Inchcape Chelmsford recently won the Mini Retailer of the Year 2021 award as the top performer in the network across eight key areas, including retail sales. We spoke to Tom Carney, retail operations director – Audi, BMW and Mini at Inchcape UK, on the award-winning ways of the Chelmsford site, and Inchcape’s success as a whole.
What makes the difference at Chelmsford, Carney said, is leadership. He added: “Glenn Barry, who’s the head of business for the BMW MINI site was, back a few years ago, a MINI brand manager. So, there is a focus there that adds weight to the importance of the brand. Emma Cooper, brand manager, also has a great passion for the brand, and her relationship with both the team and our customers has given a level of consistency that has really helped them gain the recognition they have received.
“Chelmsford is the most consistent MINI site that we have, in everything you look at whether that be customer service, retail sales, conversion rates or connectivity. Its mystery shop performance was 100% for the entire year. They have a level of consistency that means every customer that interacts with them gets the same experience. That is the standard that Emma works to and demands of her team. ”
Although there is a subjective element to Chelmsford’s success, which Carney feels is its staff’s passion and enthusiasm for the brand, the more “objective stuff” he said, is stability. He added: “We haven’t really changed any of our personnel within the past 12 months. With that stability in the team, you don’t make mistakes. When you make mistakes it costs in goodwill, whether that be emotional or financial, or both. Chelmsford doesn’t make that many mistakes on the basis that everybody knows what they’re doing because they’ve been there long enough.
“We’re also blessed in having Craig Striker, who’s our franchise director. He has done an awful lot of work with our sites over the past 12 months, with a focus on core KPIs. But not so much about the measure, but more around the action. So where are you? What are you doing to improve? And then the next consistent follow up is asking did you do what you said you would do? And if you did, what was the result? And if it didn’t yield the result we were looking for, is that because it was the wrong action, or because we didn’t implement it correctly? Week-to-week we have a check and balance around our processes, customer scores, and our people as well. ”
Like all dealerships, Inchcape Chelmsford has had to take on new sales and communications skills, dealing with customers remotely but still with a personal touch. On this, Carney said: “We would like to say that we were fantastic at this prior to the pandemic, but we were okay. And then suddenly, we were forced to engage with people in a format that was largely different to what we were historically used to. We have dealt with this through very close adherence to digital inquiries and digital leads. We also measure and check the quality of the videos that we send, which are about whatever is important to the customer.
“A sales exec within our industry now needs to be social media savvy and needs to be able to generate a video and present the vehicle in a way that meets an individual inquiry. They need to be able to type up both texts and emails, whereas historically we’d give them an email template, but now it needs to be personalized. ”
And Inchcape is changing the way it seeks out and implements its staff, making its rota more flexible to give customers more support. Carney said: “The resource pool of old doesn’t really suit us now, it’s not really fit for purpose. We have employed part time sales staff. The five-and-a-half-day week for most people isn’t desirable, and with people reassessing their work life balance even less so now. And it restricts your talent pool and is likely a reason that we are an industry that, certainly from a sales exec standpoint, is male dominated.
“We now have more flexible hours. That means that we can be like a traditional retailer where we fill our rota with the resource that we have available, as opposed to historically the resource we had determined our rota. We still get most of our inquiries on sales between Friday and Sunday and yet, if you work a one in three rota, as a sales team, it means that you’ll have no more than 66% of your sales staff in on a weekend when you have most of your leads coming in. If you look at any other retailer, they don’t do that. They always resource up for the weekends because, like us, the vast majority that customers still work nine to five whether it’s at home or in an office, Monday to Friday, so we need to be available outside of those hours. But historically, we have not done this and yet, oddly enough, sometimes we have 100% attendance on a Monday, which is crazy.
“We can have a lot stronger representation towards the weekend and then maybe less rota fulfillment on Tuesday to Thursday. This approach it going to increase as the year moves on. That will help us in this new hybrid world. It really depends on what our customers want. ”
And sales teams have got better at encouraging appointments with fixed times, allowing them to give the customer their complete attention. Carney added: “I think our team is now better at making appointments. Before the pandemic we might have asked a customer to pop in on a Saturday, but it is better to ask what time on Saturday. It helps the customer as well because we have got more disciplined around defending that time slot. Historically, sales staff were concerned about booking somebody in at 10, then the customer doesn’t turn up until 10:30, at which point a new customer comes in and we don’t know whether to switch lanes or not. I think customers are now keener to come in at their appointed time. But of course, we still get people who just drop in the same way they’ve always done. ”
Another additional aspect to the sales exec position is education around EVs. Carney said that Inchcape staff are being equipped with comparison software to help customers understand the practical differences to ICE models.
He said: “All of our sales execs are equipped with apps that allow them to be able to look at the relative cost of running both your ICE vehicle and the EV vehicle that you’re looking at. We introduce every customer to our EVs whether they inquire about them or not as an education piece.
“Probably the single biggest issue on EVs for customers is range anxiety. And it sometimes helps to compare it with phone charging. You don’t necessarily always charge your phone up to 100%, sometimes you plug it in for an hour to keep going until you leave the office. Well, EVs are the same concept, unless you have a 200-mile journey to do. You don’t need to worry too much about it being 100% charged up all the time. We are equipped to help educate our customer base and the cost comparison is a huge help. ”
Quality of sale
Carney cited the semiconductor shortage as something that has had a positive effect on some areas of the business, mainly used cars and time spent working on customer satisfaction. He said: “We have had the same issue that everybody else has had with the semiconductor supply problem. I think as a result, it meant that we had less time pressure than previously and that allowed us to spend more time with each customer. The knock-on effect was also used car profitability. And I don’t see much difference for 2022.
“The quality of our sale has improved massively. By quality of sale, I’m not talking about the vehicle spec but the quality of the experience. We must focus more on customer communications because if you physically don’t have a car at the dealership, you’re looking at a six, eight months waiting time for your car. Now we have got to keep in contact with the customer throughout that period for them not to get anxious. Even if there’s a contact to say there is no news, but we haven’t forgotten you. I think it is a learning curve that will help our teams in the future.
“To judge our performance with customers, we get our scores from our brands. They come with the verbatim comments depending on the OEM partner. We also mark up reviews from Google and other platforms and then pull together the feedback that we get from our customers. From a new and a used car, point of view, we have seen strong numbers in the past 12 months, which has been great to see.
“One of the things that we’ve noticed is that inquiry levels are healthy. They are up, both in new and used.
“Our focus now is on conversion rates because ultimately, we can probably influence our lead count, but nowhere near as well as we can influence the conversion of those leads.”