Podcast: Adapting Daily Operations to a Rapidly Changing World
The latest episode of the Reynolds and Reynolds video podcast, Connected, featured Chris Walsh, Vice President and General Manager of Naked Lime. In it, he addresses operational changes Naked Lime has made to continue to effectively serve our dealers, and how dealerships can do the same to stay connected to their customers.
Greg Uland: Hello, I'm Greg Uland, marketing director at Reynolds and Reynolds, and this is Connected – the podcast with best practices and ideas to help navigate what is happening in the automotive retail industry and the world today.
As the COVID-19 virus continues to change our world and how we live and work daily, this podcast discusses ways to continue operating in this unprecedented social environment. On today's episode, we have with us Chris Walsh, Vice President and General Manager of Naked Lime Marketing. Chris, thanks so much for joining us.
Chris Walsh: You're welcome, Greg. Thanks for having me.
Uland: Absolutely. So, Chris, life has changed in so many ways for everyone that we couldn't have imagined just a few weeks ago. How have things changed at Naked Lime?
Walsh: It's certainly a different world than it was a couple of weeks ago in numerous ways. Our daily routines have been disrupted tremendously. But I think, in some ways, there are a lot of things that haven't changed. As a company, our focus on our associates and our customers, and our associates' focus on delivering quality service to our customers, haven’t changed.
What has changed is how we communicate with our customers, and the things that we're doing for them. As an example, if you pay attention to the press and the news that gets released, every dealership in every state is kind of in a unique situation. Some are closed completely. Some are open in some areas of the dealership and not open in others. So every dealership's situation is unique from that perspective.
It's also unique from the perspective of, what are their new marketing goals? We've been working with customers for months and years to achieve their marketing goals. Well, their marketing goals in the last two weeks have significantly changed. And every dealer has different views on what they want to focus on, if they're going to adjust their budgets or their spend, and how they're going to allocate that spend. It is changing. And we view our role as a consultative role and helping them understand, what are the pros and cons of what they're considering doing and how they're considering changing their marketing and advertising. Just to educate them on the potential consequences, both good and bad, of what they're talking about doing, so that we can all go into this eyes-wide-open and understand how to achieve the things that they truly wanted to achieve.
The frequency of communication has changed tremendously. We're talking with our customers more. And partly because this situation is so fluid, Greg. It seems to change not quite as quickly as it was a couple weeks ago, but it's still changing quickly. And who knows what tomorrow's going to bring? So we’re trying to stay connected with our customers as much as we possibly can and understanding how we can serve them.
For our employees, the work environment that they're in has changed dramatically as it has really for everybody. All of our Naked Lime associates are working from home, a different world for them. Some of them have, as I do, and I know as you do, have children at home who are not in school, so that adds another level of complexity and stress to the work from home environment. But I think everybody's just really trying to do the best job that they possibly can.
The other thing that we're trying to stress is to constantly question what we're doing for our customers. And when I say that what I mean is questioning ourselves. Is this the right thing to do based on what they're trying to accomplish at this specific moment, given the situation and facts that we know right now, and if it's going to change? So just constantly questioning what we're doing. Is it the right thing? Is it going to help them achieve their goals?
And, we’re trying to maintain the focus on the safety of our associates, making sure that everyone's healthy and safe. We're in a good situation, in that we put together a work-from-home program about a year ago. So almost all of our associates, probably north of 80%, had the equipment and everything that they needed to work from home. So when it got to that point and we were telling people to work from home, it was really very undisruptive for us. It was just a different work environment versus coming into the office. We didn't have to do much with allocating equipment or any kind of technology. So that certainly worked in our favor and that made it a somewhat seamless transition. And since they're doing this, they can work remotely and they can continue to function that way, there's really been no interruption to the level of service or the quality of the service that we're delivering for our customers.
Uland: That's great to hear. And I assume that goes for both your office-based associates, and Naked Lime also has a big presence in the field with the account management team, I assume that carries over for those folks as well in the field?
Walsh: Yeah, it does. It's different for them just because, you know, they're salespeople, so they're used to being in their cars or airplanes and driving around and interacting with lots of different customers throughout a typical day. Now they're working at home like everybody else is. You don't have the face-to-face selling motion that they're typically used to, which for some people is a struggle. Salespeople are type-A of people. Not that you don't have that on the operations side, but it's a much more difficult transition, I think, for some of them to work in this kind of environment. But know we've got phone, we've got email, we've got things like Zoom and WebEx, and we're trying to leverage all the different communication channels that are available to us.
