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The drive to continuously grow and improve is at the heart of the MRAA, our members and our staff. That’s why we’re launching this blog: to share what we’re learning in our work and in our lives with you – and in hopes you’ll share what you’re learning too.

 

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Don't Skip the Demo

Posted By Liz Keener, Thursday, July 16, 2020

When your appointment book is filling up with both prospects looking to buy and customers needing delivery, it’s easy to look for ways to shortcut the sales process.

Skipping a demo could save you hours, between prep and the actual demo. But, it could also lead to a customer who doesn’t understand the operation of the boat, is frustrated — or even worse, causes an accident — because they don’t grasp what they’re doing.

The customers who have been coming in this summer come from a wide range of boating experience.

Some have been using a friend’s boat for years, and they’re now looking for their own. Others are simply looking to upgrade their longtime boat.

But then there are those new to modern-day boats and first-time boat buyers. Some are upgrading from their used, aluminum fish boat with an old Johnson outboard. Others are buying for the first time after being a passenger for decades. And yet others may have never even been on a boat, let alone driven one.

Regardless of which boating background your customers come from, it’s likely the boat they’re buying from you is new to them in operation. Boat technology has changed a lot over the past few decades, and when they’re moving up from a ‘90s pontoon to a 2020 wake boat, or making any other kind of change, there is going to be a learning curve.

Here are a few things to think about when performing a demo focused on an improved customer experience:

Assess the situation: By delivery, you should understand your customer’s experience with boating and should have noted that in your customer relationship management (CRM) system. But make sure you ask again, to assure you’re providing them the right guidance. Also, probe and ask them to be honest with you. We all know egos can get in the way, and someone may say that they know how to drive a boat, only because they don’t want to admit that they can’t.

On-land demos: If you absolutely can’t do an in-water demo because of your location, or time, or any other factors, make sure you at least offer a demo on land. Walk the customer through the controls and safety features just like you would on water, making sure not to skip any details. If the boat is being trailered, show them the features of the trailer and how to get the boat on and off the trailer.

In-water demos: An in-water demo is ideal. Spend an hour or more on the water with the customer. Show them the features and then let them take the helm, giving them pointers as you go along. Remember to compliment them twice as often as you critique them, so they’ll be more receptive to your feedback.

Trailer usage: If the boat is being trailered, and you can do a demo at a ramp, show the customer how to back the boat into the water, release it from the trailer and load it back up. If they’ve gone through this entire process in their own vehicle with you as a guide, they’ll feel a lot more confident the next time they go out on their own.

Demos in the time of COVID: Remember to maintain social distance, keep everything clean and respect your customer’s wishes when it comes to safety. The MRAA has developed a Sample Boat Demo and Delivery Policy (available to download on this page) and Boat Demo/Sea Trial Do’s and Do Not’s to help you develop a safety plan to perform demos that make both your staff and your customers feel comfortable.

Don’t forget the safety tips: New boat buyers may not know the rules of boating in your area. So make sure you tell them. This is key for them to have a safe experience and lower the risk of accidents. Explain to them the local life jacket law and explain the importance of wearing a life jacket. Talk about things they should be aware of on the waterway they’ll be exploring, whether it’s information on no wake zones, locks and dams, sandbars, current COVID restrictions or more.

Personalize the demo: Show them the features they’ll be using frequently. If the customer told you they’d be fishing, show them how to use the live well and the fish finder. If they’ll be wake boarding, show them how to control the ballast. If the boat has a speaker system, demonstrate how it works and explain how noise levels affect others nearby. This will get them excited about the lifestyle they’re about to embark on.

Don’t leave them stranded: Offer them a way to reach out, if they have any questions. Sometimes the initial demo is overwhelming, and the customer may forget some key things you showed them. Offer them your mobile number, or a number within the dealership that will allow them to get quick, clear advice on their boat.

While a demo can seem overwhelming to complete when you’re busy, the presentation of the features of the exact boat your customer purchased will make them a better informed, safer boater, who is more satisfied with their purchase.

