Texas dealer Bob Tomes wants his 175 employees, whether porter, sales rep or cashier, to be an extra set of eyes looking out for customers.
So at Bob Tomes Ford and Brandon Tomes Subaru in McKinney, Texas, all workers must comply with the 10-foot rule: If they are within 10 feet of customers, they must greet them and ask them about their experience and whether they can help them. If a customer shares a problem, workers are empowered to try to fix it. Some even have the discretion to spend dealership money, without management approval, to address the issue.
The practice, in force for about 12 years, has improved customer satisfaction and loyalty, Tomes said.
"Sometimes things go wrong, but we sure try to address it and amend it and make it better for them going forward," Tomes said. "Retention of those customers is very important to us as dealers. It's absolutely germane and critical to ongoing growth and profitable operation."
Tomes drives home the practice with a simple rope. He keeps 10-foot lengths of rope -- thick, blue-and-white twisted cotton -- in several departments at the dealerships. Managers pull them out often during employee meetings to reinforce the Tomes 10-foot rule and show employees what the distance looks like.
"Whether you're on the parts counter or the service drive, we want our customers to be acknowledged and to be recognized," Tomes said. "It's relationship building, relationship selling, relationship, relationship, relationship."
Tomes traces the origins of the program to seeing customers visit the Ford dealership and remain unattended for a considerable period. He's also been inspired by the examples of customer service at luxury retailer Nordstrom and fast-food restaurant chain Chick-fil-A.