How teamwork took Eastbourne Suzuki to national success
30 January 2023
Every Wednesday at 9am, Eastbourne Suzuki staff gather for a meeting. It only lasts 30 minutes, during which each departmental manager will report on the latest CSI scores and reviews. They are discussed in detail and, where scores and comments are not where Eastbourne wants them to be, action is taken.
“This is key to us tracking and improving on customer satisfaction,” explained Eastbourne Motoring Centre Group MD Mark Lambird. “Suzuki wants to be the number one brand for trust; it is even now a question in the post-sale survey. We’ve therefore started using the word ‘trust’ in our dialogue with customers – we tell them, for example, ‘they can trust is to keep them fully informed of the delivery of their new vehicle’.”
Approaching customer service in this way is paying dividends for the retailer: late last year, it was named Suzuki National Dealer of the Year during its National Dealer Conference in Tenerife. “Our staff are the main reason we won the award.”
There’s more to it than the Wednesday meetings, though. “We have an internal email called ‘Redflag’. Every time we receive a complaint, or a member of staff identifies something that they think can improve our customer experience, an email is sent. Gail Taylor, our customer services manager, raises a case on every complaint, each of which is discussed and is not ‘filed’ until fully investigated and resolved.”
Redflag issues stretch to cars not being valeted to Eastbourne’s expectations, or the forecourt not being tidy; it’s a system that ensures the retailer’s high standards are maintained.
All this is part of the Eastbourne teamwork ethos. Mark is a great proponent: he served in the British Army, in the Parachute regiment, so has seen the power of effective teamwork. “We engage team members by making sure they want to be part of a winning team: we call it ‘esprit de corps’. I also make sure we always acknowledge staff by sharing good reviews and customer feedback – really, though, it’s nothing more complicated than that.”
Profitable despite challenges
2022 was a tough year, admits Mark. “Our profitability was not what we’d normally hope for, due to a combination of new product shortages, lack of part exchanges, plus general used car pricing and availability. We are normally very disappointed if we are not making a 2% return on investment or higher, but 2022 was an exceptional year.”
Business performance is still benefitting from a focus on profitability in other areas, though. “We work very hard on retaining customers, as well as winning new ones. Repeat business costs less to get and is normally the most profitable. We also have almost 4,000 customers on service plans.
“If you have a strong reputation for offering great service, if your customers trust you and you offer authentic value, you can and will make money.”
Being active in the local community is a way for Eastbourne to reinforce this, says Mark. “Last year, we raised £20k for the Homes of Homeless charity, by holding a golf day where 120 either played or joined us for dinner. We sponsor a children’s football team kit, and I ran the Beachy Head marathon which, via social media, was very high profile. We’ve also provided a Vitara for the Beachy Head Chaplaincy for the past five years.”
Planning for the future
For 2023, Mark is stepping up training throughout Eastbourne. “We have already rolled out internal training in our sales department, which will soon be followed by aftersales. We want to make sure everyone knows our sales processes, their obligations regarding targets, prospecting and following up customers, where to locate our scripts and how-to guides on SharePoint, our best practice guides for selling service plans, GAP and so on.”
Eastbourne has also introduced three-month appraisals for all staff, “to make sure there are no stones left unturned.”
Mark also wants to cement customer relationships even more firmly. “We are now offering services such as free of charge oil, water and tyre pressure checks for anyone going on long journeys, and free health checks at any time, not just during service. Things like this help when asking for referrals from customers – because they are increasingly giving them.”
Semiconductors remain a challenge, but Mark sees new car availability improving later in 2023. The key challenge right now is parts availability. “The only thing you can do is be honest with them: there will be delays, which we’re countering by running extra courtesy cars to keep customers mobile while waiting for parts.”
To offset new car challenges, Mark says Eastbourne is trying to take as many of its customers out of the market as possible. “By inviting our customers in for a review of their ongoing motoring costs, it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate new car opportunities to them: our order take was particularly good in December as a result, and is remaining strong in January.
“Suzuki’s offer to honour the price of the vehicle – and the market programmes – at the time of order means customers are protected against inflation and interest rate hikes. “This is giving us the opportunity to show the customer a ‘heads you win, tails you can’t lose’ proposition.”
Looking forward to the move online, Mark says that while it’s not quite there yet, “I feel that we will soon need to establish a department dedicated to looking after online enquiries. We are starting to get a lot more of them, with a few customers placing £99 deposits, but we have only had a couple of out-and-out online purchases.” The biggest change right now is more customers making an enquiry online and booking an in-person appointment. “There are far fewer walk-in customers who haven’t made an appointment.”
Staff are the key to success
Mark’s advice to other retailers is to maintain standards when it comes to staff. “Recruitment may be tough, but retailers shouldn’t compromise, as there are still plenty of good people out there. As for training, you really can’t do enough of it. Make sure your teams have targets too, and your managers have daily, weekly and monthly management controls, and that everyone knows what is expected of them.”
And for senior leaders, Mark says egos shouldn’t get in the way. “If you’re stuck on something, or need knowledge or inspiration, simply phone a friend. That’s what I do: we all know someone who is running a successful retailer or group, and they’re generally more than willing to help.”
Although, based on Eastbourne’s success, it sounds like it’ll be Mark’s phone that will be constantly buzzing in 2023…
YOUR ACTION PLAN
- Make sure your people feel part of a team
- Always be tracking your customer satisfaction
- Make it easy for issues to be raised, shared and addressed
- Take your customers out of the market
- Phone a friend