The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
UPHOLDING THE TWO ‘MAIN PILLARS’ OF RETAIL
When customers go into a Nissan or Infiniti dealership, they can expect a standardized facility and service. Andrew Harkness, director of customer quality and dealer network development for Nissan Canada, ensures that happens.
“We have two main pillars, one being the health and well-being of the [dealer] network with facility image, location, performance, their financial performance. The other pillar is taking proper care of customers in sales and service.”
Harkness directs a team of 27 at Nissan’s head office in Mississauga, Ont., as well as a field team. He also manages the Nissan Canada call centre.
“A typical day is meeting internally with the teams for guidance and direction. I also review the customer quality performance, evaluating customer surveys and reviewing any customer complaints to look for solutions.”
If a dealer is renovating a store, he ensures it meets the company’s image and that it’s the right size.
Harkness, 39, worked for Chrysler in Montreal as a district sales manager while he was earning a degree in marketing.
“They were posting job boards through the university, and I loved cars and thought I could be good at this. I was bilingual and they took a chance on me.
The day I graduated in 2008, my manager said, ‘We’re transferring you to Vancouver.’”
Then the financial crisis hit. Harkness took voluntary termination and became a district sales manager with Honda. In 2011, he began with Nissan in Vancouver as a field representative, and through transfers and promotions, moved to Ontario in 2019 as director of after-sales and quality assurance. He took his current role in 2022.
“The challenge is finding a path that is sustainable for us and the dealers, with the rising costs for construction and finding manpower. It’s important to bring the dealers with us so we are sustainable together.”
TAKING THE CLASSROOM TO DEALERSHIPS ACROSS CANADA
Volvo dealers look to the automaker for training and to get the tools needed to optimize their customers’ purchasing and service experience.
“On the technical side, it’s the mechanics of our products for the technicians,” said Lisa Phillips, director of customer experience at Volvo Car Canada. On the nontech side, she said, it’s product training and customer experience training for service advisers, sales and F&I.
Phillips leads a team of seven at Volvo’s Richmond Hill, Ont., head office, which includes two product trainers who go to dealerships across the country.
“A lot of [automakers] only go into classrooms, but we also go into the stores and work [with dealership staff] as a team.” Phillips is a native of England and her first job was in the call centre of the Royal Automobile Club’s roadside assistance.
She began working at BMW 11 years later as a quality-management coach for dealers, and in 2003 she was transferred to BMW in Canada. She joined Volvo in her current position in early 2020.
“We try to get insights from customers at every touchpoint, without overkilling them with surveys,” she said.
“On a typical day I’m directing the team on our key customer experience initiatives and programs. It’s a lot of online and in-person meetings and I go into the stores when I can.”
It’s one of the best times to be in automotive, she said.
“We’re making it more transparent, trying to create effortless transactions and personalizing the experience so the customer feels valued and respected.”
Phillips aims for a “seamless experience between online and the store, between the car purchase and aftermarket products, and between booking [vehicle] service and the payment and pickup.”
She said car buying and servicing should be “pleasurable.”