No one wants to be the person out on the water with their family, confused about their operation of the boat.

So make them the hero by teaching them, and they’ll thank you with their loyalty.

 

 

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Slow Down and Create Customers for Life

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Wednesday, July 15, 2020

In any summer selling season, you feel rushed.

 

There are leads to nurture, customer questions to answer, trade-ins to evaluate, and deals to finalize. There are boats to prep, parts to order, deliveries to make, and customer-mandated deadlines to launch boats. You don’t even know how it will all get done.

 

Leads accumulate, showroom traffic grows, and your sales team tries to hand the baton to service to take care of your customers. You feel the tug of competing priorities: Taking care of your boat buyers vs. moving on to selling the next boat. Meanwhile, boaters everywhere are hitting the water, service requests are piling up, parts and accessory orders are on the rise, and staff frantically tries to meet every demand. How do you keep up?

 

The pressure of a summer selling season at a boat dealership resembles a juggling act amidst a frantic race to the end, as priorities shift between sales momentum, service efficiency, customer demands and inventory management, not to even mention staff workloads, overtime, summer vacations and the need for more help.

 

And that’s just a normal year. In 2020, all of this has certainly been magnified by an overwhelming number of leads, record sales, factory shutdowns, depleted inventory, work-from-home mandates, appointment-only boat sales, social distancing requirements and more. You focus on keeping one ball in the air, another ball drops. Running a boat dealership demands a balance that is tricky to navigate.

 

I have two words for you: Slow down.

 

It may seem contrary to how we’ve needed to react to this crisis, but there’s great value in simply slowing down and refocusing your attention on what matters most.

 

At this moment, it’s the customer experience that matters most. With such an incredible influx of new boat buyers, it’s our job to help ensure their ownership experience keeps them in their boat and encourages them to upgrade that boat in the weeks, months and years ahead.

 

How important is it? Well, if you put any value on customer service, you’ll see that as boat sales have risen dramatically, customer satisfaction scores have been heading the opposite direction — a decline driven mostly by a lack of follow-up by the dealer or its sales person. And that shortcoming is a result of not slowing down and taking care of the customer.

 

It’s time to slow down and refocus our attention on those customers. Offering them just a little bit more effort on their experience and satisfaction can pay big dividends on your business. And there’s never been a better time than now to try it, when inventory levels are low and you won’t be able to spend as much time on sales.

 

Here are a few quick ideas on what you could to enhance the customer experience:

  1. Share unique insights that you have about the boat or the brand that they’ve purchased or are considering.
  2. Connect them with other boaters or an owners club from your dealership or the brand they purchased.
  3. Make sure you use your customer relationship management tool and the FORMAT process that Sam Dantzler teaches in MRAA’s online courses, to help you personalize their experience.
  4. Follow-up with boat buyers and ask how they are enjoying their boat, or check in with them after a service appointment. The simple gesture can make a huge difference.
  5. Send customers ideas on how they might be able to get more enjoyment out of their boating experience through a new part or accessory, the reassurance of a maintenance package, or a new waterway to explore.
  6. Schedule a reminder to text the customer or schedule the text to send automatically, to stay in touch and provide another reminder that you’re available to them.
  7. One of the most valuable touch points you could offer is a thank you note. Stand out from the crowd with a hand-written, sincere thank you for their business. I promise you this will have an impact.

 

There are plenty of options for you to explore with this. The important thing is you take care of the customer. The key to taking care of the customer the best way possible is to slow down and give them the attention they deserve.

 

This will give you and your team the opportunity to take a breath and provide significant value to the ownership experience. And it just may create a customer for life. Give yourself and your team permission to slow it down and focus on what matters most: The customer.

Tags:  customer experience  follow-up 

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2020: CSI Dropped as Sales Climbed

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Tuesday, July 14, 2020

There’s lots to celebrate related to industry momentum when it comes to interest, sales and participation in boating and fishing. But there’s also a dark side to this story: the customer experience.

