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Certification & Training

She’s Buying

It’s been a year since Meade Lexus earned AskPatty.com’s “Seal of Approval,” and the dealer group’s CSI is now approaching 100 percent.

August 2011, F&I and Showroom - Cover Story

by Jennifer Washington

Founded in 1989, Meade’s two-store dealer group became the first auto retail operation in Michigan to be certified by AskPatty.com.
Founded in 1989, Meade’s two-store dealer group became the first auto retail operation in Michigan to be certified by AskPatty.com.

Having exited the economic downturn relatively unscathed and realizing how it changed the game for marketers, Ken Meade decided to get a better understanding of his customer base. What the owner of Meade Lexus discovered was an opportunity to improve how his Lakeside and Southfield, Mich., Lexus dealerships treated a segment that accounts for 60 percent of his business.

It wasn’t Gen Y, Gen X or even baby boomers that Meade identified as his best customers; it was women. The discovery led Meade to call on Jody DeVere and her AskPatty.com certification program. His goal was to have every customer-facing associate — from his service and marketing departments to his front-end staffers — trained on the finer points of retailing to his female customers.

“With any marketing, it’s imperative to understand your audience, their needs and their buying habits,” Meade says. “If we know women communicate differently — that they make decisions in different ways — it only makes sense to tailor our messages to them in a way that complements that, in ways they can relate to.”

Founded in 1989, Meade’s two-store dealer group became the first auto retail operation in Michigan to be certified by AskPatty.com. The group’s Lakeside store, located off the Highway M-59 — one of the busiest freeways in the Detroit metro area — rolls, on average, 60 new and used vehicles per month. The Southfield location, situated near the Northland Center Mall — one of the oldest shopping centers in North America — also enjoys a good deal of foot traffic.

Since completing the training, the group’s customer satisfaction index has improved to almost 99 percent. Customer loyalty also is reaching new heights. Michaela Reardon, service manager for the Lakeside location, attributes the improvement to one realization the dealership made after completing the AskPatty.com training. “We learned that 70 percent of buying decisions are made by females,” she says.

The AskPatty Way

Ken Meade, owner of Meade Lexus, says his  office sits in the center of the showroom at his Southfield location. His office’s location provides a sense of just how involved he is in everything that goes on in the dealership.
Ken Meade, owner of Meade Lexus, says his  office sits in the center of the showroom at his Southfield location. His office’s location provides a sense of just how involved he is in everything that goes on in the dealership.

Reardon’s comment is one of the many truths DeVere has passed along to the more than 500 businesses AskPatty.com has certified since its founding in 2006. Another truth DeVere’s program preaches is that women tend to communicate through body language, which can be problematic for men. The problem, she says, is that men tend to avoid direct eye contact for extended periods of time.

“Women interpret that to mean that the man is not trustworthy because he’s shifting his eyes,” she says. “There are a lot of different, subtle skills we teach that help people become more effective communicators.”

AskPatty.com takes several different approaches to bridging the gap between the “way business has always been done” and the way female customers would prefer it to be done. The auto research site accomplishes that through online interactive video training and topic-specific Webinars. Clients also receive advertising support and a co-branded microsite.

Dealers who sign up for the certification program are given 60 days to complete the initial training. In that time, clients are assigned a support team, including a regular account manager, a social media specialist and a marketing consultant. DeVere says dealerships will begin employing the lessons learned within the third month of training.

AskPatty.com isn’t just about certification, either. It also doubles as an online resource for women, providing a range of advice — from selecting a mechanic and collision center to auto and tire dealers. The site also offers a dealer rater, forums where site visitors can seek out advice, a “Get a Quote” section, a direct link to a AAA-approved auto repair center and more.

“The training is about creating a culture that makes women feel comfortable,” she says. “It’s also about creating marketing and advertising that women respond to.”

DeVere says businesses who sign up aren’t necessarily looking for quick profits, but rather a new way to appeal to their female customers. That means eliminating several assumptions that have lingered in the industry, such as assuming female customers aren’t knowledgeable about the vehicles they want or how to maintain them.

Another misconception DeVere and her team works to correct is  that every female customer is married and that they need to consult with their husband before making a final decision.

Demonstrating what she’s learned, Meade’s Reardon says a simple question works a lot better than assuming. “You’re going to get answers back,” she says.

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