Insider Perspectives: Hyundai's Sprina Moon on Franchises

Sprina Moon, Sr. Manager Retail Process Improvement

Sprina Moon, Sr. Manager Retail Process Improvement

Customer service is outsourced in many businesses.

That fast food chain may be run by a franchisee, not the brand on the building. Your delivery driver might be an independent contractor. The contact center you call with billing questions might be run by an outsourcer.

This creates a challenge for businesses that want to deliver outstanding customer service, but don't directly control the people that are delivering it.

The automotive industry is set-up this way. The vast majority of new cars, trucks, and SUVs are sold through a network of franchised dealerships.

I spoke with Sprina Moon, Senior Manager, Retail Process Improvement for Hyundai Motor America to ask how her company tackles this challenge.

Moon works with Hyundai dealerships to improve the customer sales experience which ultimately leads to better customer satisfaction and loyalty. Her company is doing quite well as Hyundai has been ranked #1 in customer loyalty for seven years in a row.

Q: How important is customer-focus to the success of Hyundai's dealerships?

"Hyundai typically offers more value than our competitors. What I mean is that for the same dollars or less you get a Hyundai vehicle with more options than the competition, so we should generally win if customers are looking for a vehicle we offer. But if a customer doesn't trust their salesperson, they will go somewhere else. Most Hyundai customers spend a large amount of time researching the vehicle they are interested in buying so when they get to the dealer, they can tell if the sales person is being less than honest. The thing to think about in this day and age is that most OEM’s [original equipment manufacturers] make good quality vehicles, so what separates the good dealers from the bad ones is how well they do with the customer sales experience and added value of why a customer should buy from your dealership.

"Salespeople don't always realize the customer's buying decision is not just about price. People want to buy where they're treated with respect. Respect of their time and respect of their buying decisions. 

"Dealerships don't actually make the bulk of their profit on new car sales margin. They make a large portion of their money from the new car finance and insurance department. Another very important department at the dealership is the service and parts department so you want to start creating a long-term relationship with a customer during the sales process by getting them comfortable with coming to the dealership for their maintenance service needs. 

"That first lease or purchased car can lead to many others. Some people lease a new car every two or three years. Even people who purchase a car are likely to come back within about five years to buy their next one."


Q: How do you help dealerships improve customer satisfaction?

"I do a lot of training around sales, product knowledge, and soft skills. In a dealership, soft skills are things like a proper greeting and doing through needs analysis so that the consumer is buying the right vehicle for their needs. I also work with the dealerships' owners and general managers to help them better understand how customer service can impact their bottom line.

"For example, one project I've been working on is identifying buyers who live near a Hyundai dealership, but purchase a vehicle at another Hyundai dealership that's farther away. I can share this data with a dealership's general manager to help him see how a poor customer experience might be costing the dealership sales.

"Another thing I do is share best practices. One thing I share with dealerships is how to create a wow moment when a customer comes in to pick up their new vehicle. The salesperson can put the vehicle on display in the showroom or put a big over-sized bow on it to make them really feel special when the customer comes in for their new vehicle. This can create a lasting impression that makes the customer feel great about their purchase. 

"Many of the best practices that I review with the dealer are common sense practical items that we experience every day. Some of the things I ask dealers to think about is their non-dealer experiences like how they get treated at their favorite restaurant or when they go shopping at a high end retailer. The customer experience they get is no different than the way that their customers expect to be treated when they buy or service their car at the dealership.

"I also learn a lot from the dealerships too. Hyundai might have a new program that seems great in theory, but it doesn't work for our dealers for some reason. I can share that feedback with our National office and help to make it better."


Q: What are some of the most important skills that a dealership's salespeople should have?

"Salespeople need to be able to ask the right questions to uncover customer needs. Asking a customer what color car they wanted can backfire if they ask for a specific color that's not available. A better approach is to ask if the customer is looking for a lighter or darker car. This might give the salesperson more options to share. 

"One of the biggest and most underrated skills in understanding what your customer vehicle needs are is to not say anything and listen carefully to what your customer is looking for and then ask appropriate open ended questions. 

"It's also helpful to be resourceful. The specific vehicle a customer wants might not be on the dealer's lot, but the dealership can often track it down for the customer.

