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The Rippling Effects of Quality Customer Service

Episode 64

podcast featured img The Rippling Effects of Quality Customer Service

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Auto House Tempe goes beyond lukewarm customer service, prioritizing one-on-one bonds between buyers and sales partners to integrate themselves into the lives of the community they serve. Auto House has changed the car industry’s narrative by implementing thoughtful, personalized help, whether it’s loaning out a minivan to let a mom try out at practice or making connections with clients long after the sale. Reviewer Amber P. shares how Auto House became her family’s first choice for their auto needs.

On the Yelp Blog: Read more about how Auto House prioritizes customer retention to build long-lasting business success.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interaction. Let’s see what’s behind this week’s review.

AMBER P.: I actually first learned about Auto House through a referral of a friend. So it was a soccer mom. And I was talking about how I was not looking forward to buying a car. I needed to buy a car and who likes buying cars? It’s such a terrible experience in my own personal experience. And she said, ‘Oh my gosh, you have to go see my friend.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, another dealership.’

And she said, ‘No, no, no, it’s not a regular dealership.’ So she started explaining the concept and that it was not your typical dealership—that he was a car consultant, and that all of the things I just complained to, it would not happen, she guarantees. And I’m thinking there’s no way, there’s no way, but I’ll call your guy. And that’s how it started. And five cars later it’s the best, best business I’ve found.

EMILY: Elite Yelp Reviewer Amber P. has made quite a few car purchases for her busy family, and she’s bought at least five of them from Auto House in Tempe, Arizona, a family-owned business that is looking to shake up the car buying process.

Let’s listen to Amber’s review to see why she keeps going back to Auto House and her auto broker, Curry.

AMBER: Best car buying experience ever. Just purchased our second vehicle from Curry. Couldn’t be happier to find a place where car buying is as it should be. We spent a total of maybe one hour on the site and that’s because we were chatting. Curry did all of our financing and negotiating while we were home enjoying our Sunday.

That’s right. Not sitting in the showroom for hours. We shopped online, test drove, and he did all the work. I’m amazed at the deal we got. He worked a low percentage with a cool credit union and made the process actually pleasant. Once we were happy with the credit offer, we came down. All the papers were prepared, handed over our trade, picked up our new, amazing, beautiful 2019 Honda Accord Sport.

Curry really put in the work to make sure we were given the offer we deserve. And he really doesn’t play games. Unless you love the BS of negotiating fake prices and sitting in a dealership all day, then you need to work with precision. Again, this is our second car from Curry. We will never buy anywhere else again.

EMILY: Looking for an easy and painless car purchase experience can feel a bit like hunting for a needle in a haystack —at some point, you’re certain it doesn’t exist, and you want to give up completely.

Auto House believes the process should be fun, and that all of the hassles and pain points we think of in the dealership world are completely unnecessary. I spoke with Sarah Barr, the Vice President of Marketing for Auto House, to get some insights on their business model.

SARAH BARR: So a little bit about Auto House: We are a family-owned and -operated car dealership in Arizona. We have three locations in the Phoenix Metro area: Tempe, Scottsdale, and then one in Peoria, which is North Phoenix. And then we’re really excited because we just opened a new store in Tucson, which is a brand new market for us in Arizona.

Auto House Tempe is the location that is mentioned in Amber’s review. That is actually a brand new building. It’s just under 100,000 square feet. We opened it last spring. So it’s kind of like our mothership or our flagship location.

We’re really proud of that one. It’s beautiful and brand new, state-of-the-art, and holds about 300 cars. One of our biggest differentiators is all four of our locations offer indoor, climate-controlled showrooms. So all of our cars are in our house, which is why we’re called Auto House. It allows our clients to shop in ultimate comfort.

In Arizona, the summers here are pretty warm and they last about six months. So being able to get people inside is really great. And it also just keeps our cars out of the elements as well, because they’re all indoors. We have over 600 vehicles in inventory across our four locations, Primarily all pre-owned cars.

However, we can help our clients buy or lease new cars as well. We accept trade-ins. We love a late model, low mileage trade-in. We’ll always take that. We’ll also buy someone’s car, even if they are not in the market to buy one from us. So if you want to avoid poorly-lit parking lots off and meeting somebody off of Facebook marketplace, give Auto House a call.

