Two items that we talk a lot around but typically don't address directly are the 'blocking and tackling' in the retail business. One stops people from the inside, the other from the outside. The first limits a broader brand experience while the second keeps customers away. Slowly eliminate both and you'll win.
Dealership firewalls, website blocking, limiting controls and other less-than-trusting measures remove timely access and ability to become involved in what is the greatest area of traffic generation today. Add to that the understanding of what is happening in the market during the time in each person's day that it matters most. Whether posting to Facebook, sending test leads to competitors, scanning forums and reputation sites (likely for what Google alerts notified the store of), or seeing a competitor's site updates and overall becoming involved in the essential aspects of branding and reach, being online is essential.
No, just block everything. Enter the typical excuses for limiting adult access to the web at dealerships: time waste, inappropriate content, non-work activities and more. Wow, great thing that your IT director has that closed down!! Whew, and you thought smoking on the point, chatting incessantly on cell phones, water cooler banter about the dealership's 'less-than-perfects' and simply hanging out for the next up was a time suck. Boy the Internet did change everything.
So all of that other stuff is now ok and some barely negligible photo of a little known celebrity topless on some remote beach in Europe is wrong? It may be but the technology that allows a complete blackout of surfing the web in what can be extremely productive time can also be set up to allow the right use. Have someone violating your store's TOU? Then fire them for the same reason that you would for violating other company policies. Ok, enough about that dealership mistake that is completely circumvented by someone's web-enabled device.
The second issue is blocking the other stuff that your store also needs: customers. If you've not woken up to 2010 (or 2009, or even 2008 and before for that matter) and realized that people are judging you before ever deciding to step foot in your showroom you've got to take the blinders off. The days of hiding aspects of your operation, be it front-end or back-end, and surprising customers when they do decide to come in will kill you.
Dealerships that don't decide it's time for transparency are not only kidding themselves, they're also hurting the next store that dissatisfied customer is going to head to. It doesn't matter if it's tackling the next 'up' because it's your turn, stuffing someone that doesn't understand that you could have actually saved them money, stranding someone in the showroom because the used car manager can't find their keys or a litany of other lies and excuses, mistreat customers and you will have fewer of them. And they will let everyone else know online.
There is an abundance of complete disclosure on the web related to everything automotive. So why pretend it's 1994 at a dealership? Because that's what a GM knows or a GSM pushes? Sorry, that has no place in business and deserves to be eliminated completely from our industry's retail locations. The archaic practices that still exist need to replaced by true business excellence. Customers will build a wall so fast around your dealership it'll make your head spin.
So if these are your challenges for 2010, put new plans and goals into action. The walls inside and outside your store will bring your business to a halt. Removing them and getting everyone involved in building your business is the best course you can start the new year with.
Simply put in the words of John Mellencamp in "Tumblin' Down":
Saw my picture in the paper
Read the news around my face
And now some people don't want to treat me the same…
When the walls come tumblin' down
You don't control your reputation, the factory, area pricing or everything else than happens around you, especially on the web and you'll never again control customers. What you do control is your brand, actions and messages. You can influence your customers and that, my friends, is powerful.
Take down the walls…
Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results