"Customers visit just 1.4 dealerships on average before purchasing or leasing a vehicle, so it's important to create a positive relationship right away. That's where it helps for a salesperson to have the right attitude. You can teach someone with the right attitude how to sell cars."


Q: What's the biggest challenge you face in your role?

"I look really young, so sometimes these veteran sales managers and general managers see me and think, 'Why is this young lady trying to tell me how to sell cars?' Some of the really tough ones will ask, 'Have you ever sold a car before?'

"I tell them, 'No, I haven't. But I have a lot of customer information, and that information can help you get more customers to buy from your dealership.' That usually gets their attention. I also worked at our National office building training curriculum that was designed to help our dealers provide a better sales experience. 

"Employee turnover is a major challenge for some dealerships, so I try to share some best practices with sales managers. A dealership's sales manager is often someone who was a really good salesperson and got promoted. They might be good at selling cars, but they have not had proper training on how to train and motivate their sales teams."


Q: What have you learned from the automotive industry that you think could help people in other industries improve customer-focus?

"I was talking about this with a dealership's General Manager the other day. He was telling me about an experience he had buying a television where he spent a little more money at one store because he felt they treated him with dignity and respect.

"We discussed how this should be the way his customers felt too.

"It's a helpful exercise. Think about the last difficult experience you had as a customer. The customers who are walking in to do business with you could be you in another environment. You would never want to treat your customers the same way you were treated in that bad experience.

"A lot of dealerships are worried about negative online reviews, but if you treat someone with dignity and respect they won't give you negative reviews. We often see someone buy a car from another dealer but still recommend that dealership to a friend and say, 'They didn't have the vehicle I was looking for, but I think you should give them a try.' People tend to write those negative reviews when they feel disrespected."

How to Tell if Your Mission Has Lost Its Meaning

Raise your hand if your company has a mission statement.

Most companies have one. Yours probably does. Mine does. But have you ever wondered what purpose the mission actually serves?

You could go with the stock answer here. "The mission tells everyone why the company exists." Ok, let's test that. See if you can answer three questions about your company's mission statement:

  1. What is it?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How do you contribute?

Nobody's listening to that voice inside your head, so you can be honest. Did you struggle to come up with a quick answer to those three questions? If so, your mission isn't fulfilling it's purpose.

Now, go ask your employees the same three questions and see if you get consistent answers. If you get a lot of blank looks or wildly different responses, your mission has lost its meaning.

How the Mission Drives Service Quality

I'm taking some liberty with terminology here, so let me take a moment to clarify.

Elite organizations have created a shared definition of outstanding customer service that all employees understand. I call this a customer service vision.

This customer service vision can be a stand alone statement, but often it does double duty as a company's mission, vision, values, or customer service standards. Most, but not all, elite organizations use their mission statement to define outstanding service for their employees.

So a clear mission can give employees guidance in their daily activities. Here are just a few benefits:

  • It provides a sense of purpose when they come to work.
  • It acts as a compass to point in the right direction in moments of uncertainty.
  • It reinforces what employees should be doing to serve customers.

For example, JetBlue has led J.D. Power's North American Airline rankings for 12 consecutive years. A lot of their success comes from using their mission statement, Inspire Humanity, as a shared definition of outstanding service.

Every JetBlue crewmember (i.e. employee) knows his or her job is to bring a human touch to service. In an age of self-service and automation, humanity is sorely needed.

JetBlue is one of the outstanding companies profiled in my new book, The Service Culture Handbook. It's due out in April, 2017, but you can download Chapter One when you sign-up for updates.

Why Employees Don't Know the Mission

There are three common reasons why employees don't know or understand the mission.

  1. It's never mentioned. The mission is almost never openly discussed.
  2. It's not trained. Employees receive no instruction on what it means or how to live it.
  3. It's not a priority. Employees are overloaded with too many statements like a mission, vision, values, credo, slogan, brand promise, customer service standards, etc. that create confusion about what's important.

That last one really stands out. Employees won't know or understand the mission unless you make it a priority. That challenge here is many leaders fall into the multiple priorities trap.


The Know Your Mission Challenge

Back to those three questions.

You can restore your mission (or customer service vision) to relevance if you can provide the training and coaching necessary to help each employee give a consistent answer to these three questions:

  1. What is it?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How do I contribute?

Are you up to the challenge?

Lessons from The Overlook: Prioritization

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. This experience is a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use.

