Customer retention is a key challenge in the automotive industry as relationships with customers are transforming. We live in a digital age when customers are more demanding, more informed and more savvy than ever before. All generations of vehicle owners nowadays are highly connected, whether they are baby boomers, Gen-Xers, Gen-Yers or Millennials. Therefore, it’s no surprise that most car dealerships have embraced technology to find new ways to communicate with their customers, retain them and attract new ones.
The path to customer retention is windy and slippery. It’s windy because there is no straight highway to customer loyalty. It is the result of significant effort that support a clear and specific retention strategy. It is slippery because there are traps and pitfalls along the way. Offering profit-busting discounts or expensive giveaways just to win over a customer must be handled wisely if part of your retention strategy.
This blog post will show you what to focus on and where you should start.
Customer retention starts at the service department. The first type of service a new car owner will get from its dealership is an oil change.
I am going to share a personal experience. When I bought my brand-new car, I was offered by my dealer to buy oil change coupons at a discounted rate for the first six oil changes. I had spent a lot of money on my car and I knew I had to go back to the dealership for maintenance if I wanted my warrant to be honoured. This offer sounded like music to my ears. I would save money on a service that I would have had to pay full price for otherwise. And my dealer was ensured a revenue and guarantee I would come back at least six times. This was a win-win deal.
This incentive program was my first contact with my dealer’s service department. There is no way your service revenues will reach new heights with oil changes, but it is the first logical baby step toward loyalty and higher revenues.
A customer returning for service has higher chances to also return to repurchase another vehicle. Don’t let your customers go! Start to nurture them for more business and deals.
The first time I came to the service department for tire changes, I was offered to be part of my dealership’s loyalty program. The concept is simple. The more I spend, the more I collect points I can redeem as dollars on my current or next invoice.
Incentive and loyalty programs are great tools on the path to retention. However, these are not enough and should be part of a global retention strategy.
Dealerships invest a lot of money for their building and showrooms to attract more potential customers. When you are a customer of a dealership’s service department, you may appreciate walking in a new, bright and well-designed garage, but oftentimes, you probably like to scout out the snazzy new vehicles.
The waiting room is available for customers on standby for their vehicles to be ready. How pleasant it is to wait in a lounge-style room, with comfortable armchairs and soft light. Some customers may want to work on their laptops while waiting. Offer them regular chairs, tables and Wi-Fi. Add a few TV screens displaying different programs, fresh water, coffee, tea and treats. And don’t underestimate the importance of nice and fresh bathrooms filled with some extra special touches, like hand cream, etc.!
There you are! The stage is set. Now it’s time for the service department to act!
Your frontline team members are your service ambassadors. These employees are the first point of contact for your customers with your dealership. Make sure you share your vision of great customer service with your staff. Train your frontline employees to better serve your customers, better use your communication tools and promptly deal with complaints.
Have you ever wondered what brings a customer to the service department? The key to customer loyalty is fostering a sense of proximity and confidence between customers and their preferred dealer. Customers are cautious when it comes to vehicle maintenance and repairs. They don’t easily trust dealers as the profession suffers from a bad reputation.
To earn the trust of your customers, be transparent. Text pictures of parts to be changed, share short videos of major repairs being done on their vehicle.
Most customers have no knowledge or know-how about car mechanics or electronics. It makes them insecure and skeptical. Share with them relevant information on the repairs being done to their vehicles, keep them updated, and let them know as soon as their vehicles are ready. It will make things easier when comes the time to present the final bill. It’s easy to justify the number of labor hours on a repair order when the bill is supported with pictures and videos showing the complexity of the job. Being transparent in your communications will pay off and you’ll see results in your customer satisfaction levels.
Good communication with customers goes beyond sending reminders for their next service appointments. It is also about establishing regular and relevant exchanges they value. It is crucial to show your customers they are important for you.
For example, in the case of a service reminder, the dealership could text the following message: “From Richard @ Apex Motors - Hi Ms. Smith, according to our files, your last visit was 6 months ago. Your vehicle is due for maintenance. Let me know which day and time would be best for your next appointment.”
Your customer will feel well taken care of as you are attuned to her needs. You will also generate more business for your service department.
Quickly answer your customers’ requests. People are eager to get answers. We live in a word where instant communication is the norm. Whether you like it or not, customers will judge your service on how fast they get answered.
No customer should be left without any updates or news. Make sure that when employees have to leave, a colleague is transferred the whole ongoing conversation and has access to the client’s history. In the case of a virtual conversation, using a digital communication platform, ensure that the tool supports this essential feature.
Delivering the right message at the right time to the right person is paramount to a winning retention strategy. This is obvious and easy for in-person communications. Things are more complex in the case of virtual conversations, which are occurring more and more often. It is also important to personalize the messages sent to customers for higher engagement.
To be able to personalize your communications with your customers you have to:
Once you have the data and the tools, you can now send personalized and relevant messages to your customers with offers that will resonate with them. For example, let’s say your customer declined a recommended repair last time she came to the service department. No problem! You can now easily send her a text message offering her to do that declined repair when she comes for her next maintenance appointment. Chances are that she will be more willing to accept your recommendation.
Send a message to your customers after their visits to your service department to thank them for their business. This is an opportunity to send them a satisfaction survey before they receive the manufacturer’s CSI review.
Invite your highly satisfied customers to give a review on your Facebook or Google page by sending them a text message with a clickable link. This is an easy, quick and inexpensive way to improve your online reputation and spread the word about your business.
This is also a great opportunity for you to collect positive comments and become aware of negatives ones. In the event of negative feedback, consider it a chance to regain and retain disappointed customers as well as provide superior customer service. After all, how you handle customer complaints demonstrate to them how you care for them.
All of the above recommendations serve the same purpose: increased customer satisfaction.
What does make a customer come to a service department? Customers have problems and want you to solve them. They want to know what is wrong with their vehicles and how much it will cost them to have their issues fixed.
What makes them come back? The key to successful customer retention comes from an outstanding customer service supported by regular, relevant and personalized quality communications. Do your best to exceed customers’ expectations and provide them with an exceptional experience each time they come to your dealership. Send them relevant offers that resonate, remind them of due maintenance, and keep them updated with ongoing repair operations or potential recalls.
In the digital era, marketing operations based on new technologies fosters trust and confidence that today’s discerning customers are looking for.
Make sure you use a communication platform that allows personalized and smart communication between your staff and customers.
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