When it comes to car sales, the game is changing—fast. That’s not bad news, says Lexus Santa Monica General Manager and former beach volleyball pro Matt Unger. His key to surviving and thriving in a challenging marketplace? “It’s still all about relationships,” Unger says. “To continue to make customers happy in the car world, it’s a great feeling.”

That great feeling has translated into decade after decade of success at Lexus Santa Monica. The dealership is one of LAcarGUY’s 10 award- winning dealerships, serving the Los Angeles area since 1964. Unger got his start at the dealership as a sales manager 20 years ago, then became general sales manager before being named partner and general manager in 2015. Through all his various roles, creating the perfect customer experience has been his number-one goal.

It’s safe to say he’s succeeded. The dealership has received the prestigious “Elite of Lexus” award an impressive 22 times, acknowledging perfection in customer service. This no doubt has contributed to the fact that their number of repeat customers keeps growing.

The years Unger dedicated to leading the California State University, Northridge (CSUN) volleyball team—while breaking record after record—plus his 10 years as a pro beach volleyball player, helped shape his approach at Lexus Santa Monica.

“Volleyball definitely carries over in leading people. Especially in six-man, when you’re the setter, the captain, you’re making decisions not just for yourself but for the whole team.”

When he was inducted in the CSUN Volleyball Hall of Fame last year, former head coach John Price was quick to point out what set Unger apart. “If this were football, Matt would have been the quarterback. He understood more than anybody what he needed to do to be successful,” Price told the university paper.

No question Unger has used his strong leadership skills to drive the Lexus Santa Monica team to succeed. Now he’s sharing his best tips for dealerships to retain customers and see continued growth in a quickly changing market.

It’s safe to say he’s succeeded. The dealership has received the prestigious “Elite of Lexus” award an impressive 22 times, acknowledging perfection in customer service.

Value Your Customer’s Time

Technology is making just about everything faster. Long gone are the days of having to go to a video rental store to get a movie—now we just Netflix it. From buying online and instant downloads to calling a ride and having it show up in three minutes, customer wait time is greatly shortened. This carries over to automotive, where Unger says showing customers you value their time is the most important thing you can do for them.

“Efficiency is essential. We need to make sure we don’t waste any time, and that we’re efficient with our customers’ time,” he says. “And be transparent. If you tell a service customer their appointment is going to take 60 minutes, make sure it takes no more than 60 minutes.”

One way to honor your customers’ time is to use a software tool that keeps your team connected at all times. The more you can automate your sales and service processes and simplify your communication, the better. Unger and his team have seen great success with AutoAlert’s easy-to-use Pando app.

“It’s been a total game-changer for us,” he says. “Our first goal is always to make our guests happy, and this has been a great tool for helping with that. We’re not chasing employees down anymore.”

Unger also uses a BDC to set service appointments as a courtesy for customers, so they don’t even have to think about when to service their car. And as the ROs at Lexus Santa Monica continue to climb, Unger has another solution for meeting the growing need.

“I have plans for opening a second service department. Service is the backbone of what we do, and always will be,” Unger says. “As we continue to grow to 130, 140 ROs per day, what kind of stress does that put on our people? We need to continue to be more efficient.”

Know What They Want

It’s more important than ever for consumers to know that you value them and can provide exactly what they need. Automated CRM communications get thrown in the trash, or worse, create a bad feeling around your dealership for your customers. They don’t want to be sold. Unger uses a powerful data-mining tool to guarantee the right conversation with each and every customer. One area where he’s seeing a lot of success with this is in service to sales.

“We’re reaching almost 100 percent of our guests with PandoAlert,” he says. “These opportunities are a win-win. They get a new car with the same payment, and we get a nice used car that we can certify.”

The tool allows Unger’s team to quickly view the best deal for every customer and either o er that deal right away, if the time is right, or print it out and attach it to the RO, giving the customer the freedom to look it over later.

The team at Lexus Santa Monica also checks in with customers every six months, just to make sure they’re still happy with their purchase and don’t have any concerns. It’s a true service, without any expectation attached to it.

Unger is also proud to meet the growing need for green cars and new technology. Lexus is a leader in green automotive, releasing the first hybrid luxury car in 2005: the RX 400h. Although he acknowledges that fully autonomous has its place (“like when you have a long, straight commute and can get some work done”), he’s certain there will always be people who just love to drive. Providing environmentally friendly options for them, as well as the latest in safety technology like collision prevention, makes him proud to be a part of the Lexus family.

“Volleyball definitely carries over in leading people. Especially in six-man, when you’re the setter, the captain, you’re making decisions not just for yourself but for the whole team.”

Matt Unger, General Manager, Lexus Santa Monica

Exceed Their Expectations

Valuing your customers’ time, and providing more precisely what they want, just might already exceed your customers’ expectations. But Unger doesn’t stop there. He stays open to the quickly changing times and then adapts to go above and beyond.

For example, in addition to offering loaner cars to busy service customers, a Lexus Santa Monica employee will take an electric bike out to customers’ office or home, leave the bike, take their car in for service, and then return their car once service is complete. The team also arranges Uber rides for customers who prefer that.

Unger acknowledges that although Americans love their cars, very few love dealerships. So he’s staying flexible by adopting technology like e-contracts to allow purchases to be made via iPad, with delivery of the brand-new car straight to the customer. He even sees a possibility in the near future for building showrooms at malls and other high-foot-traffic locations.

“People want the no-pressure, no-haggle type of experience that Tesla provides, and I think there’s an opportunity there for us to do that. Make it a nice, relaxed atmosphere for the customer and generate some leads,” says Unger.

Ten years from now, people will still want to drive cars. Yes, there will be more autonomy with vehicles and more technology to improve driver safety, but according to Unger, this can’t ever replace the freedom that comes from being in the driver’s seat.

“A lot of people just love their cars, love driving,” he says. “I don’t see that ever going away.”