers ski-in/ski-out access to one of American’s best ski resorts, snowboarding and other winter sports; year-round activities include hiking, mountain biking, golf, outdoor concerts and fly-fishing. You can even plan an expedition to explore the three nearby national parks! With the largest spa in Utah, five inspired dining options and even its own bowling alley, Montage Deer Valley is a wonderful 20 Group meeting option.

The Broadmoor, Colorado Spring, Co.  Located on the banks of the Cheyenne Lake, this historic resort offers something for everyone. The choices are endless.  You could start your morning with a horseback ride, followed by zip lining.  And the perfect way to unwind might be to soak in the outdoor hot tub or curl up fireside with a good book.  The Broadmoor offers golfing, Forbes Five-Star spa, tennis, swimming pools and acclaimed dining. You can also experience the thrill of going up Pikes Peak on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.  If fishing is your thing, you may want to consider staying at the Fishing Camp where you would fly fish with professional guides.

Have you stayed at any of these locations? Tell us about it below. Discover how NCM Travel Solutions can simplify your 20 Group and vacation travel.

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NCM Associates

#AskNCM: What Are the KPIs I Need for a Good Collision Center?

If your dealership is investing in a collision center, you need to the right numbers to accurately gauge its success. In this #AskNCM video, expert Steve Hall shares what your labor gross profit margin, production per total employee and other metrics should be to create a high-performing department.

Get more tips to improve your collision center’s profits. 

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Jacy Navarro

The Most Common NCM 20 Group Mistake

Uomo d'affari disperato

Preparing for a 20 Group meeting requires a lot of details. From homework to data submissions, there are tons of little things members must do to get ready for a successful meeting! So many things, in fact, that some can slip through the cracks.

Don’t make this common 20 Group mistake

Just consider this scenario. You booked your flight, packed your bag and kissed your spouse and kids goodbye. After a quick (or maybe not so quick) flight, you land. A cab or limo ride later, you arrive at the hotel, and the extremely kind clerk behind the counter says those dreaded words, “I am sorry, Mr. Jackson, we don’t have a reservation for you, and the hotel is SOLD OUT!”

What!? No!? Say it isn’t so! You are now faced with bunking with another member (or sleeping in a closet)… for two nights. Not a fun way to end a long day of meetings!

Troubleshooting 20 Group travel

There often seems to be confusion about meeting hotel room reservations. So, let me explain: While the coordinators here at NCM make most of the meeting’s arrangements, we do not make individual hotel arrangements. Unless expressly stated otherwise, members are always to make their own hotel plans using the hotel reservation/meeting form that is sent out to the group by the coordinator around sixty (60) days before the start of the meeting.

And, I’ll tell you, this is the number one preparation task that is forgotten or assumed to have been taken care of by NCM! To make your 20 Group experience great, be sure to contact the hotel directly to reserve your hotel room. Or, if you’d like help making the arrangements, I encourage you to contact NCM Travel Solutions. Our amazing team of professional travel consultants can do the work to reserve your room, book that flight or secure a rental car… and much more. All you have to do is ask.

And, when you’re making travel arrangements—either through NCM Travel Solutions or on your own—just be sure to reserve your room before the hotel cutoff date listed on the NCM 20 Group reservation form. After the cutoff date, NCM cannot guarantee the group rate or that there will be a room available for you. So act fast, and avoid sleeping in a closet!

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George Gowen

From the 20 Group: The Importance of Value


We all know that a customer will buy a product or service when the value exceeds price. Unfortunately, automotive dealerships hide the value that the service and parts departments bring.

Here’s how you can change that.

Recognize the value of “free”

Grocery stores commonly show the customer how much they “saved” on every receipt. That builds additional value to the price they paid for groceries. For some reason, dealerships comp services but, unlike the grocery store, never let anyone know about it.

Here’s an example: Almost every dealership I know requires a multi-point inspection (MPI) for each repair order. This check builds trust and helps to sell needed services.

But what is the “value” to the customer for that service? None. However, if you show on the repair order (RO) that the MPI has a $49-$149 value that we provided at “no charge,” it does means something.  After all, the service has actual value, and we should let customers know it.

Here’s another example. Many dealerships charge a diagnostic fee, using the information to explain the nature of the problem and how much the repair will cost. Along with the diagnostic work, you probably do a complete inspection of the entire vehicle and don’t charge for it. You should mention this value to your customer.

