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Mini store wants customers singing its praises

General manager leads efforts to surprise and delight customers

Eric Schmitt of Mini of San Francisco, center, with Mark Sandusky and Kendra Moriah of the Dirty Little Blondes. Sandusky is holding the guitar that the dealership bought for the duo.

Published in Automotive News Dec. 1, 2014

This fall, the window of a San Francisco folk music duo's Mini Countryman crossover was smashed and the pair's guitar was stolen.

Days later, Mini of San Francisco staffers saw the Dirty Little Blondes' "A capella Song" on Facebook detailing the woes of performing without a musical instrument. The musicians, Mark Sandusky and Kendra Moriah, had bought their Countryman from Mini of San Francisco.

"Within five minutes of us learning, we gave them a call and told them to drop off the car," said Eric Schmitt, general manager of the dealership.

While the window was replaced for free, a salesman took the duo to a guitar store and let them choose any guitar they wanted as a gift from the dealership, Schmitt said.

Sandusky and Moriah were so surprised and grateful that they made a thank-you video and posted it on Facebook and YouTube. They also performed at one of Mini of San Francisco's monthly Third Thursday parties for customers, Schmitt said.

The dealership's response to the duo's dilemma is part of Schmitt's effort to have personal contact with customers -- bolstered in this case by a Mini initiative.


Delighting customers

Surprising and treating customers to extras is part of a program Mini USA started in July to boost its image as a premium brand. Each dealership receives money based on annual sales to do things like replacing the guitar without approval from the factory.

"It does help when the manufacturer is behind you," Schmitt said. "It is really important with the support of Mini to make every experience as good as possible."

Mini of San Francisco buyers have received gift cards for their favorite restaurants, gifts from the store's boutique, or little extras -- such as the roof rack that a customer buying a Countryman looked at but didn't order.

The store surprised the customer at delivery by installing the optional rack, Schmitt said.

Another new-vehicle buyer repeatedly mentioned how much she loved Costco warehouse stores. Schmitt drove to the nearest Costco and bought a $500 gift card, which was presented to the customer when she took delivery of her car.

Mini of San Francisco is a family-owned store and one of the 70 dealerships that opened 12 years ago when Mini launched in the United States. It's owned by Schmitt's family, which has run nearby BMW of San Francisco for 49 years.

In May, Mini of San Francisco moved into a new 45,000-square-foot store. Cars are serviced at BMW of San Francisco about a mile away. A new Mini service shop is to open next year in downtown San Francisco.

Priority: Customer service

Mini of San Francisco expects to sell 1,040 new and 500 used Minis this year. Last year, it sold 1,083 new and 359 used Minis. Sales are expected to be a little lower than in 2013 because of the changeover of the brand's biggest seller, the Mini Cooper hardtop, which went on sale this spring, and a six-week delay in the launch of the 2015 model.

Schmitt, 27, said he has made customer service a priority.

"If we see one step in the process has taken a little longer or the customer is upset I will try to get personally involved," he said.

He spends two hours every Tuesday meeting customers who left a lower than expected customer service rating, gave the dealership a low score on Yelp, a Web-based rating site, or have other issues with the store, Schmitt said.

He recently sat down with a customer who shopped at his store but bought a Mini at a different dealership.

"We lost the sale due to price," Schmitt said. "When I met the customer, I gave him a Mini hat from our boutique, and I sat with him to discuss what we could have done differently to earn his business. After our discussion, I am certain we will now at least be earning his service business."

Schmitt said he urges his managers to do the same "Every time they take the extra step with a customer, it leads and it motivates."

You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at dkurylko@autonews.com -- Follow Diana T. on Twitter: @dianakurylko

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