 

As sales leads have increased in some cases by 300 and 400 percent, and sales continue to hit record levels, the normal metrics we chart our success by continue to climb. But the bar charts related to the customer experience are on the decline, almost at an inverse rate.

 

According to MRAA partner Customer Service Intelligence, Inc., which charts customer satisfaction indices on sales delivery and service for 30 to 50 marine dealers, CSI scores for this group has declined by more than 6 full percentage points since April. In the first month of the quarter, those dealers scored a 96.65 CSI score related to sales delivery; in the second month, it dropped to 94.39; and in June, the third month, it hit a low of 90.45.

 

Q2 CSI Ratings

Follow-up, worded on the surveys as "Has your salesperson contacted
you since delivery?" hurt CSI scores with a 77.2 percent rating in the quarter.

 

 

In a normal year, the peak season always sees a slight dip, according to Customer Service Intelligence, but that dip typically represents only a 0.5- or 1-point drop, not a 6-point drop. It’s worth noting here, as well, that any dealer who engages a company like Customer Service Intelligence and pays for additional CSI monitoring (above and beyond the manufacturer CSI program) is a dealership that you can expect to be focused intently on driving quality customer experiences. And if those dealers are close to dipping below the 90-percent CSI threshold, it’s scary to think what’s happening to those dealers that don’t put as much emphasis on CSI.

 

Those dealers’ net promoter scores, a measurement of loyalty with the dealership, dropped from scores in the mid 90s back in March to less than 75 in June. These are still solid NPS scores, but a 15-point decline is notable. Comparably, the 12-month Net Promoter Score in the second quarter of 2019 was 83.1 vs. 2020’s second quarter, which was 76.88, “a substantial decline,” according to Becky Thompson, president of Customer Service Intelligence, Inc. “Dealers need to focus on correcting customer issues to bring this NPS number up.

 

A quick look at individual questions on the CSI surveys shows the culprit leading to poor customer satisfaction: Follow up, or a lack thereof.

 

Questions like “were you satisfied with the explanation of features, etc.?” and “were you pleased with the overall condition of the boat?” and “did your sales person treat you with courtesy and concern?” all garnered great scores: 95.5, 91.5, and 99.3 respectively. But the question of “Has your sales person contacted you since delivery?” received a rating of 77.17, dragging the customer experience index down significantly.

 

“It's scary to think what dealers' ratings are when they don't have a follow-up program in place,” explains Thompson. “How many first-time buyers are never returning because of a mistake that was made just because the dealer is too busy to follow up and ask how things are going?”

 

 

There’s no doubt that with how busy dealers have been over the last quarter that mistakes are being made. CSI programs like this give you the ability to correct issues and save the customer. But they also require that you adjust your tactics in order to positively influence the results, and in this case, the numbers, as well as Thompson’s expertise, suggest a need to improve follow-up to create loyal customers.

 

“The customer can be saved when you are aware of the issues they are having and you take the opportunity to make it right by the customer,” Thompson explains. “And that in return brings you customer loyalty.”

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Create a Post-Sale Follow-Up Process Map to Assure Nothing’s Missed

Posted By Liz Keener, Monday, July 13, 2020

We all have what feels like one million things going on at all times, at work, at home. It’s hard to remember everything we need to do. Heck, sometimes I can’t even remember why I opened the refrigerator.

 

That’s why process maps are so important. They keep our business tasks on track, assuring that, if followed, no step will be missed. Post-Sale Follow-Up is one of those key areas where a process map can help immensely. With a Post-Sale Follow-Up process map, you can put in place schedules, checks and balances to make sure each customer gets the same follow-up, from handwritten cards to the 5-day thank you call and more.

 

Luckily, you don’t have to start from scratch. MRAA’s Certification Team has developed two resources that will help you create your Post-Sale Follow-Up process map and execute on that map.

