Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Win (or Lose) a Customer for Life

How much do your dealerships spend on advertising, coupons, and mailings and how much return do you think those dealerships see? Marketing may help get customers in the door, but can it keep those customers coming back? In reality, good first impressions, flexible scheduling, and high quality customer service are the key to attracting service and parts customers to your dealership, regardless of marketing campaigns.

Based on Carlisle’s 2013 Consumer Sentiment Survey, we know what customers value when they get their car fixed—and that they don’t perceive these attributes as their dealers’ strengths.


Now keep in mind these results are from people who have taken their cars to the dealer. But not all customers make it that far. Meeting these customer needs is critical. Let’s look at a couple of examples of dealers; one that failed and one that succeeded in these areas of top importance. A friend of mine recently bought a 2012 crossover and moved to the Boston area. Her car is still under warranty and needed an oil change. After a brief Google search, she found five dealerships within a half hour of her home. She called the closest one on a Tuesday, looking for a Saturday appointment. Not only did the receptionist say that nothing was available that day, but she didn’t offer to schedule an alternative time. The receptionist was curt, short-tempered, and completely unhelpful with this potential customer. When telling me this story, my friend said maybe she should have asked about other times, but she wanted the oil change on Saturday, and she didn’t want to deal with the “grumpy lady.” That’s a pretty easy way to lose a new customer!


So she called another dealer. This one told her to bring her car in first thing in the morning, or mid-afternoon. After providing details about her car to the receptionist (make, model, mileage), the service rep asked if she had the routine 30,000 recommended maintenance done yet. My friend hadn’t, so the receptionist offered to fit it into the same appointment if she came for the morning slot. It would take a few hours, but, because it was under warranty, they would give her a loaner car. “It was awesome because I had errands to run anyway.”

When she arrived, the loaner car was waiting; later, a half hour early, the dealer called to say her car was ready for pick-up. They also told her that she could come back whenever she wanted, as long as it was before the dealership closed.

My friend also wanted a roof rack for her vehicle, and was directed to the parts manager. He looked up the part, and helped her understand what part she actually needed (she had roof rack brackets, but what she actually wanted were the crossbars), without making her feel stupid. They didn’t have it in stock, but the parts manager said he could order it. Then he told her, “Actually, you could go home and order it online and there’s a 20% discount right now.” He went on to say she could have it delivered to the shop and they would install it for her, or that she could probably do it herself! He even walked back out to her car, showed her where the part would attach to the roof rack brackets, and told her that she wouldn’t need special tools to attach it.

In short, this dealer made a customer for life. Before she showed up, the staff members were courteous, helpful, and friendly. On top of that, they nailed at least six of the top ten customer values. Further, they didn’t try to up-sell her on extras and even recommended a cheaper way to purchase the crossbars she wanted! This was her first vehicle under warranty and her first trip to a dealership. Now, she will continue going to this one because she trusts them to continue treating her, and her car, with respect.

Bottom Line: Don’t lose your customers before they walk in the door. A friendly voice on the phone and an accommodating schedule can capture new customers and get them into your dealership. Helpful service and respect for the person and their budget will keep those new customers coming back.

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