Always offer a deal

While we’re looking at other industries for inspiration, let’s consider restaurants. I’ve been to many establishments that promote a special that includes the appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert. You’re told that you’ll get a special value by ordering the components as a group versus ordering them individually. The reality is that people will take advantage of the “deal” even though they likely would not have ordered all the items separately.


You can apply the same principle to service menu items. The best performers on menu sale penetration show the value of the combined services versus doing those services individually. But if you offer a “30k Service” for $400 without explaining the value of the individual services, all they will see is the $400.

Imagine the penetration level if you showed that all the services in the “30K Service” would separately cost $530! If the menu item is “only $400,” the customer just saved $130 by purchasing it.

The same advice goes if you provide a car wash, loaner cars, or any other services: Always make sure the customer knows the value. And, no matter what, make sure the value you provide exceeds the price.

Tell us below how your dealership creates value in the service department. Learn more about George Gowen and how his NCM colleagues can help your dealership through 20 Groups and in-dealership consulting

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Lindsey Quinn

Stop Embezzlement Before It Starts

"I would like to recognize your accounting achievements."

The facts of the case are enough to make any dealer sick. After more than 10 years of “faithful” service, an assistant comptroller—and longtime friend—was discovered to have stolen nearly $2 million.

A staggering employee betrayal

Dealer O.C. Welch uncovered the theft when he and the service manager at his South Carolina Ford store noticed a discrepancy between actual gross profits and the anticipated results from the number of repair orders. Welch and his staff dug deeper and found more issues; a police investigation would later uncover that employee DeAnne Ogden had perpetrated an embezzlement scheme that spanned nearly a decade.

While Odgen has been sentenced to eight years in prison and ordered to pay restitution, it is unlikely that Welch will regain the full amount of the funds stolen from him. And, although he reports that the dealership is doing well, a two million dollar loss is a heavy burden for any business to bear.

But what, exactly, are business owners like Welch supposed to do? They need trust to run the business, but that very same trust can lead to problems like this. We asked Frank Sheets, 30-year automotive veteran and Intelligent Dealer CEO, to share his thoughts on the case and explain how other dealers can better protect their biggest investment.

Understanding financial crimes

“The first thing you need to remember,” Sheets said during an exclusive interview with NCM, “is that embezzlement like this isn’t common, and I don’t think it happens that often. But, when it does,” adds the automotive expert, “it’s a lot of money, and it puts dealerships out of business.”

Financial crimes may be rare, but they pose a significant risk to your dealership. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ (ACFE) 2014 Global Fraud Study, the organizations in their study lost 5 percent of their revenues each year to fraud, representing an estimated global loss of nearly $3.7 trillion in 2013. Smaller businesses, such as automotive dealerships, are disproportionately impacted by occupational fraud, partly because they lack the financial safeguards of larger companies. Certain types of financial fraud are easier to commit in a smaller business environment with lower oversight. In ACFE’s study, 77 percent of all the frauds were perpetrated by individuals in one of seven departments: accounting, operations, sales, executive/upper management, customer service, purchasing or finance.

Sheets cautions us, “You have to be careful, though, because it can feel like we’re painting everyone in the business office as a potential criminal.” Most employees, he adds, are dedicated to the success of the business.

Fraud Prevention Takeaways for Dealerships

These three key ideas can save your dealership millions.

Preventing embezzlement at your dealership

Oversight is what will prevent costly fraud at your dealership. Sheets comments, “If this woman stole $2 million, she must have had a hell of a lot of small vendor pay … because, if it were $20,000 per vendor, the dealer would have recognized it.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Ogden, who pleaded guilty last month to charges related to the crime, had carefully orchestrated the theft. Over the years, she added fake vendors into the dealership’s accounting system, then slowly siphoned off funds when she issued payments for their services. News sources report that she entered most of the fraudulent accounts as parts vendors. 

The dealership had a financial review process—otherwise, the crime would never have been detected—but the fraudulent transactions were so small that they escaped notice.  With the right software, Frank explains, that wouldn’t have been a problem: “I’d say that 99 percent of the time, a dealer using LiveAudit would have caught it.”

The right financial tools minimize fraud risks

LiveAudit®, a new dealership financial management system, has built-in fraud detection tools that can prevent such cases. Specifically, the system identifies and assigns all vendors to one of two categories: recognized or unrecognized. When the dealer or other financial manager logs into the system, he or she can quickly see what payments have been scheduled under each category.

“LiveAudit,” Sheets explains, “would have flagged every one of those fake companies as an unrecognized vendor. And obviously, the dealer, at some point, would ask the questions: ‘What are we doing? Who are all these people I don’t recognize?’”

