LAS VEGAS – Volvo’s U.S. dealers are taking high-level courses in an educational initiative aimed at honing leadership skills and enhancing customer experiences.
“We want to inspire our loyal dealers,” Anders Gustafsson, Volvo Cars USA’s president and CEO, says at a J.D. Power automotive conference held in conjunction with this weekend’s National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention and expo here. “Customer experience is the magic of the future.”
The Volvo Car Executive Leadership Program is in partnership with Yale University. So far, 30 dealers have gone through two sessions taught by three professors.
Gustafsson hopes all 300 U.S. Volvo dealers ultimately will take the three-day program.
Although the Swedish brand owned by Chinese company Geely had its best sales year in 12 years in the U.S. in 2019, it ranks low in a J.D. Power customer-experience survey.
“We have the product (three utility vehicles, two cars and two wagons) and facilities (a plant in South Carolina). We need the customer experience,” Gustafsson says, calling it the only way to fully “develop our fabulous brand.”
Referring to Volvo’s dealers, he says, “We need our partners’ help to fix this together.” He adds: “We know customers will pay for a great experience.” Conversely, he cites a study saying 86% of customers stopped doing business with companies because of poor-experience issues.
Gustafsson is from a dealer family in his home country of Sweden. He says he realized the importance of building relationships when he sold cars. “If you touch and talk to them, you reach them,” he says of car shoppers.
Car buying in Sweden has been described as challenging because of low inventories on dealer lots. Customers there typically place orders, then wait weeks for the vehicle delivery.
But U.S. customers are accustomed to driving away in a purchased vehicle on the day they visit a dealership.
Purchasing a vehicle is a big transaction because of the hefty price, Gustafsson says, adding it’s also an emotional experience for most customers.
“Don’t make it boring,” he says. “Make it fun.”
Volvo is working on two omni-channel programs. One is to allow customers to do virtually an entire car deal online. The other is 1-hour express in-store buying that relies on customers doing the preliminaries online. The express system also trims the number of staffers involved in a car purchase.
Volvo has reduced its U.S. dealership ranks. “We want to make sure our dealers are not real close to each other,” Gustafsson says. “Competition should come from someone else, not fellow dealers.”