 

The first is an Example Post-Sale Follow-Up process map, which you can adopt completely or adapt to your dealership’s specific needs.

 

The second is a Post-Sale Follow-Up Worksheet. Pulled from Certification’s new Guide to Improving Your Sales Process Map, developed alongside the 2020 Continuous Certification course “Fill the Gaps in Your Dealership’s Sales Process,” this worksheet gives you tips for your Post-Sale Follow-Up, along with a Standard Operating Procedure Checklist.

 

Click on the links above, or visit mraa.com/keepcustomersboating for these and other resources.

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On the Fence About Scripts? Winging It Is a No-Go

Posted By Bob McCann, Friday, July 10, 2020

I’ve been telling dealers for years to move their sales conversations to the phone because tone of voice is a big, damn deal. It has a major effect on how prospects perceive you.

 

So, how do sales call scripts fit into that perception?

 

We believe that there are three core elements in effective face-to-face communication, and tone is a big one: Experts suggest it accounts for 38 percent of how your message is perceived — 38!

 

Believe it or not, scripts can help you with tone. Here’s why: As a sales rep, you should know what you are going to say during a call before you pick up the phone. Maybe not word-for-word but at least know the talking points, so that you can make good use of both your time and the customer’s time. Maybe you can wing it and do that, but most of us need a little help. 

 

If you have a powerful script, you’ll know what to say and how to say it every time and increase your chances of a totally successful phone conversation. A well-tuned script will help you avoid mental hiccups that can result in time wasted and missed opportunities. 

 

Personalize your script (to avoid the robot effect)

Over the years, you’ve developed certain key responses or phrases that are always ready to go when you’re talking to people — that’s a script.

 

A common misconception about sales scripts is that they’re robotic and rigid. Word to the wise: They will only be that way if you make ’em that way. You will want to tailor and personalize a script for different settings and conversations without steering away from your core message.

 

Martial arts legend Bruce Lee has a great quote about training that applies here: “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not and add what is uniquely yours.” So, when it comes to a script, it’s about adding your own flavor without eliminating the things that have to be said.

 

The first step to personalizing is actually knowing the script well. That way, you can put your own spin on it and not completely go off-message. When you follow and personalize a script, you:

 

  • Make your points consistently,
  • Don’t miss opportunities,
  • Build better rapport,
  • Seize your calls to action.

 

People who don’t like scripts say things like, “I’m a natural. Scripts just hold me back from connecting with people.”

 

We developed this phone script for you to use to make it easier for you to connect with people. The power of using a script is that it helps remind you of talking points that will help make a better connection with the customer by focusing on the fun of boating vs. the pain of the problems. 

 

Personalize the script, so you can provide value within a short period of time. That’s what people want. That’s what I think scripts are powerful for — you know what to say, without thinking about it.

 

Final thoughts: You have to guide (not control) a conversation. You know where you’re going already — lean on your script to help you guide your customers to where you want to go. Stick to the script and start using it to your advantage.

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Outsourcing Follow-Up Offers Fast, Reliable Response

Posted By Liz Keener, Thursday, July 9, 2020
Updated: Monday, August 10, 2020

You know follow-up is that last, important step in your sales process, but the July holidays have just passed, and you’re still busy and wondering how you could possibly find the time to follow-up yourself or hire someone else to do the job.

 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the need to follow-up with your new boat buyers, and you’re unable to hire someone to lead the effort for you internally, outsourcing these services is a way to get a follow-up program started quickly, as well as to get access to detailed reports on how your dealership is performing.

 

In a perfect world, we could do everything for our business ourselves, but that’s not always how things work. We all contract with vendors for a variety of things, from shipping to lawn care and from cleaning to human resources. Follow-up could also be contracted out.

 

Hiring a company to complete phone campaigns for you takes the work off your plate and offers the outreach that your customers need.

 

To learn more about outsourcing follow-up calls, we reached out to MRAA partner member CSI Inc., which offers dealers calls after delivery, alerts on issues, WOW reports on praise for your staff and monthly reports that track your team’s performance.