People misuse the word priority all the time.

It literally means one thing is more important than another, but business leaders often forget that. They'll say strange things to employees like "you need to juggle multiple priorities," which makes no sense given that nothing gets prioritized when you try to make everything a priority.

Sally and I knew we needed to prioritize our work on The Overlook when we bought it. We both have full-time jobs that involve a lot of travel, so time was already scarce.

I had envisioned myself exploring some of the many hikes in the area or building a website to showcase the cabin, but that would have to wait.

Our immediate challenge was we closed escrow on October 6 and needed to get the house back on the rental market by November 1. There were already guest reservations for November, which is peak rental season for Idyllwild.

Idyllwild's hiking trails would have to wait. Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Idyllwild's hiking trails would have to wait. Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Safety is Priority One

You never want anyone to get injured. You really never want anyone injured when they're a guest on your property.

The Overlook needed a few safety repairs that were called out in our home inspection. For example, the gap between the railing boards on our deck was too wide in places and we needed to add some additional wood to make it safe.

So a lot of our precious time in October was spent finding a licensed contractor to do the job and coordinating the work from our home two hours away in San Diego. 

Sally and I also had to consider our own safety. Many people get into business without thinking about the appropriate type of organization (sole proprietor, LLC, Corporation, etc.) or insurance. 

We spent a lot of time on both. 

Our attorney, Ric Bauman, is incredibly efficient and cost-effective, but it still takes time to organize documents, set up appointments, etc. I shudder to think how much time we'd waste if we didn't have someone like him on our side.

Insurance was even more difficult since we had the double-whammy disadvantage of buying a home in a wild fire hazard area and wanting to use it as a vacation rental. Surprisingly few highly rated companies write policies for these types of properties, but we managed to get a good deal through a Farmer's Insurance agent named Bradley Carr who understood our needs.


Function was Priority Two

Safety issues out of the way, we had to turn our attention to making the cabin functional for our guests.

There were a few things that needed attention. The internet, cable, and phone took untold hours and 23 contracts with Time Warner Cable to get up and running. 

We also needed to add some furniture to the master bedroom. (The previous owners had closed off this room to renters for some reason, so it was sparsely furnished.) Our property manager had scheduled time to take pictures to add to her website, so we ended up having just two days to get it done.

Living Spaces really saved us here after we spent half a day hitting up used furniture stores and consignment shops. They have a huge selection of reasonably-priced, high-quality furniture. We found a nice dresser and matching nightstands that could be delivered to our home the same day we bought them. This allowed us to haul them up to the cabin the next day.

There were a million other things for us to do too. We had to replace cracked dishes, get some electrical repairs done, and add in some additional items we know guests will appreciate like an iron and ironing board.


The Big Takeaway on Prioritization

October was a whirlwind, but we got the important things done.

I really wanted to spend time on fun things to help us offer an amazing guest experience, like mapping the guest journey, creating a kick-ass guidebook for the house, and turning the garage into a game room.

Those are all items that will get done eventually, but they didn't need to get done in time for the renters who had booked the place in November. Safety and functionality came first so our guests would have a nice place to stay.

This exercise was a big reminder on the importance of prioritization. There were times when Sally and I didn't know when we'd find the time. Whenever we felt this way, we went back to our priorities and set aside any task that wasn't red hot urgent.

You can apply this lesson too. 

Take a moment to clarify your priorities. These could come from your values, your business plan, or a separate exercise. Then use those priorities as a guide to help you manage your time.

Reflecting back on last October, I was reminded that the best customer service leaders embrace prioritization. They understand they can't do everything at once, so they do what needs to be done now and do it well, before moving on to something else.

The good news is The Overlook looks great and our guests have been thrilled so far. We even survived a heater that went kaput right before guests arrived on the coldest day of the year, but that's a story for next month.

Check out The Overlook and see pictures at

How to Stop Automation From Stealing Your Job

The woman walked into Starbucks, glued to her phone.

She never said hello and wasn't greeted. Eyes fixed on her phone screen, she strode over to the counter where you pick up your drink and waited without saying a word. She continued staring at the phone until her drink appeared on the counter.

The woman grabbed her drink, turned around, and left without ever engaging with another human being.

You may have guessed she ordered her drink via the Starbucks app, a technology that allows customers to by-pass the cashier line. It may eventually eliminate cashier jobs.