Equipping dealers with the knowledge and tools they need to run their businesses betters is a critical component of Sheets’ work, he tells us. “That was part of the deal. You know, we talk to dealers all the time and everything we’ve done has been based on pain points and feedback. So many dealers were asking us to help them manage their expenses … and one of the things that continually came up was ‘make sure you put some fraud protection in there, whatever you can do.’ So, that was top-of-mind.”

Have you changed business practices to prevent fraud at your business? Tell us about it below. Learn more about LiveAudit and other operational tools for your dealership.


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Lindsey Quinn

3 Steps to Protect Your Dealership from Data Breaches

Your dealership data is a tempting target for internet bad guys.  And, if they hack your system, you’ll face huge fines. Our newest infographic explores the growing cybercrime problem and outlines the three crucial steps you should take to protect yourself:


Don’t leave your dealership unprotected. Learn how to protect your data and get even more insights from it.

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NCM Associates

#AskNCM: What’s the biggest untapped opportunity in Retail Automotive today? Part II

Fifty people. According to NCM expert, Robin Cunningham, that’s the number of customers you told to take a hike from your dealership today.

Get Robin’s tips on how to get them back:

Be sure to check out Part I!

Have another for Robin or the other #AskNCM experts? Leave a comment below!

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Adam Robinson

3 Simple Steps to an Effective Employee Referral Program

Asian businessman making handshake with smiling face

Most business owners understand the importance of referrals when it comes to their customer base. According to a recent survey conducted by Harris Poll and Nielsen, 82 percent of Americans indicated they look for recommendations from friends and family members when they’re deciding on a purchase. Input happens organically, especially with big-ticket items like a vehicle when advice from trusted advisors is even more valuable.

Meanwhile, brands have tapped into the fact that incentives help facilitate the referral process. In fact, that same study found that 88 percent of American consumers said they would want to receive money, products or services, loyalty points and other reimbursements for promoting or referring a product over social media or email. By doing so, businesses can put themselves in a strong position to grow and generate new revenue through new customer acquisition.

Now, what does your employee referral program look like? As critical as new customers are for your dealership’s continued growth, your employees are equally important to your business’ sustained success.

An effective employee referral program allows you to tap into your talent and make them proxy recruiters. The foundational aspect of this approach to hiring is ensuring your existing employees are precisely aligned and identify with your company culture. In other words, they have the motivation to recommend a friend because they feel comfortable and appreciated at work and have a positive outlook of the business.

How to Build an Effective Employee Referral Program

Let’s assume your dealership’s company culture is in excellent condition, but your recruitment costs are exceeding what you had forecasted on a yearly basis—with average turnover rates for salespeople at 71 percent, this is a likely scenario.

With this in mind, here are three simple steps that will help you build a referral program that takes much of the headache out of recruiting:

1. Expectations

As you put your program policy down on paper, you have to begin with clearly defined objectives and expectations—both from an employer and employee’s perspective. As the business, you need to run an audit of your staffing needs and how to best optimize your referral program to bolster specific departments. Are there a few employees reaching retirement age in the sales or service departments? Has someone in billing and accounting recently relocated? Are you rebuilding your marketing team? Whatever your short- and long-term needs may be, these goals are critical to the strategic success of your referral program. If you’re already sitting on a large stack of high-quality resumes for salespeople, direct your referral efforts elsewhere.

At the same time, your employees need to know who qualifies as a referral. Can it be their high-school buddy? Should it be a former colleague? How about a friend or classmate from college? Can employees refer candidates who have already applied for a position? Another consideration for your referral program is who can recommend candidates. In many organizations, those at the highest levels—including vice president and above—or those directly involved in hiring decisions are restricted from making referrals.

2. Incentives

As mentioned above, participating in an employee referral program comes with the expectation of some reward. The extent to which you choose to compensate employees for their successful referrals may depend on the role. For instance, a management position may offer an incentive at a higher rate than an entry-level candidate. That’s up to the discretion of the dealership and how you assign value for each referral. However, having a consistent, documented incentive is a way to show your employees that you take the referral program seriously.

Another significant consideration with your incentives is timing. As an employer, it feels better to wait to reward the referring employee—especially monetarily—until the new hire proves themselves to be a successful member of the dealership staff. From an employee’s perspective, this sends a confusing mixed signal. On one hand, you trust their referral enough to hire the candidate; however, you don’t have confidence that the new hire will last. So, you withhold the reward until six to 12 months down the line. This policy produces a net loss in terms of employee engagement and culture. Consider a two-step process where you pay a portion of the financial incentive at the time of hire and deliver the remainder after the new employee proves themselves.