 

Becky Thompson, president of CSI, Inc., said that by following up and addressing issues, dealers can create lifelong customers.

 

“Everyone knows that happy customers make lifelong customers, and lifelong customers will put a nice profit on anyone’s bottom line,” Thompson said. “We all know it’s more costly to gain new customers, so why not invest to make sure every customer is so impressed with the care and concern they are receiving, that they wouldn’t go anywhere else for service and future sales?”

 

Follow-up is recommended with returning customers, service customers, and of course, first-time boat buyers.

 

“First time boat buyers will always have questions, and they need to feel confident they can come to their dealer for answers,” Thompson explained. “Build that trust, share their excitement, quality control check, and you will build lifelong customers.”

 

Following up with customers and gaining meaningful feedback has a variety of benefits, Thompson said. Those include:

 

  • Fixing problems quickly, thereby saving customers with the customer intelligence obtained during the follow-up call. End result: Added profit to your bottom line!
  • Building a stronger relationship with customers because the call clearly sends the customer a signal that the dealer really cares about their experience.
  • Praising and recognizing staff for a job well done.
  • Identifying broken processes, so they can be corrected, saving issues with the next customer.
  • Praising and recognizing staff for a job well done.
  • Identifying broken processes, so they can be corrected, saving issues with the next customer.
  • Identifying broken staff processes, so retraining can occur.
  • Tracking employees’ performance, enabling recognition for the employees who are providing exceptional service.
  • Learning what your Net Promoter Score is.
  • Learning what your Customer Satisfaction Index rating is.
  • Identifying which marketing avenues are driving customers to the dealership.
  • Revealing needed improvements that might otherwise be invisible. These are golden nuggets!

 

Follow-up is so crucial to building up your customer base with loyal, raving fans, and their referrals. So, finding a system that works for you is important. Outsourcing just might be that route, if you’re looking for an efficient program that takes the hard work off your hands.

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Can’t Follow Up Yourself? Hire!

Posted By Liz Keener, Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Your most recent customer has just pulled away, the owner of a shiny new boat. You know the next step in your sales process is to follow up. But how?

 

You’re swamped! The phones are ringing; the online leads are pouring in; the bell at the door keeps dinging; and you haven’t eaten in six hours!

 

Now is the time to invest in your dealership’s customer experience. You can do this either by hiring a short-term, contract employee, or thinking long-term about a customer experience representative or manager to have on staff. You need someone who can run through your customer relationship management (CRM) log and call your spring and summer customers one by one. Someone who has the time to chit-chat with your customers and offer them the customer experience that you wish you had time for personally.

 

And the time to do that is now.

 

There are plenty of people currently looking for jobs, as they were recently laid off or furloughed due to COVID’s effects on businesses, and many of those people have worked in customer service, from call center reps to waiters and waitresses. These people with customer service experience can be taking the time to call your customers, to check in with them, assure they’re having a high-quality experience, fix any issues and ask for referrals.

 

So, what do you need to get started?

 

