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Women Driven 2024: An Interview With Host Katie Mares

Autosphere » Dealerships » Women Driven 2024: An Interview With Host Katie Mares
Katie Mares. Photo MVRO

Leading brand expert and bestselling author shares insights on how to create a superior experience for female consumers and employees.

On May 23, Women Driven will begin its multi-city tour in Ontario, visiting Barrie, London, Ottawa, Subury and Toronto, starting out with an event in Barrie at the Automotive Business School of Canada. Hosting this series of inspiring networking and content sessions will be leading consumer brand expert Katie Mares, who is on a mission to empower women across the globe. Recently, Autosphere had an opportunity to interview Mares, asking her about her background, how she got involved in automotive retail as well as sharing some of her insights into what constitutes not only a great customer experience, but a great workplace that allows employees to deliver on that promise.

For more information on Women Driven, visit mvro.ca/womendriven or contact Liz Kearney ([email protected])

Autosphere: Tell us a little about your background and how you got involved in the industry?

Katie Mares: In my career, I’m known as a brand experience expert, and have had the opportunity to design experiences for all sorts of organizations across multiple industries. These include brands such as Celebrity Cruise Lines and Canada Post. I ventured into the automotive retail space because I had some bad experiences as a customer when purchasing vehicles. Because of that, I felt there was a big opportunity to help improve and elevate the customer experience, particularly for women. In my own personal experience, I went to six dealerships before I finally purchased my vehicle. The seventh store I went to was, the only one that I felt, treated me like a human being and showed genuine consideration for my vehicle needs as a mom with three kids. Furthermore, I ended up spending $20,000 less than I budgeted for because this dealership and the vehicle gave me everything I needed and from an OEM brand that I hadn’t previously considered.

Although ultimately, it was a very satisfying experience—my car buying journey via the previous dealerships showed that you could have a far better experience buying a $7 coffee than spending $70,000 on a new vehicle, particularly if you’re female. That gender disparity I saw in automotive retail at the time drove me to study the physiology between men and women within the automotive retail environment. I learned that there was a need to improve things and from that I was able to write articles and develop keynote presentations. I applied to speak at events and was given the opportunity to present at some major industry conferences including NADA, Digital Dealer, Women in Automotive etc. as well as working with OEMs such as Volvo. What’s interesting is that women tend to be the most influential customers in most households and that extends to everything that is purchased by that household, whether it’s coffee, clothes, or cars.

AS: Is there anything else you’d like to mention related to your car buying experiences?

KM: I think the one thing that struck me when I was looking for my next vehicle, was just how archaic the buying experience was. Because of this, I decided to perform a survey to see if that this was truly prevalent in the industry, and it wasn’t just me. What I discovered was that 88% of women surveyed said they went with a man to the dealership to buy a car and not on their own. Furthermore 100% of those said that the man was greeted first when purchasing a vehicle. What this demonstrated, is, that not only did women feel uncomfortable, but they almost immediately tuned out. And when that happens, you lose a customer, and the irony is that in most households, women are the decision makers when it comes to purchases. Therefore, as a dealer if your sales staff are not addressing female consumers from the get-go and properly listening to them, they’re leaving a lot of money on the table.

AS: How did you first get involved with Women Driven?

KM: It was almost by chance. I had an opportunity to attend the 2024 Canadian International AutoShow and truthfully, I was on the fence at the time about whether or not to go, but ultimately, I decided it would be in my best interests to attend. It proved to be a great decision, as I met Todd Bourgon and the team from MVRO. We started talking about the female customer and the female experience in automotive retail, as well as my background in designing brand experiences and it just seemed like a very good fit. They asked me if I wanted to host Women Driven and the rest is history. This experienced proved that when you take a chance, amazing things tend to happen!

Women Driven will be hosted in five cities in 2024, Barrie, London, Ottawa, Sudbury and Toronto. Photo MVRO

AS: As a brand experience expert what do you think is essential when it comes to delivering an authentic customer experience, particularly for females?

