The idea of establishing a training program centered around empathy did not spin out of Phillips’ postgraduate business education, but came from his study of psychology at Columbia.
“We’re trying to move from change ‘done to’ people to change ‘done by’ people,” he said, adding that the concept is a more inclusive vs. top-down approach.
The group displays posters outlining the HEART program throughout each dealership. Every meeting starts with a 15-minute around-the-horn discussion on how the program impacts the professional life of employees.
HEART goes beyond engaging with customers. Many team members report finding success using its tools to interact with their managers and coworkers.
Phillips measures the program’s efficacy by studying negative reviews on Yelp, Google and DealerRater.
“It’s a way for me to hear from customers who didn’t buy or chose not to do business with us after visiting,” he said.
“Through March, our total dealershipwide negative reviews are down about 33 percent,” he added. “And that metric shows me that we’re having success.”
Reviews from customers who did buy often lean more positively, and are easier to come by thanks to the follow-up, factory mechanisms and surveys that are already in place.
“We’re not actively trying to get positive online reviews,” Phillips said. “But we just want as many data points as we can get to find out where we can do better.”
He said the group’s stores are really embracing the initiative.
“What’s been really exciting is the way it caught fire,” Phillips said. “I’ve never run an initiative before where I’ve seen the buy-in happen so quickly and organically.
“HEART really resonated,” he said, “and I think it’s because everyone in our organization truly does care.”