We’re happy to buy your car from you. And depending on if you’re in a loan or a lease, we can oftentimes just cut a check right there on the spot. You don’t have to wait for a check to be mailed to you, Which is typical for some competitors. And we also take care of all the DMV paperwork. So we make it super easy if you’re looking to sell your car. We offer excellent financing options through a network of credit union partners. And we can pretty much get anyone financed, whether you’re starting out, starting over, or have a perfect 800 credit score. We’re happy to work with anyone in any life stage.

It’s really our goal to be our client’s partner for life. We will treat everyone the same, whether you’re coming to us to buy a $3,000 car or a $35,000 car or up. We want to be able to help you and be your partner for life and for any of your car needs.

EMILY: How often do you hear about an auto dealer that wants to be a partner for life? But Auto House wholeheartedly believes that just because auto sales has always been done the same way doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

SARAH: Auto House is on a mission to change people’s minds about buying cars. Everybody has a horror story about one time they went to a big box dealer and they were either treated horribly or the car was a different price than they were told or whatever.

I mean, the list could go on and on. And that is just not how we roll at Auto House. Our core values are really centered around treating people fairly with respect, being authentic, family oriented. And we really rely on repeat and referral business. We’re not a big box dealership who gets co-op dollars from the manufacturer.

And we have much smaller marketing and media budgets than those big box stores do. So we rely on our client having a good experience and coming back to us time and time again, and telling their friends and family and their network of associates and acquaintances that they had a good experience with us and that they should come do business with us as well.

So because of that need for repeat and referral business, the only way to earn that is to treat people right. And you gotta treat them right the first time, the second time, the third time from the beginning to the end. So that’s what we strive to do. And that’s how we feel that we’re changing people’s minds and perceptions about this industry.

We have transparent, fair pricing. The price you see online is the same price you’re going to see on the car when you walk into the showroom. There’s no hidden dealer markups when you shop with Auto House and you buy with Auto House. And at Auto House, you work with your auto consultant from A to Z.

We don’t pass you off to what I always call the ‘room of doom’ at an auto dealership where suddenly your $300 car payment becomes $600 and you don’t understand what happened, but you’ve been there for 15 hours and you just want to go home so you sign away your life. We obviously have financing people in each location to help get those deals done. But that auto consultant is with you the whole way through. They don’t abandon you. They’re really your partner in the whole transaction. And that’s how we continue to help build that relationship.

And then our sales process is not prescriptive. We have over 40 auto consultants—they are all different. They all have their own personalities. They have their own style. They have their own way of approaching their own personal book of business. So we aren’t giving them a flow chart, ‘How to sell a car. You’ve got to do these 15 steps,’ cause that’s not how you build an authentic relationship. And clients today, they can smell a rat. They know when something’s a gimmick. People are smart and they’re informed and they can tell if they’re being sold a bill of goods. So we want our sales team to just embrace who they are.

And I always say birds of a feather flock together. So if you have a super—we have a sales person who’s got a super outgoing personality and it’s loud and cracking jokes all the time. His client base reflects that. Whereas a salesperson who is more introverted and quiet, they appeal to a different type of customer. That’s how we really want to approach that. The business model is just for everybody to be themselves and to really feel like they have a partner in the process of buying their car.

EMILY: So their secret, as it turns out, is actually a foundation for success for every small business—relationships. Their auto brokers build trust with their customers by listening, understanding, and making the best sales decisions for the family, not just a sale at all cost.

Amber bought a car she didn’t think she wanted based on the trust she had with her auto broker, Curry.

AMBER: One of the vehicles I bought, which was—I hate to admit it—the favorite car I ever owned, was a minivan.

I wasn’t sold on it. I wanted a Suburban or something like that. And I looked in all these different cars, and we’re driving around, and he’s like, ‘Now, have you ever considered this?’ And I’m like, ‘No, but I’ll look at it.’ Now it was the limited, nice leather, beautiful everything.

And my husband’s like, you know, we’ve got three kids. Like it’s not the worst thing in the world to think about a minivan. Of course, in my head, I’m not a minivan person. I go and I said, ‘It is beautiful, but I don’t know.’ And this was a Saturday morning. We had soccer that afternoon. Curry said, ‘Take the car, take it to soccer for your game. That’s what you’re going to be using it for. Load up your car, use it for what you want life for. If you go to the soccer game and this isn’t the best thing ever, bring it back, we’ll look for something different.’ And to me, that was just so cool because that is what I was using the car for.

