Thinking Inside the Box (& having some fun) with Kristin Dillard

A revival is happening in Downtown Salisbury, North Carolina, reflective of what’s happening in downtown cities across the U.S.: Beautiful but crumbling old buildings are being restored and repurposed as chic studios, shops, restaurants, lofts, and office spaces.

Team Automotive Group is at the heart of the action. Its new headquarters will soon be moving into a restored warehouse built in 1931 that recently served as a dance studio but prior to that housed Statesville Flour Mills and Southeastern Radio Supply.

Railroad tracks run in front of the building and behind it, and were used as the means of transporting the Sparks Circus’ employees and menagerie of animals for shows dating back to the early 1900s and drawing huge crowds from surrounding towns.

With five Local Historic Districts and 10 National Register Historic Districts, Salisbury is proud of its history but also quick to embrace change. Its population grew by 27.8% between the censuses of 2000 and 2010, and it’s growth doesn’t seem to be done.

“It’s so exciting to be a part of the rebirth happening downtown,” says Kristin Dillard, Dealer Principal and President of Team Automotive. “The Rail Walk art studios are just down the street from us, and new things are popping up all over. We can’t wait to move in.”

Kristin Dillard holding money

Kristin Dillard, Dealer Principal and President at Team Auto Group.

‘Inside the Box’ Thinking Is the New ‘Outside the Box’ Thinking

Also fueling excitement at Team Automotive is its recent purchase of two new dealerships: Team Chevrolet of Swansboro and Team Chevrolet of Goldsboro (both in North Carolina).

Converging from all rooftops, all Team Automotive BDC teams – inbound and outbound, service and sales – will be located in the new Downtown Salisbury headquarters, along with accounting and executive offices.

With these physical changes comes a new Operations focus for Team Automotive. Dillard calls it “inside the box” thinking.

“This is very different for us, because we’re used to being recognized for thinking outside the box,” she says. “But now we are being rewarded by thinking ‘inside the box.’ What we’re asking ourselves is ‘How do we make our existing technology and processes work better with the tools we already have?’ We want to ensure that we are using every tool to its greatest potential while backing it up with a bulletproof in-store process.”

Dillard says that the team’s greatest priority is to reach the right customer with the right message at the right time, for both sales and service.

The team accomplishes this in a multitude of ways. By partnering with a digital marketing company, they are able to reach in-market buyers right at what Google coined the Zero Moment of Truth (or right when they are ready to purchase). When a customer reaches out to the dealership via click in, call in, or walk in, the team backs it up with a streamlined VIP process where the manager calls to confirm the appointment, if need be, and shares the VIP experience, which includes having the vehicle cleaned, gassed, and ready for them when they arrive.

“We even take it a step further and have their favorite specialty drink ready for them upon arrival,” Dillard says. “Whether they ask for a vanilla latte or a chocolate chip milkshake, we will have it ready and waiting when they arrive.”

This process has allowed Team Automotive to increase its group sales volume by 27% YOY from 2018 to 2019, Dillard shares.

Once a customer purchases, the team switches to monitoring when the client will be ready for a maintenance or service visit based on the age of their vehicle or driving history. When it’s time to reach out, the team does so with a targeted message and an invite for service. Dillard says the key to success is reaching out with a specific and relatable message at the right time.

“It’s so much more effective when you call and say ‘Mrs. Smith, it’s time for your transmission service. Are you available to come in this Thursday to have that completed?’ versus just sending out a 10% discount coupon to the entire database,” she says. “When we made the decision to take a targeted approach we were greatly rewarded. YOY from 2018 to 2019, we have experienced a 26.51% increase in Customer Pay ROs and a 51.20% increase in Customer Pay Sales.”  

As the customer progresses in the buying cycle, Team Automotive keeps in touch through monthly newsletters and targeted service reminders, while using advanced technology to continue to track and analyze customer data.

“Once the customer reaches that magic moment in the purchase cycle when they are close to equity, the incentives are strong, and the math works to keep their payment similar, our data tool really starts to shine,” Dillard says. “It will trigger us to reach out to our customer and invite them in to complete what we call a Vehicle Exchange. We stay in touch with each VX opportunity until they purchase, and then they fall right back into our purchase cycle. As an added benefit, when we have inventory start to show signs of aging, we can push them through the tool’s filters to find prospective customers for these units, which allows us to be proactive rather than reactive.”

What’s critical is ensuring that all the tools work in harmony with each other, Dillard says, while allowing Team Automotive to guide its buyers through the purchase and service cycles.

