Stig Saeveland has a double business degree and started working in the advisory sector in Norway. Five years ago, he took the opportunity to join the largest group in Scandinavia specialised in BMW and Porsche as CFO. About two years ago the business was acquired by Hedin and afterwards, he became CEO of the Hedin Automotive group in Scandinavia. He does not see himself as a ‘car guy’, but as someone ‘much more focused on the customer experience’.

How important is the customer experience to automotive retailers?

Electric, autonomous, connected and digital mobility; it is all happening at the same time, and at an extremely fast pace. In Hedin, we recognise the challenge, but more so – we see the opportunity. To grow and thrive, we need to put the customer at the centre and pursue new ways to operate. We work tirelessly to ensure that we are and remain the customer’s first choice. It´s about professional excellence and creating indelible energy and unique customer experiences – in every single customer interaction. Our premium products are identical whether a customer buys them from us or from our competitors. What sets us apart is our unique customer service. Our values, our strive to be surprisingly different, noticeably better, and our customer promise to “take care of everything – always”. Excellent people skills are a necessity for success now more than ever.

The knowledge of your salespeople is extremely important. Buyers now in Norway and Sweden are very knowledgeable, especially, about battery and EV technologies. A lot of them take the time to research and read about the product they want to buy. The internet plays a huge part in this, including OEMs’ websites, blogs, online channels, and videos.

All these elements increase our customers’ knowledge and EV is a big topic in Norway. Salespeople need to become specialists to provide our customers with the best possible experience.

How do you see dealers coping with this challenge and, as a result, the traditional dealership model evolve?

We tried to reorganise ourselves to help all customers walking into our dealership with a smooth and dynamic process. However, this shift needs to happen especially in our mindset. Dealers need to be creative, agile and able to adapt.

Personally, when I go into a shop I don’t like to be shifted around and I think we should not see a clear split between the different departments of a dealership.

We started this journey embracing the Lean management style and, eventually, we will be able to iron out the divisions between our departments. Maybe one day a sales advisor and a service advisor will be the same person.

With such a forward-thinking mindset, do your customers still value the interaction with a ‘human being’?

Yes, this is a mixed picture, one thing does not exclude the other. We have a lot of extremely dedicated and fantastic employees, and they are flexible in their approach to our customers. It can only benefit certain customers to have fewer points of contacts if that’s what they want. It is important that we empower the customers and give them the choice of buying a car how, where and when they want, whether online or in store.

How about the online offering?

It’s very hard to get end to end online sales working though we have already sold new cars from our website. However, there are interesting trends, if you look at Amazon for example, which was born digitally and purely as an e-commerce platform, they are now opening physical shops in a lot of places. The holy grail is to be able to deliver an omni-channel experience to customers. They should be able to start a buying journey online and not have to start all over again when coming into a physical dealership or vice versa. We need to enable the customers to organise their buying journeys how they like. Some customers may prefer to start online, continue offline and then perhaps go online again, some may want to do everything offline, but the customer must have the choice. We need to look outside and learn from other sectors.

How is the relationship with your manufacturer?

We have a long, solid and trusting relationship with our manufacturers. In our experience, dealers and manufacturers need to work closely together. We share a common target; we both want to sell as many cars as possible with as high retention as possible in our workshop. We have all we need to make this happen, if we as dealers succeed, the manufacturer also succeeds.

In Hedin we believe that we can only achieve this by representing our values. We are open, honest, humble and respectful at the same time. We bring our ideas to the table and have open discussions with our manufacturer to find common ground.

With new car sales declining, used cars and aftersales have been key areas for franchised dealers. Is it the same in Norway?

It generally depends on the brand. However, with a flat market, having Tesla coming in and taking 15% of it made it tougher for every new car business. The used car market is good in Norway but tends to fluctuate almost from month to month. In the workshops we are very busy.

What do you see as the main challenges to the development of the EV market, especially when it is in its early stages?

The first issue to address is always how to scale your investments. However, the main concerns surround aftersales and parts sales. In a lot of places, the parts department tends to receive less attention as the main focus is always on new and used cars, and the efficiency and productivity of the mechanics.

In Norway the ‘national goal’ is that all new cars sold by 2025 should be zero-emission. Do you feel the EV market has already overcome the biggest barriers?

It is hard to say if we are over the worst or in the middle of the transition. In new car sales, the shift from internal combustion engines to EVs has not had such a huge impact. However, in the aftermarket, I expect to experience tougher times as we deal with more EVs.

Attracting and retaining talent is an issue in the UK, especially for technician roles. Do you have a skills shortage problem?

In Norway, there are clear differences between urban and rural areas. Especially in Stockholm we have had some challenges to fill our mechanic positions. This is also because we have grown quite a lot, people are moving and want to reduce their commuting time. It will continue to be a challenge in the future.

Is the perception of the automotive industry a potential problem among the new generations?

On one occasion, I had a discussion with a colleague working at a bodyshop in Stockholm asking me how sustainable our business is. Sustainability is a concern for the new generations, we are working hard to address this issue, and we need communicate that we do take the environment seriously.

We have a great success story within BMW, the BMW i3 is the most sustainable car on the market and 95% is recyclable. We need to tell this story.

What is your relationship with your employees and how do you get the best out of them?

We would not have achieved success if our employees were unhappy at work. It is as simple as that. In a highly competitive, fast-changing industry, attracting and retaining the right talent has never been more important. A co-worker who is treated with respect and is included, feels part of the business, has a better time at work and contributes much more, it’s a win-win situation. If you have fun at work and feel acknowledged, you are more positive with the customer. When you enter a shop, it is very easy to sense if it’s a nice place to work or not.

A few months ago, we were awarded the ‘Great Place to Work’ certification for the third consecutive time. Great Place to Work, a global authority on high-trust, high-performance workplace cultures, collects direct feedback from employees. For me, the certification is a direct result of our systematic efforts in the field of culture and communication. It is a testimony of the commitment, motivation and passion we proudly observe throughout our organization.

Do you have any advice for UK dealers and what do you feel you can learn from them?

Giving advice is very hard not knowing the UK market. My impression is that UK dealers are very good at creating synergies between the various groups. They seem to have very good structures and communications as well as being proactive on the online side. We have a lot of things to learn from them.

Personally I believe that creating a healthy, high-performing, and agile organizational culture is key to success in a rapidly changing automotive industry with increasing complexity and competition. In Hedin, we believe that our unyielding focus on culture is necessary for our employees to be able to deliver unique customer experiences authentically. Employees who trust their managers give their best, work freely, and their extra effort goes right to our bottom line.

What is more efficient a traffic light of a roundabout? Studies show the roundabout. Who is in charge? The traffic light is the management, in a roundabout, it’s the drivers, the people, who are in control.