  • Consider if you will be hiring this person for short-term, contract work, or long-term work. If you’re hiring a contractor for the first time, check the federal and state laws on contract work. If you work with any type of human resources company, or if you have an HR person on staff, they should be able to help. Assure you’re hiring this position legally and following all of the rules for their type of employment.
  • Create a job description for that person. The MRAA Certification Team has developed a sample job description for a customer experience representative that is available for MRAA members here, along with more than 50 other job descriptions. Create your job posting, and make it clear what type of position this is (contract, part-time or full-time) and where the person will be working (inside the dealership or from their home).
  • Prepare the representative’s working environment. Depending on how you want this employee or contractor to access your CRM, dealer management system (DMS), or other technology, this job could be done from your dealership, or they could work from their own home. Consider what technology you would need to provide for them to work at either site, including a computer, phone system, a customer experience email address, etc.
  • Create a plan and set metrics. Develop a system for passing information to the customer experience rep and having them pass the information back. Ideally, this would be some system within your CRM. Also, set realistic metrics for how many customer touches the person is expected to make each day or week and a method of measuring those touches.
  • Interview and hire. Look for an enthusiastic attitude. Find someone who doesn’t mind being on the phone for hours on end; not everyone is up to the task.
  • Onboard and train. Hopefully, you’ll be able to get this person up to speed quickly, because we know you want to reach out to these customers ASAP. But make sure you still provide training on the systems the person will use, information about the dealership and its culture, and scripts and templates that the person will need.
  • Check-in. Once the customer experience rep gets going, check in and assure the work is being done to your level of expectation and that the person still has the tools, information and training they need to get the job done right.
  •  If you have time and have paid for the 2019 Continuous Certification Curriculum (Certified Dealers only), watch the Align Your People Pathway of the Q3 course: Align Your Dealership with Today’s Customer. And if you don’t have time today, bookmark that course for the future, as you consider opportunities to offer a better customer experience within your dealership. This course offers you information on a range of options from hiring a customer experience representative to creating your own Business Development Center (BDC). 

This may seem like a long list, but by hiring this new person, you’ll take a huge load off of yourself and your sales team, so you can continue to focus on bringing in new revenue. On top of that, you’ll have the opportunity to reach your new customers in ways other businesses aren’t, securing that customer’s loyalty, business and recommendations going forward.

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The No. 1 tactic for retaining first-time boat buyers

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Tuesday, July 7, 2020


As long-time boating enthusiasts and professionals, it’s easy for us to forget how much first-time boat buyers don’t know about boating.

 

Last week, for example, I watched as a new boat owner tried more than a dozen times to back his trailer down the ramp to retrieve his boat. He gave up and asked a fisherman who had been standing in the parking lot drinking a beer, to back the trailer into the water for him. After he obliged, and the wheel wells were submerged down the ramp, the novice had one more question: “How do I get the boat onto the trailer?”

 

No matter what your personal boating history, and no matter if your customer is a first-time buyer or just a new-to-them boat buyer, there are a number of unknowns they face. And let’s be honest, there are numerous issues — What’s wrong with my trolling motor? Why doesn’t my speedometer work? Why aren’t the lights working on my trailer? How do I get these things fixed? — that either we’re not aware that the customer is experiencing or we gloss over them because of our years of dealing with and fixing those issues ourselves.

 

But these are the exact reasons why post-sale follow up is the No. 1 tactic for not only ensuring a quality ownership experience, but also for gaining repeat business. As that customer’s dealer, you are also their closest ally in an enjoyable boating lifestyle. You are the authority on boating. You are the guide to help them get the most out of their new purchase. And you are their resource when something goes wrong.

 

Unfortunately, when something goes wrong, consumers today are more likely to voice their discontent on social media than they are to pick up the phone and call you. Another reason why follow-up is so critically important.

 

First-time boat buyers need extra care in the buying and ownership process. Dealers need

to make sure they bolster their follow-up procedures to help retain them as customers.

 

 

I know you don’t have time to follow up with every customer, especially in today’s overwhelming sales environment. But you need to make the time in order to keep these customers in boating and to bring them back to your business when it’s time to upgrade.

 

We often think of the sales process as a relationship building effort. But, really, the customer needs the relationship on the back side of the sale — after they trailer off your lot or idle away from the dock. That’s when they’re really going to need you. Will you be there for them?