3. Process

If you truly want your employee referral program to get off the ground, you have to make it as simple and straightforward as possible. The fewer obstacles employees have to go through or around to make a referral, the better the results. If you want to take a bare bones approach, you can simply ask employees to email HR with a name and contact number for the referral. Or you may ask them to provide the candidate’s resume as well. Regardless, your employees aren’t the one applying for the open position, so avoid making the process that complicated.

No matter how simple you make the process of submitting referrals, an integral, ongoing step is consistent communication with staff. Make sure they know to whom they send referrals, and that they understand their role in the review process and the employment requirements through the onboarding stages—meaning some organizations require the referring employee to remain on staff throughout the first 30 days of employment. It’s also a smart idea to include a communication plan in the case you don’t hire the referral. If a candidate doesn’t meet the established requirements, you must clearly explain that so that your staff doesn’t perceive it as a slight against their recommendation.

What Employee Referrals Mean for Your Dealership

What would you think if you weren’t getting any customer referrals? Clearly, this is bad. One on hand, you likely have operational issues in one or more department that are keeping your clients from telling their friends and family to visit your dealership. On the other, you have to invest significantly more in other marketing channels that are an expense on your P&L sheet.

The same rules apply for your employee referral program. Forbes contributor Liz Ryan explained that if you’re not getting any referrals from your existing staff, it’s could signal a couple of issues:

  1. Your dealership’s culture is suffering. Your employees are telling you that they wouldn’t want their former colleagues and friends working at your dealership.
  2. Your existing referral program is filed away somewhere that hasn’t seen the light of day in the past 12 months. Nobody remembers this is even an option.

As a result, you have to increase your budget for job board advertisements and other recruitment channels to get the attention of prospective candidates. Either way, it’s not an ideal case.

An effective employee referral program doesn’t replace other recruitment strategies, but it certainly alleviates much of the strain—after you’ve put in the hard work to build a dealership culture where talented people want to work.

Thanks to NCM Associates’ partner, Hireology, for sharing the guidance on employee referral programs. Learn more about Hireology. And join NCM’s experts for more actionable advice for hiring the best people for your team in our Finding Top Talent and Success-Driven Pay Plan classes.

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Rick Wegley

Announcing Something New at NCM: Service Advisor Training

Mechanic wrench tool

I’ve been chomping at the bit to make this announcement, and we just got the go-ahead!

After years of your asking for service advisor training, I’m happy to announce that the NCM Institute has added one to our roster. And I’m delighted to be teaching the first class in October.

Good management starts with a solid team

This is a significant change for NCM, which has focused on executive and management training since it began six years ago. But, as we’ve fielded call after call for training designed specifically for the professional service advisor, we knew this was an issue we had to address.

And, honestly, it made sense. Managers and other leadership team members need accountability management skills in all areas of the dealership to effectively growth dealership performance and profit.

We looked into it.  The challenge was selecting a provider that aligned exactly with our fixed operations management training philosophies—and there are many qualified vendors in the market today—but that mission, we discovered, was impossible. In response, we created our own.

Piloting the program

In 2015, the NCM Institute began offering our own service advisor training course on-site at dealerships across the country with tremendous success!

We started with the goals, objectives and philosophies of the NCMi service and parts management training curriculum, and then built our advisor training on these principles. The response has been remarkable, and I genuinely believe it’s because our approach gives your service advisors the same messaging as your managers who have attended our management training courses at the Institute. It streamlines management and gets everyone moving in the same direction.


Protect your front line

As a service guy myself, I’m particularly excited to be part of this new opportunity at NCM. Service advisors are our front line personnel, and they are the ones who, individually, represent both our dealership and our manufacturer to our client base on a daily basis. And yet the opportunities to develop the soft skills and leadership potential of this group are few and far between.

Frankly, our service department deserves better.  As managers, we need to re-evaluate our strategy for improvement in our operations, and understand that our dealerships are judged on financial and customer satisfaction responses that are a direct result of the performance of our front line personnel.

Developing peoples’ full potential should be a goal of every department manager or dealer operator. And where better to start than with the front line employees who drive the future prosperity of our customer retention and repurchase efforts?

Seats are limited and filling fast for this inaugural event in Kansas City on October 27, 2016. Please reach out to NCM Client Engagement Specialist Jeff Hardin at for more information and to reserve your dealerships’ seats.

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