While car dealerships aren’t necessarily held in high regards by consumers, there are many dealers out there that are pillars of their community. Big hearted philanthropists who understand the sense of community and the importance of being involved. A great example of this – and the impact it has had on the community – is the story of a dealership in Victorville, CA, featured in a recent article in Automotive News.
Victorville Motors decided to create a promotion: “It’s a Gas to Go to School,” to encourage local high school students to attend class. This promotion, in cooperation with the local school district, offers students the chance to win a free car if they achieve perfect attendance throughout the school year. Students with perfect attendance records receive a golden ticket and access to a day-long celebration event which culminates in a vehicle presented to one deserving student.
Since inception, the promotion has expanded to include teacher attendance. It is now a bi-annual event with more districts and schools participating. Now, more than 100 local businesses also donate prizes, which increases the number of winners. According to the article, this contest has created more than $10 million in additional state funding to the districts involved, as California schools are funded by average daily attendance. In addition, it has saved these districts over $600,000 in teacher pay that would have been paid to substitutes had teachers taken their sick days.
And what does the dealership get? The vehicles given away are wrapped with advertising for a year, so in effect the dealership gets mobile advertising around the local area for a whole year. In addition, they have the attention and appreciation of the staff, parents and students of all of the school in all of the districts that participate.
But, you ask, did it help them sell more cars? According to dealer principal, Tim Watts, he “stopped counting at 300.” Do you feel two free cars a year is a lot of money? Would you spend $40,000 to sell 300 cars? I think most dealers would.
This is a great example of how dealership involvement in their local area impacts the community and captures the hearts, souls and attention of… well… just about everyone. It’s hard to believe that all of those included and/or affected by this bi-annual contest wouldn’t give Victorville Motors first shot at their business. It is one thing to SAY you love your community, but this type of community involvement PROVES it to the people that matter most… your customers.
And, all of the high school kids in Victorville will eventually need to buy a car. If the contest continues, (which is likely as it keeps growing) it’s very possible that it will continue to influence consumer buying behavior in the local market across even more generations.
And, when you have positive word-of-mouth locally – well, you can’t buy any more effective advertising than that.
There have been countless studies about employee engagement and how, when engaged, employees tend to be happier, more productive and deliver a better customer experience. With a 70 percent annual turnover rate in sales, this is an area that the auto industry – at least on the sales side – has a problem with. Don’t think the auto industry is alone, however. According to an article posted on Digitalistmage.com, a recent Gallup poll found that “67 percent of workers aren’t engaged—or worse, they’re actively disengaged—a number that’s been pretty stagnant for the past 16 years.”
The article went onto state that companies who are participating in these polls and then taking action to create initiatives within their organization are failing as well. Why? According to the article, the reasons are two-fold:
- By the time the poll results are published, the results are outdated. This means that initiatives are created based on data that is no longer be valid.
- Management wants to fix things on their own (i.e. create initiatives, champions, etc.)
- Apparently companies are too sensitive.
You can’t fix any problem with old data. If you don’t know what’s going on in the dealership RIGHT NOW, any attempt you make at changing culture and winning over employees will more than likely fail. On top of that, engaged employees aren’t something that can be magically created. Management can peruse data and create ineffective programs even with the best of intentions. Employees must decide on their own to be engaged with a business. Management can’t make them.
So if, as the article states, we’re all doing it wrong and have been for almost two decades, how do we improve? The article suggests that a more modern – and effective – approach to increasing employee engagement lies in three areas:
- Empowering individuals – Everyone likes to talk about open door policies between management and employees. However, in reality many employees hesitate, especially in our industry, as there can be a fear of repercussion or that it perhaps won’t accomplish anything. It’s not uncommon for management changes to usher in a spat of terminations, simply because the new managers want to bring in people loyal to them. Trust tends to be lacking and without that trust, employees will never be engaged.
- Increased transparency – If you think that dealerships only struggle with transparency issues when it relates to consumers, you’d be sadly mistaken. There is plenty of information that is withheld from sales staff under the presumption that it’s for their own good and justified by the fact that sans the information, the sale will end up with a higher gross. The mistake here is that chances are good the customer already knows the information that the dealership is withholding from the salesperson. I get the philosophy behind it. And, prior to the auto industry getting hit between the eyes with the information revolution, perhaps it was a good strategy. Not anymore. How is a salesperson supposed to consult and build trust with a customer when they have less information than the customer? It’s highly likely that the customer won’t believe the salesperson doesn’t actually have the data, but think that they are withholding it intentionally.
- Prioritizing wellness – Retail car salespeople work brutal hours. We’ve all been there. And even salespeople fortunate enough to work at dealerships that offer flexibility, and/or moderate work schedules, must learn to cope with the stress of feeling as if they need to be at the dealership all the time, as the customer may come back and buy from another salesperson, so they lose half the commission.
