Terry Miller Brings 30+ Years’ Experience at Top Ford Dealer to the Midwest

We were thrilled to get the chance recently to interview Terry Miller, whom you may know from his decades of experience in the Ford world at the nation’s number-one Ford store, Galpin Ford in the LA area. Terry recently left his position there as General Manager to become a Partner and Executive Vice President of Gary Crossley Ford in Liberty, Mo., a suburb of Kansas City.

MD: So, Terry, first of all it is so great to finally have you on our cover and to get to talk to you about your success in the Automotive Retail space. But let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: You really moved from Los Angeles to Kansas City? What was the decision-making process there?

TM: I’ve actually been asked that quite often lately. It was a difficult decision, as I grew up in Simi Valley in the Los Angeles area and have worked near there my entire life. To move to the Midwest was a decision that I did not take lightly, and one that I certainly did not make on my own. This was a family decision, because a move like this impacts all of our lives. Kansas City is not a destination that we had been contemplating, but when an opportunity for me to become a partner in a great dealership arose, we decided to fly out here and visit some very good friends of ours and check it out. What we discovered on our trip was a great city, down-to-earth people, a decreased cost of living, and a place that we thought our children would really embrace. We have been here for three months now and have loved every minute of it!

MD: So after you made the decision, what was your first “first day on the job” in 32 years like? Was it a little strange?

TM: Well, it was a strange feeling because I had just left an organization [Galpin Ford] that was more than just work to me; it was truly a part of my life, and so many people I worked with are truly my family. If they are reading this, you know who you are! To answer your question, my first day on the job was the minute I said yes to this opportunity. I immediately started researching Gary Crossley Ford so that I could get an understanding of how it became a pillar of the community and understand the driving force of the Dealer Principal, Todd Crossley. Todd was very accommodating to my questions and gave me a crash course in the culture that both he and his father, Gary, had taken decades to build. So my first day was really getting to know the dealership staff and what their expectations of me–as a new leader in the organization–would be. My first day was actually my first week. A week I would suggest all new managers make time for.

MD: After getting to know everyone, what was your next step?

TM: My next objective was to get everyone to understand that we have one common vision and that success is guaranteed as long as we are all going the same direction.

MD: How did you accomplish that?

TM: I decided after speaking with all of the staff individually that we needed to gather as a family, including everyone’s spouses or significant others, to break bread and share our dealership’s vision for the near future as well as long term. I worked with Todd Crossley and all of the dealership managers to develop our goals and decide what it would look like if we won as a team … what do we consider success. 

After we mutually developed this plan, we put together a presentation where the managers helped me present their individual goals. Then Todd and I helped put all of the individual pieces together to really solidify the plan.

MD: We have talked to hundreds of dealers and have never heard of a meeting like this, that included the spouses – was having them there impactful?

TM: Yes, it was! I learned years ago that having disengaged spouses has a negative impact not only on the employees, but on the dealership as well. It is always helpful to keep them as involved as possible so they understand why their partner is working as hard as they do every day. The bottom line is that employees and their families are important to me and to Gary Crossley Ford. I spoke with all of them and asked their opinion on our presentation and our vision. I learned a lot from listening to their feedback.

MD: While researching for this article, I saw a change in Gary Crossley Ford’s advertising. I see on your website, TV, and print ads that you are going to sell 1,000 vehicles from September through the end of the year. Your ads say, “No Customer Left Behind.” Are you willing to share with the readers how you decided on this campaign and why you think it will be successful?

TM: Truthfully this is a campaign I had used before in California when I was with Galpin Ford. I love this campaign because it applies to every department in the dealership. It’s a common goal that binds us all together and gives the entire team focus – we all focus on our most valuable asset, our customer base!

Fundamentally, this will require the entire team to work smarter, while at the same time continuing to do what Gary Crossley Ford has always done – treat our customers with respect and understand that their wants and needs always come first. It is clear to our organization that keeping customers engaged and keeping Gary Crossley Ford top of mind is our ultimate goal, and this includes our advertising. I have developed campaigns my entire career, but this one especially took a lot of thought. Let
me explain.

One of the major differences between California and Kansas City is that California is a very strong lease market and Kansas City is clearly a retail market. I am sure your readers understand the difference between the two markets and how your advertising needs to be adjusted. When I was in California, I was managing dealership loyalty because I understood that when a lease expires consumers need a new vehicle, and we obviously wanted them to continue to do business with the originating dealership, so my advertising centered around that message. I spent years developing processes and advertising that would ensure our success and buy-in from staff. The Kansas City market is primarily retail sales, so I needed to develop marketing and processes to ensure that our customers will decide to make their next purchase at Gary Crossley Ford. A campaign that points out why you should trade up and the benefits of our newer models versus the model a customer is currently driving. Todd and I had several conversations about a campaign that the entire dealership could get behind – one where they also could have a daily impact on its success. That’s why I decided the idea of “No Customer Left Behind” would work well. It is the same tagline, but the execution of this campaign is completely different.

MD: How are you ensuring that no customer is left behind?

TM: I am using every tool I have available to me to its fullest potential. And luckily, I also have a lot of great relationships in this industry that I can rely on for guidance and direction. The first thing I did was reach out to all of our banks and develop a working relationship that would ensure that our customers who need a vehicle have the best opportunity to finance one using terms that are acceptable.

