Dogs & Love Hearts – the Barnett Formula


One of the things I do is run workshops on Customer Experience. We do an exercise where I get participants to tell stories about good & bad experiences they’ve had. Over the past few months one name has come up again and again when it comes to good experiences – Barnetts Motor Group.

Barnetts are based in Dundee, where they have dealerships for Vokswagen, Mazda and Volvo. They also have a Volkswagen dealership in St Andrews, Fife.

I had two people in Aberdeen workshops recently tell me about their experiences buying cars from Barnetts, and how both now travel to Dundee to get their cars serviced. That’s pretty amazing – Dundee’s over an hour from Aberdeen!

I wanted to find out what makes Barnetts so good. A quick email to a contact got me an introduction to Paul Barnett, son of the founder Bob Barnett, and the current Managing Director. Paul replied quickly with a few dates and times that he could meet with me.

Last Thursday, I spent a fascinating afternoon at Barnetts, learning about how they run their business, and their relentless focus on creating a great experience for their customers. What came across loud & clear was Paul’s passion for the customer, along with his attention to detail. That was replicated in many of the people I met as we walked around the Barnetts base at Riverside.

Two stories capture their ethos beautifully for me.

The first is about Love Hearts. Every service desk has a tub of Love Hearts – the mini packs, not the full-size ones – below the counter. That’s done on purpose – it’s all about the element of surprise. If they’re on show, people expect to be given some, whereas when they’re hidden, it’s more of a surprise and people appreciate the gesture more. As we walked around, Paul checked that each desk was properly stocked, asking the staff member how many they’d given out that day. He explained that the mini-packs were chosen on purpose – he didn’t want to be giving out big packs of sweets, whereas the mini packs are just the right size for parents not to be concerned about the sugar level.

The second story is about dogs. Man’s best friend is welcomed with open arms at Barnetts. There are water bowls and dog chews provided at every dealership. How to deal with a customer that comes in with their dog is part of the induction process, which includes the following question:

A family comes in to the showroom – mum, dad, child, and dog. Who do you speak to first & why?

What do you think the answer is? Let me know below.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours with Paul. Much of what I learned, I’m keeping to use in my talks and workshops. I’ve given you just a little glimpse with these stories. The biggest message is that Paul leads from the front. He sets the standard, it clearly comes as second nature to him to behave this way. It’s also a daily challenge to get his team to think the same way, one that he relishes, and that’s delivered fantastic results for the business – Barnetts Dundee are Volkswagen’s most profitable dealership in the UK, and Volvo is in the top 3.

That speaks volumes for this kind of customer-focused approach.

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