Dealerships enjoy a major plus in public perception as the automotive service provider of choice. Savvy car dealers capitalize on this perception, and drive increased business to their stores.
In research comparing various service outlets, dealerships rank highest in both quality maintenance and trust, making them preferred service sources. (The downside: dealerships are perceived as expensive and inconvenient.)
Car dealers are taking advantage of the positive perceptions, and attempting to become more consumer friendly. One trend becoming popular among car dealers is to schedule car-care clinics. They accomplish several consumer-focused objectives, including:
Attracting and retaining more female, younger and older customers who may need the instruction and support a clinic provides in basic car care.
Reinforcing the need for preventive maintenance and de-mystifying the service experience.
Elevating educating over selling, which builds trust and reinforces the relationship between the dealer and the consumer.
To reap the benefits of conducting car-care clinics, target prospective attendees by contacting existing customers as well as garden clubs, women's business and professional groups, church groups, senior citizen centers and driver's education classes.
The dealership is the ideal place to hold the clinic. Among the advantages, it:
- Gives attendees a “behind the scenes” look at the dealership, which impresses consumers whose typical exposure to an automotive service facility does not give them the chance to see the quality setup of a typical dealership.
- Familiarizes potential customers with what will happen to their vehicles when they are brought in.
- Psychologically lets customers picture their car being serviced at the dealership.
Plan your clinic format carefully. Here are some tips for that:
- Have it run no more than an hour.
- Plan a question-answer period at the end.
- Make it purely educational; go soft on the selling.
- Choose someone to conduct the seminar — whether it is you or an employee — who is accustomed to speaking in front of groups, is knowledgeable and has good communication and people skills. Be sure the instructor can convey information in a way that interests your attendees, helps them feel comfortable in asking questions and provides them with the sense of time well spent. Make it fun and informative.
Use a scripted presentation to maximize time and guarantee that all points are covered. It should include:
- The vital role of engine oil, transmission fluids and air filters; why they need to be changed and at what frequency.
- Why and how to check belts and hoses.
- How to change a tire.
- Proper air pressure in tires.
- The importance of tire rotation.
- How to check all fluids.
- Scheduled maintenance intervals.
- Emergency supplies every driver should carry.
The end of the seminar is a great opportunity to offer coupons for value-added services. Send everyone home with a “goodie bag” containing such items as information on what to do in a roadside emergency, a safety flag and a shop rag.
Finally follow up with attendees. Consider sending surveys (with a service coupon included) accompanied by an addressed, stamped envelope for easy mailing back. Surveys yield excellent feedback to fine tune seminars. They also keep you longer in the consumer's mind.
David Kunkel is a sales and marketing manager for CITGO Petroleum Corp.