"Berlin City stays down to earth"
A people-driven business philosophy is the foundation of
the New England auto group's success.
Berlin City Auto Group has a simple business philosophy: "Over
the top care provided by down- to- earth people." So in constantly seeking to
ramp up its level of customer service, the company naturally takes a
straightforward approach: Ask people what is important to them. Then, follow
through and deliver it.
"We're a people-driven company with a people-driven
focus," says Yegor Malinovskii, Berlin City's market president. "I know it's
kind of a cliche to talk about" 'going the extra mile,' but our customer is our
primary focus, and it shows."
"We've conducted more than 1,000 hours on consumer
research to understand on a deeper level what customers really want when buying
or servicing a vehicle," Malinovskii continues.
"In practice, that means talking to people not just at
our dealerships, but also in the restaurant, or on the street or out shopping,
and asking them what do you think would make Berlin City a better company?"
Based on some of the answers, the auto group's "clear way" policy was
instituted. Basically, that means taking the financial mystery out of the car-
"People do not want to play games," Malinovskii notes. "They
want to know exactly what they are paying for a car, what the discount is, how
much they getting for a car they are trading in, how much the amount of a down
payment works to their advantage. We disclose interest rates, too."
"It's an approach that is uncommon for the auto industry.
But our goal is to make the transaction as transparent as it can possibly be
when a customer buys a vehicle. Everything's there in front of you on one piece
Adds Mike McPherson, Director of Customer Relations at
Berlin City's Honda and Nissan dealerships near the Maine Mall,"Everyone loves
having a new car. But the buying process, historically, has not been something
most people enjoy, in part because customer service in the auto industry has
too often been, shall we say, archaic. So the "transparent" approach is one way
in which Berlin City is trying to raise the bar."
"That was another question we asked people: How would you
like to be treated when you go to an auto dealer? Their answers reinforced our
belief that people want to be waited on by someone who is enthusiastic,
knowledgeable, and happy in what they're doing."
Other customer-driven initiatives at Berlin City include
a four-day, money-back guarantee on the dollar difference if you find a better
price on your new car somewhere else. (Malinovskii acknowledges that this is
little used, thanks to the auto group's highly competitive approach to pricing.)
Within the same time period, you can return the car if you decide it isn't
right for you.
Indeed, a common thread through out the company's
business approach is providing peace of mind for the customer. For example, the
60-day, no-questions-asked, we- fix-it policy for buyers, or "pre- owned
protection' for certain vehicles. Another nice feature: Even if you're not
buying a car, Berlin City will buy yours.
Perhaps the most unusual Berlin City benefit is its door-to-door
delivery service, whose impressive reach was recently highlighted in Automotive
News magazine. The dealership in Gorham, N.H., population about 13,000, serves
customers in Maine, New York and Vermont as well as instate clients, with 40
percent of sales to "delivery" customers who buy vehicles without setting foot
in the showroom.
A high level of
"We have lots of car dealers in our area, but none can
offer the deals and service of Berlin City," one customer told Automotive News.
And the journalist Gordie Little lives in Morrisonville, N.Y., four hours
distant from Gorham.
Such robust delivery business points to a couple of
things. One is the dealership's having the technological expertise to conduct
transactions electronically, until the delivery driver appears on your doorstep
to request your signature.
"For customers, the email and Web communication is mostly
a convenience factor," says Biff Babineau, Internet sales manager at Berlin
City's Toyota-Scion-Lexus dealerships in Portland. "People can do everything
except a test-drive and with virtual tours now in the works, we're getting
closer to offering that." More important than the technology is the level of
trust, without which buying a car unseen could be a nailbiter for the
"That comfort level is possible for our customers because
of the relationship we have with them, I hope," says Malinovskii. "And that
relationship Berlin City fosters in part through community activity. We support
Toys for Tots, the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital, the Maine Cancer Society
and at least three dozen others. We're doing a blood drive in January and
expanding our charitable endeavors in 2O1O.
"In the new year, each dealership is adopting a
particular charity to support causes with a local focus, as in a South Portland
charity for our South Portland location."
How does Berlin City identify and choose its charitable
"As with the customer-driven service research, ideas are
generated through employees," Malinovskii explains. "Some managers are
involved, but on the whole, these employees are service technicians and
salespeople and so on, who really know what is important to the people in their
"Not a lot of companies empower employees to effectively
determine how business should be conducted, but we have a program called "Berlin
City Ambassadors" where a group of engaged employees meet to talk about what we
can do to be a better company."
"It's a unique model and a direct reflection of our New
England identity and values. We are the people who live in the same
neighborhoods as our customers, belong to the same churches, go to the same
schools, care about the same things.
"We believe that customers can appreciate the way Berlin
City is committed to such long term relationships. They are the core of our "downto-earth"
Marketing Department Maine Sunday Telegram