Other positions may not be far behind. Computers, bots, artificial intelligence, and other forms of automation are threatening customer service jobs everywhere. 

But what about the barista who made the woman's beverage at Starbucks? That person was voluntarily giving up her job to automation because she never once brought something that was uniquely human to the service interaction.

That's the key to staving off the rise of automation — humanity.

The Rise of Self-Service

Look everywhere and you'll see machines doing customer service jobs that were once performed by humans.

Banks are replacing tellers with ATMs. Hotels are starting to offer mobile check-in options, a feature airlines have had for years. Contact centers operate automated phone menus, self-help websites, and use bots to respond to text messages.

The IBM Watson artificial intelligence platform is being tried out in multiple customer service roles, such as retail salesperson. Uber might soon offer a fully autonomous car service, right after Amazon cuts out delivery drivers and sends your order via automated drone.

Andy Puzder, the CEO of the CKE Restaurants, the parent company of the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's fast food chains, has openly talked about opening a fully automated restaurant in response to rising wages. Puzder is also Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of Labor.


What Drives Automated Customer Service?

It's helpful to understand why businesses might want to automate your job. There are three pressures businesses face that drive this trend: speed, cost, and quality.

Speed is crucial because you can generally serve more customers faster in an automated environment. Do you remember waiting in line at a highway tollbooth? Now you can whiz past an array of sensors that automatically deduct the toll from your account.

Cost tends to decrease with automation. You have to pay customer service employees for every hour worked, and that cost is ever-increasing. In my hometown of San Diego, minimum wage just increased to $11.50 per hour and many businesses, such as restaurants, are struggling to absorb higher labor costs. You typically pay less for automation over time.

Quality is another concern. Automation leads to greater consistency since machines can repeat the same task over and over. There are also several studies that show customers spend more in fast food restaurants when they order via a kiosk, so machines may be outselling humans.


The Big Risk: Employees Who Act Like Robots

If automation will eventually win on speed, cost, and quality, the only area where humans can continue to excel is being human.

People like human-to-human interaction. When we talk about great customer service, we still inevitably talk about people. 

Perhaps it was someone who was extra kind or engaged us in some way. It could be a person who solved a persistent problem, or maybe it's just someone who has become a friend over years of service.

A lack of humanity is where many customer service employees routinely put their jobs at risk. 

When I go to the post office, I usually use the kiosk because it's faster than waiting in line. I'm always amused at the end of the transaction when the screen reads, "It's been a pleasure to serve you." Unfortunately, at my local post office, I'll likely to get just as robotic a thank you from a live person. Why wait longer to get the same level of interaction as the machine?

Supermarket cashiers are another example. Too many fail to engage their customers. Or they don't know what to say when they ask, "Did you find everything OK?" and the customer says, "No." We're all excited to see how the Amazon Go grocery store concept works out because the supermarket checkout adds no perceived value to the customer.

Contact centers are seeing an increase in complex phone calls, primarily because customers are handling simpler transactions on their own. This means phone agents need to be empathetic, problem-solving humans who engage customers and make them feel better. All too often, agents instead sound like monotone robots and who either lack the caring or capability to resolve an issue.

If you want to save your job, you need to bring humanity to service.


Five Ways to Bring Humanity to Customer Service

This isn't an exhaustive list, but these are five things you can do to make yourself indispensable to your customers and your boss.

Build Rapport: Customers like feeling special, and people can do that in a way that no robot can. Find ways to develop rapport with your customers like learning and using their names. You can search the Customer Service Tip of the Week archives for more rapport-building tips.

Listen Intently: We've probably all yelled "Live agent!" at a phone menu. The frustration comes because the machine isn't listening. You can transcend that by becoming a good listener. It's harder than you think. Our listening skills erode with experience. We also find ourselves robotically using stock phrases like, "How are you today?" which causes us to miss amazing opportunities.

Empathize: Machines don't express genuine empathy, but you can. Try to understand and acknowledge your customers' feelings, especially when they are annoyed or frustrated by a problem. You can find some good empathy tips using this guide.

Develop Expertise: Find ways to solve problems that automation can't. My local UPS driver once brought a package to my house that had the wrong address on it. He explained he knew it was mine because he recognized my last name and it was wine. He succeeded as a human because he understood his delivery route and his customers better than a machine.