 

We want to make a follow-up procedure as easy as possible for you, so we’ve created a series of resources and ideas to help you get started. Here’s a six-step approach for prioritizing follow-up and creating an outstanding customer ownership experience:

  1. We’re all running short on inventory, and now that we’re past the early July peak of summer, and the sales season is beginning to slow, you should create a plan to ramp up your follow-up procedures. Start by making the shift from a sales mentality to a customer experience mentality.
  2. Decide your approach for which team member(s) will make the calls: Typically, it would be the sales contact or a sales manager or a customer service representative or some combination of them all. You could make a case for that call to come from a service writer who could help assist with minor issues the customer is having. The “who” is not as important as actually making the call because it’s the care and concern that matters. Just make sure they have a customer experience mindset.
  3. Start with your sales log. Pull a list, to include name, contact info and the make and model of the boat that was purchased, for every boat buyer since the beginning of the year. Start with the first boat and call every customer in order of purchase. Yes, you should include used- as well as new-boat buyers.
  4. Log every conversation in your customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
  5. Create a task calendar for issues that need to be followed-up on further, and make sure those tasks not only get assigned to someone but also that they are followed through on.
  6. Don’t forget about service. Demonstrating that you care that the service work you completed has been done satisfactorily is a great way to build rapport and strengthen your relationship with the customer. (Follow the same process as above, beginning with a list of every service customer and the work that was completed.)

 

Your follow-up strategy doesn’t need to be super elaborate. It can start as easy as that outlined above. The important thing is that you ensure that post-sale (and service) follow-up is conducted so that the customers know they have an ally in your dealership … and someone that they know will take care of them when it comes time to upgrade their boat.

Tags:  customer experience 

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Operation: Keep Your Customers Boating

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Monday, July 6, 2020

 

In Minnesota, a salesman admits that boat deliveries and walkthroughs are being compromised by the overwhelming number of customers who need to be cared for. This, despite the fact that he’s selling boats to customers who’ve never even been in a boat, let alone have never owned a boat.

In Florida, a dealership principal tosses and turns through sleepless nights because he knows his customers aren’t receiving the care and attention they deserve. In Ohio, it’s plain and simple, a dealer’s “CSI scores are going to take a hit,” because of the frantic pace of boat sales and service.

Across North America, boat dealerships are facing a culmination of pressure points that make it nearly impossible to keep up. Leads have increased exponentially, all the new customers we’ve dreamt about are swarming dealerships, and boat sales are surpassing record numbers. What started as a sales season rife with panic and concern on a level not seen since The Great Recession, has quickly transformed into a prolific boat “buying frenzy” that has boat dealers overwhelmed, staff on the verge of burnout and inventory significantly depleted.

On the manufacturing side, production lines have restarted and boats are being shipped, but executives admit that they’re rushing to fill orders. They acknowledge that the compounding effects of restarting production lines, hiccups in the supply chain and the pressure to deliver boats have caused a rise in quality issues. Meanwhile, the long-running quip that dealership service departments serve as the last 10 feet of the production line has recently been updated to the last 75 feet.

This isn’t a blame game or even a pity party. It’s an acknowledgement that while the boat business experiences significant demand, there’s both an opportunity and a risk we should be aware of.

First-time boat buyers have been leaving boating at a clip of about 40 percent in their first five years of boat ownership — during normal times, according to a study released last year. Today’s dealers risk that this sudden pressure on their businesses will cause them to fail to deliver the world-class customer experience people expect when parting ways with their discretionary income. And they risk more customers than normal will become one-and-done boat owners.

The opportunity, then, is that we can deliver for them and capture these first-time boat buyers for life. With their eyes opened to the escape boating can provide, it’s our chance to show them how being on the water can change their lives for good. That effort begins with the dealer, and a little bit of the right effort will ensure the ownership experience is worth recommending and returning for.

The MRAA is here to help ensure that you capitalize on the opportunity in front of you and that you overcome all risks to the long-term profitability of your business.

Introducing “Operation: Keep Your Customers Boating,” a step-by-step guide to helping you ensure the boat ownership experience exceeds expectations, and creating an environment where your customers will develop two-foot-itis in a year or so and will be in to trade up on their boat.

This multi-part guide has been conceptualized by MRAA’s Dealership Certification Program Manager Liz Keener and Lead Consultant Bob McCann and captures and shares some of the leading insights our team has garnered over the years. They’ve tapped expert advice, dealer best practices, and industry trends to help you manage the customer experience. The first phase of this guide will be released as blogs right here on MRAA.com.