I was a soccer mom. I was loading up equipment in the back. I was driving and shuttling kids and they have to get in and out. Let me tell you—the kids getting in and out of that cool van with the video monitor, and I could put all the seats down and I could get my big canopy in there. That sold me because it was the right car for me.

And I did not want to get rid of it when it was time when my kids became teenagers, because I loved it so much. That just speaks to the kind of experience. It’s like, we want you to have what you want. I have not ever been pressured, not one minute.

EMILY: That minivan purchase is a great story—and goes to show that the extra mile Auto House takes to make happy customers is exactly how repeat customers are created. Not only did they find a hole in the industry and fill it, but they’re continuing to delight people beyond just making the car buying process simpler. They’re actually making it enjoyable.

We’re going to take a quick break – be right back.

EMILY: Auto House helps their sales team build and grow those relationships through a number of tools made available to them but doesn’t dictate a certain sales pattern or process. Each auto broker is left to make the best decisions for their client when it comes to relationship building.

SARAH: We do have nurturing emails that go out through our CRM. So we try to touch every client at least once a month with a newsletter that basically is like what’s happening at Auto House in the month of April, May, whatever. If we have events, if we have just anything going on, we like to highlight a team member. We like to highlight a couple of cars that we have in inventory. We definitely have our reach outs through our CRM, kind of like our online touch points.

Our CRM scans the database and all of the information we have on every client. We’ll automatically email someone if they’re in an equity position in their car. Do they want to trade their car in?

We have team members who mail a birthday card every birthday with a stamp, like in the mail, and stick lottery tickets in it. And they’re just like, ‘Happy birthday. You know, if you ever need anything, I’m here for you.’ We have clients who use them, they really rely on their phone and they send texts all the time and check in.

And as those relationships are built, like Curry knows Amber and her family so well at this point, he knows what their needs are. He knows what their life stage is. He knows the family makeup. And so if a car comes in, like the minivan story at that time, when he saw that minivan come in and he knew that they were in need of a car, but she was like minivan hesitant, as a lot of people are because it’s just a perception of what a minivan driver is. And he was able to give her the keys to that and be like, ‘Go have a great afternoon, drive it, live in it. See if you like it. And then let me know.’ That comes out of that relationship, as you get to work with someone over and over again, and you do become friends and you understand their family needs.

And I love that minivan story. I mean, imagine walking up to a big box dealer and just being like,

‘Hey, can I take your minivan to my soccer game? I want to see if it’s the right fit for my family.’ They would laugh at you. They would laugh you out the door. But because of that relationship that Curry has with her, he was happy to offer that to her. And then it ended up being the perfect vehicle for them. And she mentioned in her interview that that’s still her favorite car, even though she doesn’t have it anymore.

EMILY: The trust built into these atypical sales relationships means car buyers like Amber are more likely to return.. And return… and return again, even for things unrelated to the car buying process.

AMBER: I think that the relationship is huge. I consider Curry a friend now. I dunno if he considers us friends, but I can literally call his cell phone anytime. I call for things, not related to what he’d like, ‘Hey, do you have a guy that you recommend for tinting windows?’

Or just because he’s our car guy now, and I just so trust him. And he’ll be straight with us. He’ll say, ‘Yeah, I don’t really know anybody’ or, ‘Oh, I know this guy, but it’s probably not the cheapest price, but it’s good quality.’ I just know I’m going to get it straight with them.

I think that it’s just the importance of trust and the relationship I think is something that’s so undervalued. I don’t think that in a normal car dealership that is even something that they think about. It feels like they hire guys off the street, they’re pushed, they have a quota they have to reach. I wouldn’t know their cell phone numbers. I wouldn’t know the first, last names. I know everything about him and his soon-to-be wife and his kids and his family. You just feel like you are a part of their family and they’re there for you. And it is. If you think about it, I’ve got three kids. They all need cars.

My husband and I will have multiple cars, like a car, it is a relationship. This is something that people go back to over and over in their lives. And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a trusted advisor. I don’t know why it is any other way. You’re showing up at a store and buying a random car from a random person. This is a financial commitment that I’m putting my trust, my safety, in—everything. I that I think is paramount to this is that you have a business who takes it seriously and said, ‘This is not a customer. This is a relationship.’ It’s that feeling. It’s that feeling that it’s personal, and we are their customers as much as they’re our car people.