Next, I made sure that when customers were interested that we gave them all of the information they needed to make a decision either that day or in the future. My belief is that when you give a customer all of this information and make it clear to them that there will be no pressure applied during this process, they are more likely to really listen to what you have to say, in turn helping with their decision-making process.

I really worked with the sales staff on presentation of this information with proper word tracks. I knew I had an issue with this because of how we were presenting the financial piece – we were using a CRM-integrated desking solution that simply could not accomplish the things I thought were important. So I reached out to a longtime friend of mine at First Pencil and installed a new desking and presentation system. With all of that accomplished, I trained the staff on how to meet and greet customers and demo vehicles in order to present information in the proper way.

In service, No Customer Left Behind meant getting the entire staff to understand what is most important to customers. That is a combination of clear communication, their time, and the overall up-time of their vehicle. In other words, I made changes in how we communicate with our customers to always keep them as up to date as possible regarding the process of their repair.

People’s time is very valuable and we always need to have a deep understanding that any time customers spend waiting – in the service lounge, on the telephone, or for email responses – can have a negative impact on their overall dealership satisfaction. We also spoke about the most important thing that keeps our dealership loyalty as high as possible: People want to be able to drive their vehicle as much as possible. Low up-time of a vehicle directly equates to how loyal someone is to your dealership. We have now implemented measurable policies and procedures in all of these areas.

MD: So, 90 days into your new position at a stand-alone Ford store, can you share the differences between working there versus a dealership group the size of Galpin?

TM: There are really too many to mention, but I will point out the one that stands out most to me. It’s really the speed at which I can make changes. As many of your readers will understand, changing things as part of a big group would compare to turning a cruise ship, and now I feel as if I’m on a jet ski. When I see something that can be done in a better way, I can make that change almost instantly.

MD: Can you give one example of making a change quickly?

TM: Absolutely. One thing I’ve been researching for years is how we expect our staff to follow up with our customers. I can remember, when I first started in the business, I kept customer contact information in a tickler file on my desk and did my level best to follow up with my customers via phone or thank-you cards. This was an effective way to keep in touch and sell those people additional vehicles. The problem was, I didn’t always have the time, so many opportunities fell through the cracks. Then we moved to CRMs, which I thought was a great idea. CRMs could follow up in a consistent manner and remind staff to make daily calls and automatically send letters and emails when we prescheduled them to go. That worked great for a decade. But times have changed.

Many years ago, the phone calls became a chore for my staff. In fact it was almost as though I was punishing people by expecting them to make these calls. Emails are now either blocked or sent to junk files, either by carriers determining that we are sending junk emails or because consumers put them in the junk folders manually. Mail that was printed on letterhead and mailed in an envelope doesn’t even make it into the customer’s home, because they put it in the trash, unopened. Why?

Because our communication timelines that we created were delivering the wrong message at the wrong time.

Once again I reached out to a friend of mine, who pioneered the modern CRM and now runs a Kansas City company called AutoAlert. We discussed millennials and Generation Z, who are now the majority of our employees and a greater number of our customers. A lightbulb moment occurred during that meeting. I was asking my employees who hate making phone calls to call our customers who hate getting phone calls! The worse part was, when I audited the reasons we were calling, I discovered that the message was generally irrelevant. If we actually made contact we were using the standard “your vehicle is due for service” pitch, followed up by saying we “really want your trade.” That leads to a high percentage of “Left Message” notes in the customer history.

Why were we calling people at 11 a.m. at home anyway? We know people work and are very busy during the day. Our CRC was making calls because our pay plan drove that behavior. So I changed the pay plan – increased the training in concert with AutoAlert’s on-demand training, and let the mass of data that all dealers can access determine who should be called, when they should be called, and what our message should be. It takes a leader at the store to make these changes – to be involved in these changes but, most importantly, stand behind the changes – every day.

At the end of the day, AutoAlert showed me how using our data, combined with their data and algorithms, could change the way we approached customers, right down to what we say when we contact them, using any method we choose. There is a better way! I decided to make the change and invest in the future of the dealership and the satisfaction of our customers. A change like that in a group of stores would have taken months of meetings and conversations, and after dozens of meetings with dozens of people’s opinions, I most likely would have given up.

MD: So you’re on your jet ski, and you’ve made these turns – these changes in communication that you determined were needed. How is the new direction going?

TM: Perfectly. We have both increased our sales in the front end as well as seen a significant increase in selling to our service customers. Our communication plan to consumers in service has vastly improved, taking our consumer surveys to an all-time high. These changes have allowed me to focus on calls that need to be made, calls with a purpose. Our CRC department has improved overnight, and our customers enjoy the conversations because we are speaking or otherwise communicating with them about something that is relevant to their current situation. I have learned that data used the right way is very powerful.

MD: If you could give all of our readers one piece of advice to make their dealerships more successful, what would it be?

TM: That’s easy! Do what Todd Crossley and I have done. Set clear expectations in all of your departments – set a clear goal and describe what success looks like, and measure it daily. And remember, always: Customer satisfaction is job one.

MD: Thank you, Terry, for your time today. We look forward to following both Gary Crossley Ford and you in the future!

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