To determine what makes Birchwood Auto Group customers happy, Steve Chipman firmly believes that less is more — more or less.
On the more side of the equation, the Winnipeg group emails nearly 100,0000 surveys each year to its sales and service customers.
On the less side, the Birchwood surveys are almost shorter than a tweet. Unlike the post-purchase customer-satisfaction index surveys sent out by automakers or outside parties such as J.D. Power, which typically pose dozens of detailed questions, Birchwood’s sales survey asks customers just one question. The service survey poses two. Both provide a space for more detailed comments.
Chipman believes the brief surveys actually yield more information. Counterintuitive? Perhaps. But Chipman swears by the process. “I’m not into getting a score just to get a score,” he said, referring to the factory CSI surveys. “I’m more concerned about finding out what exactly we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong so we can give customers a better experience.”
Both surveys ask one question that Chipman believes homes in on the essence of repeat business: On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, how likely is it that customers will recommend the dealership to other people?
“If a person will recommend you, that’s the best indicator that they will be loyal,” he said.
The service survey also asks customers to rate their experience on a scale from one to 10.
“I’m much more interested in their actual comments about their experience — what they liked or didn’t like,” which comes out in the space for comments, Chipman told Automotive News.
“A score on a scale of one to 10 is all relative. Some people, for instance, never give a 10 on principle alone.”
The surveys are emailed within 24 to 48 hours of a sales or service interaction. Last year, Birchwood emailed about 85,000 surveys to service customers and about 12,500 to car-buying customers. The response rate for service surveys was 45 per cent. For car buyers, it was 51 per cent.
Chipman theorizes that the response rate is good because the surveys are sent out quickly and are short.
“Shorter is better,” he said. “We’ve found that people don’t like to take time to answer so many questions.”
Birchwood has 18 rooftops — 15 in Manitoba, two in Saskatchewan and one in North Dakota. The dealerships sell BMW, Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford and GMC, as well as Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Kia, Land Rover, Lexus, Mini, Nissan, Ram, Toyota and Volvo.
There is a downside to sending out the surveys so quickly, however: They usually arrive before automakers’ CSI surveys. That can decrease the response rate for CSI surveys because customers figure they’ve already answered one survey.
“It’s both good and bad because customers are less likely to answer two surveys, which could help my manufacturer’s score,” Chipman said. “But I’m willing to risk that because I’d rather resolve problems faster and have customers who are happy.”
Birchwood started using the short-form surveys in 2006 after Chipman read The Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld, an expert on customer loyalty. Reichheld argues that there’s just one question business owners need to ask customers: How likely is it that they would recommend the company to friends and colleagues?
Reichheld developed a metric called the Net Promoter System, in which the scores of survey “detractors” (those who provide a rating of six or less) are subtracted from the scores of “promoters” (those who give scores of nine or 10). The scores of “neutrals” (sevens and eights) are tossed out. In 2017, Birchwood’s NPS score was 85 for sales and 75 for service — impressive marks by industry standards.
SURVEYS vs. ACTIONS
Of course, surveys aren’t very valuable unless management acts on customers’ complaints. Chipman gets a copy of every survey, courtesy of an in-house software system set up to manage customer responses. “I see them, and the service managers and the general managers see them,” he said. “I don’t read them all, but I do respond to ‘red alerts,’ which is any survey with a score of less than six. I can write comments and ask people to look into them.
“For example, I just received surveys 14, 35 and 48 minutes ago, including one where a woman said our service was great,” he said. “But for recommending the dealership to others, she gave us only a six. She felt the cost of a repair wasn’t explained thoroughly. … We’re going to dig into that one.”
Each store has its own process for handling dissatisfied customers. But most of the problems don’t stem from things such as a car repair gone wrong. “When things go off the rails, it’s usually because we didn’t communicate properly,” Chipman said.
In the end, he doesn’t think his approach is unusual, noting that most dealers know they must provide great customer service to remain competitive. “It’s not like we have a patent on this, or that we’re trailblazers,” he said. “We just have a way that we think allows us to measure customer satisfaction quickly and get on top of problems quicker.”
Moreover, no matter how high the scores, there’s always room for improvement.
“Every day, less than 100 per cent of the customers who buy a car from us” or have their vehicle serviced are happy, he said.
“That shouldn’t happen. We need to always get better — be on our toes and provide what customers want. And I think the best way to do that is to find out exactly what we did wrong.”