Mix Modern Customer-Retention Tech With Southern Hospitality

Customers will come back if you make the experience feel less like a chore and more like an event they actually want to attend.

Tyler Porter

June 3, 2016

4 Min Read
Mix Modern Customer-Retention Tech With Southern Hospitality

Remember when people actually used to have to visit a dealership to buy a car?

They would come in armed with only a newspaper ad or a price quote from another dealership they had just left. Today, customers shop four to six dealerships online before they ever set foot in a physical one.

When and if they go to a showroom, they’ve got about 16 different prices in their hands. They know, or at least think they know, what others are paying for the car and what the dealer invoice says.

There used to be some mystery, a veil of anonymity, if you will, about the price of car, so even if you didn’t have the best price, you still might make the sale. The Internet has made those days a distant memory, forcing most dealers to rely on profits from the service department to stay afloat. They’ve got to figure out how to get those sales customers to become service customers too – and repeat ones, at that.

Having spent years at dealerships serving in nearly every capacity and now working as a dealer consultant, here’s what I’ve found to be the secrets to success when it comes to service retention.

Being from the South, hospitality always has been a priority in my life. When I sold cars, I knew how important it was to treat customers as if they were in my own home.

Any visitor standing within three feet of you should get a warm greeting, preferably by name. Customers will come back if you make the experience feel less like a chore and more like an event they actually want to attend. That approach also makes you a bona fide community partner, as opposed to just someone just trying to make a sale.

You can have a weekly “Ladies Day” where women bring their car in for a $14.95 oil change and also get a free manicure, lunch and a rose. Monthly specials such as “Saturdays With Dad” encourage men to bring their kids out to see classic cars, eat free hot dogs and listen to music.

Other incentives such as free car washes or multi-point inspections with regular maintenance visits for the life of the car also will make the customer believe buying from you was a wise investment.

Small touches and routines inside the service center can go a long way with customers.

When they pull into the service drive, they should see a computer screen mounted on the wall with their name on it, so they know they were expected. I liken it to making customers feel like they have private car service at the airport. They see their names and know someone is ready to take care of them.

Have a porter at the service drive, holding an iPad, greeting customers personally, confirming why they are there and advising how long their service will take. The same porter should offer the customer a beverage and have another one waiting for them in the cup holder with the heat or air conditioning running inside their serviced and freshly washed vehicle at the end of their visit.

My friend Mike Dobson, who runs Dealer’s Choice in Fairhope, AL, has created a line of software that allows dealers to track customer data to maximize sales and retention opportunities. From online chat functions to powerful email modules, nearly everything he sells allows dealers more direct interaction with customers and prospects. I share Dobson’s belief that customer retention relies on strong communication, prompting me to develop a sales and service retention smartphone app.

Dealers now can send electronic notifications to customers’ phones and track how many of them open it and how often. Ideally, customers would download the app in the F&I office after buying a car, so they would always know where to go when it came time for maintenance. They can make appointments for the service center and hit a button that says “on my way,” and because the app is location-based, the dealer knows how far away they are and how long it will take them to arrive.

If a customer is within a tenth of a mile, everyone in the service department can get an alert on their devices so they’re ready to deliver exceptional customer service.

Incidentally, this geo-fencing technology even lets dealers lure customers away from the competition by sending strategic incentives. If they’re pulling into a nearby Jiffy Lube, they receive an alert offering a $15 oil change if they instead return to the dealership. Our research shows customers happily will turn the car around.

Successful dealerships embrace technology but use it to enhance customer service, not replace it. Communicate with a customer in a way that impresses them, yet is more personable than “click, click, send.”

Tyler Porter started selling cars while in college at a dealership in his hometown in the Florida Panhandle and worked his way through various departments before becoming a general manager. In 2011 he started Indianapolis-based American Dealer Financial Services, where he serves as president and CEO.

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