March 16, 2020

Total Performance Leadership Blog Post #8: Customer Experience-Building Relationships

By Rob Andrews

Last week we promised to dig into how Sewell Automotive Group choreographs every customer’s experience. Carl Sewell Sr. started his business in 1911 but it was his son, Carl Sewell who shaped today’s business. Building relationships, not selling cars and trucks, is our first priority, and it has been for more than a century. “Customers for Life” – that is our aim. Our secret is how we treat others, and each other. You never get the feeling that it’s just a business; a sense of family and the importance of long-term relationships always come through.

Carl wrote his first book entitled Customers for Life in 1988 and updated in 1998 and again in 2003. Sewell is committed to staying ahead of the curve, living in healthy paranoia and always striving to get better. He admits that one thing that needs adjusting at his company, which continues to redefine excellence in every single category measured by the automotive world, is their tendency to promise too much. Carl now says you have a promise a great experience but not one on which you can’t consistently deliver.

While Carl’s facilities are absolutely top drawer and designed with the customer in mind, he says his only competitive advantage is his people and the service they provide. It starts with quality time. Just as we’ve learned in previous posts, customers today want service better and faster, which means Sewell works very hard to hire employees that “want to”. They believe in psychometric testing and assessments but they’re looking for go-getters. They favor people who “fidget” during the interview. They figure that anyone who can sit still during a long interview may not have the energy necessary to be a good fit for Sewell.

Carl doesn’t believe in overcomplicating things, but he is a great student of excellence and is not bashful about “stealing” ideas from retailers, airlines, or whoever sits at the top of their respective sectors. He’s also big on academic studies like the one done at The University of Texas at Austin in which they studied the 100 most successful people in Texas. The only thing these people had in common was that they had spent a lot of time with someone how had been successful. In other words, they had learned to be successful. Carl believes in hiring people who love to work hard, want an opportunity to contribute and grow, both personally and professionally.

Carl believes you shouldn’t charge for what you’d do for a friend for free. That’s the reason Sewell has a monstrous loaner fleet you don’t need an appointment to use, as a matter of fact, they’ll pick your car up, leave and loaner and bring your car back when it’s ready – clean and shiny! They also regularly dispatch technicians to the local airports to start and unlock cars for customers – for free!

Carl buys street sweepers to make sure the fronts of his stores are clean because you only get one chance at a first impression. To deliver phenomenal customer experience, Sewell measures everything and everyone. “Systems not just smiles” as Carl is quoted to say. There is a very well-articulated process for apologizing for a screw-up. Carl views a customer complaint, which is absolutely bound to happen, as there are no perfect human beings, as a perfect opportunity to build on a relationship. He read a study that said that a relationship that had been tested and then successfully repaired, could easily be stronger afterward than it was before the mishap.

Sewell puts everyone, including the people who wash your car, on commission. Rewards for the entrepreneurially minded are sky high and opportunities even higher, but everyone is held to an extremely high standard. Like Nordstrom, Apple Stores and Wegman’s, Sewell’s dealerships are no place to work for the faint of heart. There is just no place in a Sewell dealership for anyone who doesn’t want to win.

Sewell “steals” concepts and principles from the best in every sector, and from every part of the world. He’s painstakingly studied Japan’s quality control manufacturing systems and skillfully applied them to his service operations.

In our next post, we’ll explore Sewell’s Ten Commandments of Customer Service.