EMILY: Happy customers can lead to excellent reviews and referrals, which as we know are crucial to any small business. It’s when they work together that the real magic of word-of-mouth marketing begins.

SARAH: For us as an organization, reviews are really important. If you have your neighbor down the street tell you that they had a great experience at Auto House and you should go there because they know you’re looking for a car, your first step is still going to be to look Auto House up on the internet. And if Auto House has a 1-star rating, you’re going to be like, well, is the whole internet off its rocker or is my neighbor off their rocker? Right? Something doesn’t add up here. But if you go online and there’s 3,000 reviews and there was an average of four and a half or five stars, now everything makes sense.

And that referral has credibility now because the reviews are in place. So we understand that as an organization, I understand that as a marketer. All that being said, if you get a bad review, it sucks every time. We strive for five, we always want 5-star reviews, but we are a company full of people and people are fallible and we don’t always make it, right? There are times when we fall short and when we get a real review, not just somebody with an ax to grind, because those are out there too. But when we get a real review where we’ve really missed the mark, the only thing you can do is try to understand how we can learn from it. Is there a process improvement we can make or is it an opportunity for training that we need to take a look at? My goal is to take that review off the platform and handle it privately, whether it’s a phone call or an email.

So I always reply to those reviews and say: ‘Hey, will you please email me? We take reviews really seriously. I’d like to understand what happened and see if we can make it right.’ They don’t always email, I mean, nine times out of 10, they don’t, but I want that to be our official response.

We are not a brand that is going to have a sassy clap-back on a review. That is just not who we are. I might think of one, and I might tell my friends, but I’m not going to put it on the internet for the whole world to see. That is just my personal feeling towards it versus our organization’s approach. That’s how we handle it at Auto House. First of all, is there anything we can do to make it right and to earn them going back in and adjusting their review to a five star? And sometimes there’s not, and that’s okay too, because if you’ve got 3,000 reviews and only 10 of them are one-star, you’re doing okay. You’re not always going to get five stars.

And those, you just have to shake off, which just has to be like water on a duck’s back that just rolls right off. Because if you dwell on them it prevents you from seeing all of the positives that’s out there. I think our human nature is to focus on that one time we screwed up and we got a one-star, but if you look at it as—look at the other hundreds of times when we got a five-star. And the thing about their reviews for our business, specifically as a brand, I’ll take all the 5-star reviews I can get, right?

But for those individual sales people who grind every day and they work so hard—I tell you what, people who sell cars work really hard. And I don’t think that a lot of people understand that, but they work six, seven days a week. They work 10, 12 hour days. They work really hard to put food on the table for their families and keep a roof over their family’s heads.

So when they get a review that mentions them by name it means so much. So we don’t take that lightly. When someone takes the time to leave a five star and mentions their salesperson by name that doesn’t just help us as an organization, but it helps that particular person continue to build that book of business and build those referral and repeat customers. And it means the world. It really is so important to our business.

EMILY: We’re going to take a quick break—be right back.

EMILY: One of the most important things to Sarah and to Auto House is to meet people where they are. And for most people, that’s online. Gone are the days of simple radio and TV ads and the business with the biggest marketing budgets winning. With social media and digital advertising, a big marketing spend isn’t the only way to make an impact on your business.

SARAH: The internet is a daunting place, right? It’s just a lot. But I think more and more and more consumers, that’s their first place. That’s the first thing they do, is they go online. And not every consumer cares about reviews or they look at the review, but they have a grain of salt. Like your consumers are all over the place. So you just have to try to be in the middle of it and do your best and realize that it’s going to matter more to some people than others, but you got to show up where consumers are.

We no longer, as brands, get to dictate how clients relate to us. The customer gets to dictate that now. 30 years ago it was totally different. You had TV, and radio, and the newspaper, and that’s how you advertised. But now it’s so relational. Everything is so highly targeted. When you’re looking at your client base, you have to show up for them where they want you to be.

And I always say that even on our own website—like there’s nothing worse than going to a car dealer’s website and it’s just pop up, pop up, pop up, pop up, pop up, and you can’t find any of the information you want on it. And it’s because these brands, the manufacturers, have decided what they want the client to experience on the site.