KM: I think it’s really about being an authentic human being and genuinely connecting with your consumers. Women think differently and their limbic brain is almost twice the size of a man’s. Because of this, they tend to remember things and in greater detail, which is different from what men tend to do. The limbic part of the brain is the emotional memory hub for the brain and if a woman feels that a connection or relationship with a sales associate does not come across as genuine, then she’s lost interest and moved on. That’s why it is so important to create real, authentic relationships. When meeting potential female vehicle shoppers, being kind and paying attention to their needs and truly understanding what they’re looking for in their next vehicle is essential. Notice I said the word ‘kind,’ not the word ‘nice.’ When you look at the term ‘nice,’ it can come across as being forced and disingenuous, and potential customers—especially women—will see right through that.

AS: How do employees factor into creating an optimal customer experience?

KM: There is a saying that your happiest customers are only as content as your happiest employees. If you don’t have happy, productive employees then you won’t have happy, long-term customers. And I think the important thing to understand, is that it applies to both men and women. Your employees are human. They have families, feelings, and emotions. Effective leadership teams recognize this and that’s why the most successful organizations [and dealerships] have a culture that respects and encourages employees. When customers see happy employees who go the extra mile and are genuinely sincere and willing to help, they are far more likely to connect with them. We talk a lot about the customer journey and touch points during that experience in both purchasing and servicing a vehicle, but how often do we talk about that from an employee perspective? To be truly successful, the employee experience needs to be front and centre from day one. And that means not just learning the skills required for the role, but learning ‘emotional intelligence.’ New hires need to learn about your culture. They need to learn about what your organization stands for and your brand promise.

They also need to know what you’re going to deliver to their co-workers and the potential customers that are entering the building. They should learn that first, because there’s nothing worse than someone who’s learning a process and doesn’t know how to properly handle a consumer. When a customer understands that somebody is new and in training, and is receiving proper support from management, they are far more likely to be forgiving and work with that employee. It comes down to transparency and integrity. If an organization says it offers great customer service, then that needs to reflect across the organization, with every process and employee. If you don’t train for that emotional intelligence and if you don’t have a culture where people are genuinely put first, then that attitude and perception will spread into every facet of the company, and you’ll end up with a situation where your employees don’t trust you and your customers won’t trust your employees because they don’t trust you. And that kind of situation breeds consistent disappointment and with that, comes chaos.

AS: As a role model what advice would you give to others looking to achieve both professional and personal goals?

KM: That is a very good question. Firstly, I would say it’s important to know your worth and secondly, be willing to say yes, because we are all far more capable than we often give ourselves credit for. And, in order to really succeed, we need to believe in ourselves more than anybody else. Another thing that’s really important is to understand that your past experiences whether good or bad do not define who you are. We all make mistakes, and we all experience failure, but the thing is, to understand that these experiences define what decisions we will make next. What’s really beautiful about life is that you always have another choice. So, even if you didn’t say yes, this time, give yourself grace. And say yes next time, because that next time is what’s going to shape your future and not the things that have already happened. Know your intrinsic value and worth and that’s especially important for women. Play to your strengths, including compassion and empathy which are natural for females and essential for strong leadership. Often, we as women tend to squander our capabilities and not play to our strengths because we’re afraid and don’t consider ourselves worthy to take those risks. So, my advice is, don’t be tethered to the past. Learn from past failures and move forward, because by doing so we grow as human beings and that enables us to step into who we truly are and what we’re truly meant to do.

AS: As Women Driven approaches, what are some of the things you are looking forward to hosting in the series this year?

KM: One thing is being able to meet everybody. I’m very excited to be hosting Women Driven and I can’t wait to be there and meet the attendees in person. I feel honoured to be part of the Women Driven movement and very much looking forward to meeting these women and having conversations. I want to get to know everybody who is attending, as well as having the opportunity to help, inspire and motivate others. My mission is to deliver positive, actionable change with every interaction. If I can leave these events and networking sessions having motivated and elevated those whom I’ve met, and they are better off because of it, then I will be very happy in knowing I’ve been able to make a difference.

AS: Any final thoughts?

KM: Just that I want this series of events to be fun and that everybody has an opportunity to take part and celebrate their abilities and uniqueness. The odds of somebody else being like us is 43 trillion to one, so that in itself, is something to celebrate! I look forward to seeing everyone at Women Driven this year!

 

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