“We master these tools and link them together to ensure only the best experiences for our customers. We’ve come to realize that we don’t need the shiny widgets if we simply focus on creating an amazing experience for our guests while using our existing technologies to ensure perfect timing.”

It all comes back to providing the best experience for each customer. And that is where Dillard sees a big change in perception of the automotive industry.

“Customers today feel known – that’s because we reach out to them only when data shows it’s time for them to act, in regard to both service and sales. It’s simple and it works.”

Tracking Everything

In addition to keeping their communication with customers relevant and timely, another “inside the box” benefit of Team Automotive’s current tools is the ability to create and track processes. Not one department is left out.

“From leadership to the front line, we track everything! For instance, on the sales side we track from the moment a buyer ‘clicks in’ to the point that they visit us in-store and take delivery.

Kristin Dillard autographing a sign

We want to know how many clients visited our site, how many we made contact with, how many made and showed for appointments, how many went for a demo, how many were offered a purchase write-up, and how many purchased.”

As another specific example of the team’s attention to detail, Dillard says that in Fixed Ops, how long a parts pricing request sits in the parts queue before it’s priced out and returned to the service advisor is even tracked.

“The beauty of measuring everything is that the second you fall short of your monthly target track, you can look to the metrics and find the exact step where something went wrong,” she says. “At that point you are able to place all of your energy and efforts into remedying that step so that you can get back on track quickly.”


The New Currency: Customer Experience and In-Store Culture

What Team Automotive has found is that its clients appreciate personalized messages regarding service and sales. If data analysis indicates that a customer is most likely ready to buy, communication is made with a personalized offer given. Almost time for an oil change? A reminder is sent.

Because the communication is based on data, it makes sense to the customer and is viewed as helpful. This versus the same commercial aired to all customers, or the same mailer sent, etc., regardless of where they are in the buying journey – regardless of anything having to do with them.

“This ease in knowing who our in-market customers really are, and in communicating with them, is really exciting. It’s so different from how automotive has operated in the past, and it comes back to data,” Dillard says. “These conversations are much easier and more fun to have with customers.”

Studies have also shown that customers actually want ads if they’re personalized for them, but this is something we as consumers don’t need to be told. If we’re buying a new house, ads offering a great deal on moving services suddenly become interesting, appealing, helpful. Otherwise they’re mostly a waste of our time.

Overall, personalized communication leads to stronger relationships between the dealership team and the customer, and to more fun for both.

“Company culture is the new currency in automotive,” Dillard says. “We are always looking to build the customer experience and make sure our employees are engaged and happy, and also having fun!”

Adding to the fun at Team Automotive is the celebration of milestones. One of the stores recently purchased by the group had been selling 45 vehicles per month. With 100% buy-in from the entire team, Dillard knew that number could be increased.

“We asked the entire team, from the receptionist to the master technicians to the detail team, for their help in reaching our first goal of 100 units in a single month,” Dillard says. “We placed a ‘100’ banner in the middle of the showroom and we set toward working on achieving that goal.”

Once the team reached the goal, everyone signed the banner at a celebratory lunch, every employee received a $100 bill, and the new banner for 125 was put up.

Kristin Dillard with the Team Automotive employees

Never Stop Learning

Not only are the conversations with guests and clients changing at Team Automotive; the people having them are too. Dillard makes it a point to hire both millennial as well as female team members so that customers will be working with people who look like them. In fact, the majority of the team (75%) at Team Automotive are millennials, including managers and senior leaders.

A millennial herself at just 37 years old, Dillard finds that younger employees are motivated and competitive as long as they know what’s expected of them.

Her own path in automotive started the same way her dad’s did, in the detail center washing cars and answering phones. She left to go to college, but came back shortly after graduating and has worked in every position (“so now when I ask somebody to do something, I know what I’m asking,” she says). All of her experiences have prepared her for her current position.

“I’m so grateful to my parents for being such amazing role models and for trusting me with such a wonderful, challenging, and exciting position of responsibility,” Dillard says. “I get to do a job I love, and one that’s constantly changing. One day I’m wearing my dealer hat, then I put on my construction manager hat to check out the progress downtown. I might put on my selling hat to sell a car to a friend, and then my accounting hat to help close a statement. I’m always learning.”

Ultimately, that’s the message she most wants to share with young people entering the industry.

“Never stop learning; always be a student,” she says. “Start at the bottom and work your way up. Don’t be afraid if you don’t have all the answers – nobody does. Asking questions and keeping your mind open is a great strength.”

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