“Every customer is literally irreplaceable” is one of my customer service consulting mantras. And though I consider myself a convincing fellow, this concept of the irreplaceable customer can be a hard sell. I most often come across companies, in my work as a customer service consultant and customer experience turnaround expert, that have been lulled into expecting their sales and marketing efforts to bring in and convert fresh prospects to replace the ones they lose as a matter of course through a less than stellar customer experience.
The problem with this approach is not just that it’s costly. It’s also that it can only be counted on when the luck is running your way.
If the economy weakens, or new players enter your field, or your competitors get more aggressive on price, you’re going to wish you still had loyalty you’ve lost, the customers you treated poorly and let drift away.
In sectors that depend on high net worth individuals (HNWI’s) as customers, including luxury products, high-end automotive, and many financial services, the irreplaceable nature of each customer is particularly cut and dried. There is a sharply limited customer base of these valuable individuals, and their potential lifetime customer value can be extraordinary.
Joe Rood at Audi of America is someone I check in with regularly to get his current read on keeping such customers happy. Rood’s track record includes a varied career in the automotive world, including the retail (dealer) side of the luxury automotive industry and a stint helming service operations and training for Audi of America before moving into his current position there as Director, Parts and Accessories.
Micah Solomon, Customer Experience Consultant, Senior Contributor, Forbes: How is customer service and the customer experience different with luxury products and services?
Joe Rood, Director, Parts and Accessories, Audi of America: It’s about more than customer service; it’s about customer loyalty and finding new and innovative ways to excite and inspire our customers. Of course, we need to meet customers’ expectations, but that is only the starting point. From there, we strive to innovate a more valuable customer interaction by respecting their time and providing transparency.
Solomon: Within that goal of “providing a more valuable customer interaction,” is there a need to pursue different means to get there as times–and customers–change?
Rood: We’re continuously evaluating and adapting the tools we need to meet and exceed customer needs. The distinction here is we add options so customers have a choice, for example, we support the use of a kiosk for customer check-in, but not as a replacement to speaking with the Service Consultant, offering valet service, or evening drop off. Each customer may prefer a different method at each interaction simply depending on their circumstances. Our goal is to support customers based on their individual needs, even as those needs change over time.
Solomon: Where do these innovations come from—and how do you know they really address what customers are looking for?
Rood: Many of our new initiatives and pilot programs start with our dealers. For example, we are growing our usage of our technician video walk-around to show the customer exactly what work could be done on their vehicle. This practice started with a few of our dealerships in the Northeast, and we now have the majority of our network leveraging this technology to provide a better experience for our customers.
Solomon: What are the customer service training approaches that work best to enhance the customer experience for luxury customers?
Rood: We utilize in-dealer training, web-based training and in-person training; this [hybrid] approach helps keep the message and the focus fresh for trainees, and ultimately elevates the Audi customer experience.
Solomon: The danger of COVID-19 is no doubt requiring you to reconfigure how you do business. Would you discuss this, particularly in terms of customer service and the customer experience?
Rood: The COVID-19 crisis has certainly changed our everyday lives and the service experience is no exception. We understand the needs of our customers have changed dramatically. Audi is now offering Audi at Your Door, which is a premium online shopping experience designed to give customers the peace of mind that their participating Audi dealer is operating with their safety and convenience in mind. At participating dealers, customers can have a test drive brought to them, receive a virtual trade-in appraisal, purchase an Audi remotely and have it delivered, and have their Audi picked up and returned for service.