Ask Mitchell Dale about customer loyalty, and he’ll tell you all about the employees at McRee Ford. He is upfront about the fact that in his mind, the two go hand in hand.
“Customer loyalty starts with the employees,” he says. “Loyal employees understand the importance of focusing on building customer loyalty; we must focus on them first to accomplish our goal of building loyal customers. We’ve been very blessed over the years to consistently have a great team, many of whom have been with us for a long time.”
The Dickinson, Texas dealership – 25 miles south of downtown Houston near Galveston Bay – is
celebrating 72 years of business next month. Many current and former employees have spent decades, even their entire career, at the dealership.
McRee Ford has a goal that both employees and customers will feel very positive about their experiences and proudly say, “McRee Ford … That’s my dealer.”
“But it starts with the employees, again,” Dale says. “If we can succeed in providing an environment and a job where our employees can say ‘That’s my dealer,’ they’ll pass that along to the customers. It’s a feeling of pride.”
McRee Ford is a mainstay on “best places to work” lists around Houston, and has been recognized by Automotive News as one of the best dealerships in the nation to work for. With benefits including fully paid health insurance and lunches celebrating employee anniversaries, McRee is a stand-out.
In addition to excellent benefits, the team is also given smart tools to make their job easier and more satisfying, like AutoAlert’s AlertMiner and Pando.
“Now we have a reason to make a connection with all of our customers,” Dale says. “CRM was totally different. It was sort of this random reaching out. With AutoAlert, our team has helpful information for every customer, and new opportunities, with perfect timing. It makes it easy.”
Although employee satisfaction and longevity certainly illustrate the excellent work culture, perhaps one of the most telling signs of the dealership’s employees’ pride in their workplace is what they did to celebrate McRee’s 65th anniversary in 2012.
Right under Dale’s nose, employees secretly spent months completely rebuilding a 1965 Mustang that the Dale brothers had purchased in the ’70s before garaging it in 1990.
Dale says that while the rebuilding was going on, he noticed that employees were texting more than he’d like. He almost said something about it. It turns out, they were sending messages like “He’s here!” and “He’s headed to parts!” in order to keep the project under wraps.
The secret was revealed in June, when Ford regional managers were in town to present McRee with the 2011 President’s Award at a luncheon. The restored Mustang was driven into the showroom by Dale’s son-in-law (and McRee GSM) Dain Crow, with Dale’s three grandchildren in the backseat.
“It’s a true pride point for me,” Dale says. “It continues to be a topic of conversation among our team and our customers. It still amazes me that they pulled it off [laughs].”
Another example of the team’s unity and pride didn’t happen by choice, but Dale says that the team is stronger because of it: 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.
Harvey tied Katrina as the costliest cyclone in U.S. history, and produced the most rainfall of any storm in the history of the United States.
To get an idea of the devastation, imagine almost twice the amount of water in Chesapeake Bay dumped across Texas and Louisiana.*
At the time, McRee Ford was celebrating a major milestone, its 70th year in business. The Saturday night of the storm, the power went out in most of Dickinson and 22 inches of rain fell in just eight hours, with a total rainfall of over 50 inches in four days.
More than 20 percent of McRee employees’ homes flooded, some in 6 feet of water. The dealership’s 3-month-old 85,000-square-foot repair center and showroom flooded. Every vehicle on the lot was flooded – over 1,100 vehicles including new and pre-owned inventory, and customers’ vehicles were a total loss. Luckily everyone survived, which was very fortunate, and the dealership buildings were repaired and rebuilt over the next six months.
Dale says the dealership team is moving forward, together, but will never be the same.
“We’re doing good. From a business standpoint, we’re adjusting to a new normal,” Dale says. “Our organization, our people, are much closer. We’re better as a result of having gone through that together as a team – really being there for each other. Not just as employer to employee, but peer to peer across the team.”
He can see the good that has come from the disaster but is quick to add, “We don’t need another one, though.”
Although themselves still recovering from record-breaking Harvey, McRee employees reached out to help dealers in the Carolinas when Florence moved up the coast last year. It’s just one more example of the team’s sense of pride, not only in their dealership, but in the industry overall.
When Dale’s grandfather opened McRee Ford 72 years ago, he built it on the backbone of his belief: “If you always treat everyone like you want to be treated, you will always be successful.”
Today, the dealership’s Mission is “Excellent Employees driving Excellent Consumer Experiences.”
More than just a saying, these words have helped the fourth-generation family dealership earn 24 of Ford Motor Company’s President’s Awards. The award is given to a limited number of top dealers who excel in customer service, satisfaction, and overall experience in both service and sales.
Dale says that providing value is critical to growing customer loyalty, especially in a competitive market like Houston.
“Our focus, our goal, is for an excellent customer experience throughout the whole dealership, the whole owner experience. Sales and service. Service is such a big driver of overall loyalty,” he says. “We’re here to serve the customer’s needs, whatever they are, and build their confidence in us.”
The team aims to provide excellent experiences from the get-go and to at least meet, or even better exceed, customer expectations. It isn’t always possible. Today, news of a less-than-stellar experience is sometimes learned via social media or online reviews.
“Maybe we misunderstood a customer’s expectations and so we weren’t able to meet them, or we simply failed to deliver,” Dale says. “This is now an opportunity to regain their confidence. Sometimes they become even more of an advocate of McRee Ford after that.”
When it comes to something as important as building loyalty, Dale says the job will never be done. He says AutoAlert helps support his team’s customer loyalty efforts.
He sees the AutoAlert platform as being especially helpful with building customer relationships through the service drive – something that’s becoming increasingly important.
“The customer experience is enhanced when it’s personalized,” Dale says. “AutoAlert helps us offer more than price; it helps us offer value. That is something we’re always working on.”
*The Washington Post reported that Harvey dumped 33 trillion gallons of rain. There are 18 trillion gallons of water in Chesapeake Bay.