Well, I want to have a website that shows up for the way the client wants to do business with us. So it’s just about putting that hat on and trying to think through how people want to relate with your brand. You gotta have reputation management because there are people who relate to your brand in that way.

EMILY: According to Amber, people who read reviews are really just looking for the truth about a business, and that’s how she reviews businesses—by sharing her honest experience so others can learn from it.

AMBER: I am an elite Yelper so I use reviews personally. I would say it started years ago when I was looking for a mechanic.

My daughter’s very first car was given to us by my parents. My sister had used it, and there was an accident. So we were trying to find an honest mechanic. And I found a review that spoke in detail about this car mechanic, his honesty, his ethics, the way that he works. He had all five stars. Not one person gave him a bad review. He is still our mechanic today.

I trust more real people who have real experiences. We are inundated with marketing, whether it’s on social media, it’s on television, it’s on radio. Of course your business is the best business with the best ethics. And that’s what you say. That’s what marketing is. But when somebody comes and gives a real honest opinion, I’m just as excited to give positive reviews. I hate giving negative reviews. I tend to give a business an opportunity and I never weaponize it.

I’ll say, ‘Hey, this wasn’t so great. Or this food wasn’t so great. And then I’ll put them on my review. Oh, they took it back. They fixed it. They made it wonderful.’ I’ve had to give negative reviews, but to me, I want to be honest with you so you don’t have this experience also. I would say if you look at my reviews, they’re more positive than negative because I do get excited when I find good businesses and not just good businesses—good waiters and waitresses or good service people, because that’s what we’re all looking for.

But I think because we are so surrounded by marketing, we’re just looking for truth. We’re looking for other real people who have really been there that really can tell us what’s going on. Whether it’s how crowded a restaurant is or the experience that a car dealership or a doctor’s office I trust that more. And you can kind of read through it.

But when it is an honest review about a good service or experience that helps me make a decision. I want to go there. And I think more people are using that platform to find these businesses. I travel for work and I’ll go all over the country. And the first thing I do is pull up Yelp and go: ‘Okay, where am I eating? Where am I staying? Where am I doing business?’ Because you’ll find that the real people are telling you the real thing.

EMILY: Love it or hate it, social media can be an amazing tool in your marketing tool belt if used correctly—and more importantly—authentically. Sarah discovered that a simple customer ‘surprise and delight’ follow-up was generating marketing for her through social media.

SARAH: One of our ‘surprise and delights’ that we do with clients is we send them a box of cookies after they buy a car from us. So that’s something that I don’t think is very common in this industry. So we have about two weeks after the delivery, they get a box of cookies and they’re branded.

They have like our logo involved in them and stuff. And again, a thank you card that specifically thanks them from the sales person. We get a lot of social media love from that. People posting it to their social media and tagging us because it’s just such an unusual thing to receive. So that’s one thing that we do to help build those relationships as well.

We took it over, like we do it as the brand. The way the customer gets it, it has their sales person’s name on it. The thank you card is written from the first person. So it really seems really personal, even though it’s obviously that guy didn’t bake those cookies.

EMILY: In the end, Amber wants to use reviews to share great experiences, and that’s why she wrote her review for Auto House.

AMBER: Every time we bought a car, even the crappy teenage car you get or the really high-end car, every car is detailed in and out, beautiful, clean, free first oil change, that kind of thing. So it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. You still get that experience. And I think too, you hear car consultant and you think: ‘That’s for wealthy people. It’s not like anybody can have this experience.’

You don’t have to go to the standard dealership and be held hostage. if you have not so great credit—I mean, my daughter bought her first car there. My 20 year old. And then, my husband custom selected, like I need this very, very specific high-end luxury SUV and they found it for him.

I think that maybe a lot of people hear this model and they think: ‘That’s not for me. That’s for other people.’ But it isn’t. We all can do this, and I just don’t understand why it’s just not the way we buy cars now. I mean, I think that people maybe don’t know about it. Some of those big dealerships advertise a lot, and you just think that’s the way it is.

But I tell everybody I know—I’m like: ‘You don’t need to do that anymore. That’s not the way the world works. There’s a better way.’ And nobody is going to force you to be in their building. They want you to have what you need. So, obviously I’m very passionate about it.

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