A new customer of Hendrick Chevrolet might be a bit intimidated the first time through the dealership doors at 8300 Shawnee Mission Parkway in Merriam.
The eyes can quickly go to the shiny new Corvettes in the showroom. Just beyond them sits an auto parts department. Around another corner, there is the waiting room area for car service.
And on a Saturday, there might be as many as 30 customers in the showroom, looking at cars and talking with sales people.
On top of that, more customers are calling the dealership, making inquiries, ranging from cars to the service of their car.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“It can get crazy,” said Brooke Jones, one of eight guest service receptionists at Hendrick Chevrolet. “I like it when it is busy. Time goes by quicker. You are working, working, working. It is fun, crazy, and it is hard.”
And it is a very important job. At many dealerships, especially the larger ones like Hendrick Chevrolet, the place where the receptionist sits directly faces the front door of the dealership.
“We are the first one they see,” Jones said.
A friendly smile can go a long way in easing the stress of buying a new car. Being able to direct the customer to the right place in an efficient manner definitely helps return business.
“If they come onto the floor, we are happy we can tell them where to go right away,” Jones said. “They are going to enjoy it more instead of standing around and getting angry or grumpy.”
Nearly two years ago, Hendrick Chevrolet made an even more concerted effort to help the customer experience when it moved into a larger facility.
Marvin Johnson, who has been in the auto dealership profession for nearly 20 years in various positions, added the duties of guest service manager two years ago. He sits in the reception area and helps with questions that the receptionists might not be able to answer.
“It is extremely important,” Johnson said of the role of the receptionists. “It is your initial contact, face-to-face with a customer. You have the opportunity to stick your foot in the mud or get everybody on the right foot and get everything flowing in the right direction for whatever their needs happen to be.”
Mike McGinley, the general manager at Hendrick Chevrolet, wants anybody who walks through the doors to have a wow moment because of the customer service offered.
The last thing he wants to see is a customer walk in, have that lost look and no one is there to help that person.
“The most frustrating thing is if you go to a store and you can’t find anybody to help you,” McGinley said. “We want to try to make sure the possibility of that happening is minimal.
“We try to be different and try to stand out. We want them to be like a host for all of our guests who come in, and make sure they are greeted with a friendly face promptly when they walk in.”
It is an approach that exists at all successful dealerships. Gary Crossley Ford at 8050 N. Church Road, Kansas City, functions much the same way. The two receptionists there are Heather Grant during the morning shift and Mikaela Ramirez during the evening.
Gary Montoya, general manager at Gary Crossley Ford, said Grant and Ramirez are more than receptionists.
“When you have so much traffic on the showroom floor, in many cases they become a concierge,” Montoya said. “The customer may be looking for a sales person, so they help them find the sales person. They may walk the floor to make sure everybody has water or everybody is comfortable. The busier it is, the more we rely on the receptionist to make sure our guest are well taken care of.”
Grant and Ramirez are also part of Montoya’s events team, who help out on Saturdays when the dealership is doing pet rescue adoptions while also selling vehicles.
“Obviously, there have always been receptionists, but many dealerships have brought them forward, and their area is part of the architecture, the design,” Montoya said. “Over the last few years, we realize how important they are, how many customers touch the receptionist first.
“We certainly understand that. Our receptionists are trained. They go through our cultural program. We look at them just like a sales person or manager. We want them to know as much about that position in order for them to be successful.”
Grant enjoys the interaction with the customers so much that she returned to Gary Crossley Ford.
“I worked here for 3½ years and then I got another opportunity to work somewhere else,” Grant said. “I left. I begged to come back. Now I am back and I couldn’t be happier.
“I missed the people, the environment. It makes me happy every day.”
It is definitely a people person’s job. Sometimes they have to deal with a customer who is upset. It is important for receptionists to have a smile on their face and a smile in their voice when they are talking to a customer on the phone.
“You can definitely tell on the phone if somebody doesn’t have that smile,” Johnson said.
On a busy day, the receptionists at Hendrick Chevrolet may get anywhere from 180 to 200 calls.
Hendrick Chevrolet prides itself on live transfers, meaning they don’t send a caller to another person unless they are sure a person will pick up the call.
“There is nothing more frustrating than having to call back because the call went to voicemail,” McGinley said. “They do a great job making sure they get a live transfer.”
Technology is a big reason why dealerships get more calls than ever before. Twenty years ago, McGinley said, they had one receptionist who answered the phone.
“Frankly, the volumes of calls were nowhere near what we have now,” Johnson said. “People look up stuff on the Internet now. Because of that availability, they just call where it used to be they had to come in to find out things.”
For receptionists like Jones and Grant, it is a gratifying feeling knowing they played a role in helping out a customer.
“It makes me happy,” Grant said. “I am the first impression they see when they walk into this dealership. I can make their experience good or bad. As long as I get them to the right sales person and that sales person helps them and makes them happy, then I have done my job.”