It also gives us an opportunity to provide to them some online learning opportunities so they can continue to sharpen their skills, whether it's sales skills or digital marketing products and things that are going on in the industry and trends that we're seeing out there. We have pretty tight relationships with Google and Facebook and LinkedIn. So we have resources available through them to help us educate both our operations and our field teams so they can be more consultative with their customers. And from a sales perspective, that's really been the way we’ve operated for years now, is that it's a consultative sales approach, where we're trying to educate dealers on what's going on in the market and different ideas that they can adopt to achieve their unique marketing goals.
So we haven't really seen any dip in productivity from the sales team. It's just like it is for everybody else, a different way of interacting with customers and frankly, a way that they're not used to. So it has been a transition for them. And I think they're doing a fantastic job of staying connected with our customers and understanding where we can help them drive their results that they need based on their unique situations.
Uland: So, Chris, after going through this transition for both your office-based folks and your field-based folks over the last couple weeks, what advice do you have or what would you share with dealers about trying to enable their people to work from home and enable a shift in communication?
Walsh: The first thing I would say, which is the approach we took, is to really focus on your customer. For a car dealership, if you're able to operate in some way, your world has significantly changed. How do you stay connected to those customers that maybe don't want to come into the dealership because they're just scared to interact with anybody outside of their homes? But they do have needs, whether it be for a new car, or a new used car, or servicing a vehicle so they can get around and run their life. So they still have specific needs. How can you focus on those customers given the new world?
Make sure that they understand how to reach you. What is your accessibility during this time and what are the different ways that they can interact with you? And really just putting out there how you can serve them and what are the steps that you've taken as a business to protect a dealership's associates to keep them healthy and safe if they're able to be there. And if customers are able to come in, whether it's for sales or service, what have you done to make sure that the environment that your customers are coming into is also safe and healthy for them so that they're going to feel protected?
The second thing would be to understand the technology needs that your associates have if they are going to be working from home. And how can you help them get those technology pieces that they need so that they can continue to function, albeit in a new way, but continue to function and interact with their customers the absolute best that they can.
Uland: That's good. And thinking about customers, consumers, and their needs, is there anything that you've seen, ways that Naked Lime is changing or recommending dealers change in their communication channels or their messaging? Anything kind of overarching?
Walsh: Yeah, we've certainly seen a focus away from bottom of the funnel type advertising, the “buy now, buy here” type things. Because it's just not the world that we're in right now. So shifting more of those dollars up towards the top of the funnel. Some more brand awareness and exposure type marketing, has been something that we've been trying to focus our customers on.
I think another thing is, going back to your customers, what do your customers need in order to get served? What are the things that you can do to help them moving away from coming into a dealership? There are certainly things that you can do to help them in the world that they're in right now. A lot of it's going to be a service. Some of it could be educating them on things that they can do in different ways. So primarily the shift has been towards top funnel type advertising versus bottom of the funnel type advertising.
Uland: Yeah, I think as would be expected. That's good to hear though. Chris, definitely appreciate you taking the time to talk today. While we have the audience and before we hop off here, is there anything else that you want to touch on or anything you want say?
Walsh: I just want to say to everybody out there, we appreciate your business. We appreciate your patience as we kind of all get through this together. I do think we're going to get through it together, but it's going to require us all to obviously operate differently. I think it's going to require us to have a little bit more patience with each other as we figure out how we navigate these waters, understanding that everybody's doing the absolute best that we can.
For our associates, understanding that dealers are really challenged right now in operating in the world that we're in. And it's having a pretty dramatic financial impact on them, that's impacting not only their business, but it's impacting real dealership associates. We need to really, really be focused on helping them get through this. I think if we do that, I do think we will get through this together and come out of this better than we were before.
Uland: Great, well, Chris, thanks again for your time. I really appreciate you coming on.
Walsh: Thanks, Greg. Enjoy your day.
Uland: All right. You too.
Walsh: Take care.
Uland: This has been Connected. Stay safe and we'll see you on the next episode.
Keep an eye out for even more Naked Lime Marketing appearances in upcoming episodes. We’ll keep you informed on constantly shifting marketing trends to help you make the best decisions for your dealership.