Find Icebergs: Help your customers avoid getting stuck in an infinite loop by finding and fixing recurring problems, called icebergs. I recently had to contact Time Warner Cable 23 times to get new cable, phone, and internet service. It was a frustrating experience because everyone I encountered was so heavily scripted they couldn't see the root cause of the problem until I connected with Rich, a Tier 3 specialist who spent several days unraveling the mess that Time Warner's automated system had created.

Let's go back to the Starbucks example at the beginning of this post. It's inevitable that some customer service functions will become automated, like ordering via an app instead of a cashier. That doesn't mean that the people in the service chain should act like robots too.

It's up to us to create such a fantastic human-to-human experience that companies will recognize the irreplaceable value of having people involved with the process.

How to Meet People and Learn About Service on Twitter

I met my neighbor on Twitter.

Jeremy Watkin wasn't my next door neighbor, but he lived about a mile away from my home. We connected because he is a customer service expert who regularly shares interesting customer service content (follow him on Twitter!)

We exchanged tweets and I subscribed to his outstanding Customer Service Life blog that he co-authors with Jenny Dempsey. It was a few months before I learned we lived in the same neighborhood. 

This isn't uncommon. 

ICMI just released it's list of Top 50 Thought Leaders to Follow on Twitter. Including Jeremy and Jenny, I personally know 23 of the 50 from meeting them on Twitter. 

That's not bragging but rather a testament to the power of Twitter as a networking and learning tool. Here's how you can use Twitter to grow your customer service network and knowledge too.

Be Helpful, Not Spammy

A so-called customer service expert once begged me to follow him on Twitter. Literally begged me. He sent me daily tweets that read, "Please, please follow me!"

The reason? He had a new book coming out and wanted help promoting it. Ugh. Those tweets were exactly why I didn't follow him. 

Don't be spammy.

Don't tweet to people and ask them to read your blog or sign up for your newsletter. They'll discover your amazing content on their own if it's relevant to them.

Instead, try to be helpful.

Notice what people are tweeting about customer service and share the content you like. Tweet back with your own take or helpful links. Ask questions. Show appreciation.

In other words, use Twitter to engage in honest conversations. You just might learn that someone interesting is your neighbor.


Find Experts to Follow

Follow some customer service experts you admire. 

These people often scour the internet for new ideas and helpful tips so you don't have to. They also share their own interesting and relevant ideas.

Not sure who to follow? 

There are plenty of top tweeter lists like the one ICMI just put out. Look up the Twitter handles for people whose books or blogs you read, keynotes you listen to, or even journalists who write about customer service.

You can also see who the people you follow follow. For example, I typically only follow people who regularly share relevant and interesting customer service content.

You can click on that "following" number and discover new people.


Follow Hashtags

Hashtags are away of organizing content around a specific theme, so following customer service-related hashtags is a great way to discover new content and ideas.

My favorite hashtag for customer service is #custserv.

There are other good ones too, and you may discover additional hashtags that are relevant to you or your industry. 

Here are a few other favorites:

Tip from the pros — some companies try to ruin these great hashtags by spamming them constantly with job postings and other marketing. You can block or mute these Twitter handles so you don't see them in your feed.

I like to use Tweetdeck to organize the various hashtags I follow, but there are plenty of other tools you can use such as Hootsuite.


Join Tweet Chats

Tweet chats are great opportunities to learn and network.

These are regularly scheduled events where a moderator will tweet questions around a particular topic. Anyone following the chat's hashtag can view the questions.

Here's an example from #icmichat (Tuesdays, 10am Pacific):

People then respond to the question by starting their tweet with A (for answer) and the question number while including the hashtag so everyone else can see it.

In addition to #icmichat, I regularly enjoy the #custserv chat at 6pm on Tuesdays.

Want to find more chats? You can often spot people you follow engaging in chats. Another good option is to tweet to a few experts to ask for their recommendations.


Follow Conferences

Many customer service conferences have an active backchannel, which is really just another way of saying they have their own hashtag.

There are two ways to use conference hashtags.

If you're attending the conference, you can network with other participants by engaging in conversations about a particular keynote or breakout session. This is particularly helpful in big sessions that wouldn't otherwise be interactive.

If you can't attend a conference, following the conference hashtag allows you to capture some of the big themes and top insights without having to be there.