In this series, you’ll gain critical insights on topics like post-sale follow-up, processes for taking care of first-time boat buyers, service shop efficiencies, and digital engagement. You’ll also gain access to resources like call scripts, process maps and key job descriptions. It’s a robust, step-by-step guide for not only taking care of your customers but also for helping you capture future business.

The important part of this is the three-part commitment you need to make for your business and your customers:

  1. Acknowledge that the customer experience and the future prosperity of your business are at risk;
  2. Tap into the resources you will learn about and MRAA is providing for you; and
  3. Put them to use in your dealership starting today.

Your new customers might already be on the water, but it’s not too late to ensure they have a world-class boating experience. You get to decide if that happens, and the time to act is now.

Tags:  customer experience 

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The Benefits of Reauthorizing a Small Business Pre-Disaster Loan Program

Posted By Adam Fortier-Brown, Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Every business, regardless of its size or structure, face various challenges with natural disasters and periods of financial hardship.  As small business owners in a weather-dependent industry like recreational boating, the effects of floods, storms, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are familiar, yet frustrating, territory.

There is no question that extreme natural disasters around the world are on the rise, with the U.S. seeing more billion-dollar natural disasters than ever before. In the last decade alone, natural disasters cost U.S. taxpayers over $800 billion – or about half of what disasters have cost our country in the last 40 years. Our businesses and communities often are forced to live with old, deteriorating infrastructure that was not originally built with modern disasters in mind. Our dealership communities deserve more.

Historically, the U.S. has not emphasized preparing for the next natural disaster as much as it has responding to the damage they cause. The past few years we have seen a rise in historic hurricanes and wildfires across the county. Beyond our borders, swaths of India and Bangladesh are flooding following the destruction caused by the most powerful cyclone in a decade. Disasters like these are an existential threat to the 40 to 60 percent of small businesses that never reopen following a disaster.

There are several federal programs available for communities and businesses to rebuild after disaster strikes, like SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program, but what if we invested more in preventing potential damage instead?

This is not an altogether radical idea. Research shows that for every $1 the government spends on disaster mitigation, such as improving existing infrastructure or elevating homes and businesses, save taxpayers an average of $6.

In response to the 2017 hurricane season, then Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long told the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, “I cannot overstate the importance of focusing on investing in mitigation before a disaster strikes … building more resilient communities is the best way to reduce risks to people, property, and taxpayer dollars.” Since 2017, natural disasters have cost the U.S. more than $462 billion.

This is why the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, along with its recreational boating industry partners at the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Association of Marina Industries, have taken this issue to Congress to reauthorize a little-known small business pre-disaster loan program that expired over a decade ago. This program would allow the Small Business Administration to make low interest, fixed-rate loans so small businesses can invest in disaster resilient improvements to protect commercial real estate and contents from disaster related damages. This ultimately would reduce the costs associated with potential closure, layoffs, and lost revenue resulting from business closure due to a disaster.

Recreational boat dealers depend on strong infrastructure to be able to make their living. Investing in climate-resilient infrastructure would help local communities and businesses better prepare crumbling roads, bridges, boat ramps, and shorelines for more frequent flooding and storm damage, and help prevent costly repairs and higher insurance costs. As small businesses drive our nation’s economic recovery through and beyond COVID-19, it will be particularly important for the U.S. government to provide opportunities to support job gains and business growth not only in cities, but in rural economies where the outdoor recreation economy thrives.

Our industry’s businesses make it possible for the nearly half of Americans who participate in outdoor recreation each year to continue to take part in their favorite activities. Our country’s natural resources and waterways are as abundant and accessible as anywhere in the world, with the state’s beautiful coast, lakes, ponds and mountains serving as a needed escape for residents and tourists alike. By investing in modern, resilient infrastructure, we can ensure that these resources and the businesses that depend on them can continue to thrive for decades to come.

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