Employee wellness is imperative to employee engagement. While the auto industry may be their career, don’t force employees to choose between family time, healthy living and mental well-being. Working 70 hours a week, never seeing their families and living off of whatever fast food place is nearby your dealership is a recipe for burn out regardless of the industry.
Employee engagement, employee retention, customer experience and the value of human capital are hot terms in the auto industry right now. To truly create a culture where employees want to work for your dealership and are actively engaged in its success, consider the importance of and think about how the three areas above might be applied in your dealership Just because we’ve always done it that same old way doesn’t mean that way is still viable. The employees are voting with their feet and to keep them happy and engaged with your dealership, it may be time to change things up a bit
Loyalty is a fickle thing. While your customer has consistently serviced their vehicle with you, when they get that $19.95 oil change coupon from your competition, will it go in the trash, or will they choose to take advantage of it and defect to the competition?
Most consumers love sales and discounts. In fact, the whole reason negotiation exists in showrooms is the perception of a “good deal,” which is completely subjective and varies from dealer to dealer, as well as customer to customer. A whole new sector of business has sprung up that offers consumers advice on what a good deal is. Then let’s look at Black Friday — a cultural phenomenon where customers camp out for weeks to save $200 on a television. It’s surprising the lengths that some consumers will go to and the time they are willing to spend researching and shopping for that sometimes elusive “good deal.”
So what if your business decided to never have a sale again? Gone would be those customers that only come in to your business for that discounted service, or that customer that drives 100 miles to save $250 on a vehicle, that you’ll never see again.
But, we still want to keep our customers coming back. So, how do we continue rewarding our truly loyal customers and make them immune to competitor offers?
A fascinating article on RetailDive explored the tactic that many businesses are adopting – the premium loyalty program. Amazon has been extremely successful with this program. According to the article, it’s estimated that half of all U.S. households belong to Amazon Prime. Let that sink in a moment. Half of the households in the U.S. pay Amazon $99 per year for the privilege of buying merchandise from them. In return, they get special perks, including 2-day shipping, and that $99 expense is revenue generated before the customer has ever purchased a single item!
The article also states that Restoration Hardware chairman and CEO, Gary Friedman, recently announced that his company is adopting a premium loyalty program. Friedman stated that, “Our lives are filled with complexity – and we long to break through the clutter to find simplicity. We want to shop for what we want, when we want and receive the greatest value. So rather than navigating countless promotions, we’re changing things… because time is the ultimate luxury.” The company plans to charge participating customers $100 per year for membership. In exchange, members get a flat 25% discount on all regularly priced merchandise and 10% off of clearance items.
According to the article, the thought process behind a premium loyalty program is simple: customers that pay to join are more likely to continue to patronize the business because they want to get the most value from their investment (ROI).
The article further found that interest in premium loyalty programs is strongest among millennial consumers. Three quarters of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 and 77% between the ages of 25 and 34 told LoyaltyOne they’d consider joining a fee-based rewards program, while 61% of 18-to-24 year-olds and 54% of 25-to-34 year-olds contend that fee-based rewards are better than free ones.
The beauty of a premium loyalty program is that customers no longer feel as if they need to search for the best price, or wait for you to have a sale. For members, any day they choose to do business with you, they save money. Premium loyalty programs also offer retailers valuable data on their best customers, which can then be analyzed and used to monitor shopping behavior and make more relevant and personalized interactions.
It’s all about how you treat your customers, and it’s about digging in and knowing them, working with them and delivering a better experience.
Getting your customer’s attention and engaging with them can be a tough task these days. There is so much competition from other marketers — customers are constantly barraged with messages from every side and in every way.
Social media reach has decreased, digital marketing is ever more challenging and direct mail sometimes goes straight into the trash. This leaves some dealerships pulling their hair out due to the lack of response from their customers and prospects.
However, dealers that think outside-the-box a little bit have had great success engaging with their customers. The key is to really interact with your customers and provide something they want that is not just a pure sales message.
In 2011, Howdy Honda set its eyes on Facebook and ran a contest requesting holiday cookie recipes from its fans in exchange for bonus service reward points. The contest’s goal was to engage their customer base while driving incremental service traffic through bonus service reward points. The contest was run for two weeks at the end of November and saw 48 recipe submissions. They then took these recipes and created an e-book which was downloaded over 900 times. Due to the response they received, they repeated the contest in 2012 with the same format and ended up increasing engagement with 68 submitted recipes and an e-book which was downloaded 1,728 times.
That’s incredible branding and engagement! Howdy Honda then further upped the ante and asked participants to add a story concerning the origin of the recipe, along with a sentence or two about the customer’s experience as a Honda owner. Then, in 2014, they added seasonal service coupons and a discount for submitting a recipe and further engaged the customers by allowing them to vote for the best recipe, with the prize being a $250 Howdy Honda branded gift card.122 recipe submissions were received and over 1,000 customer voted online. This time, rather than an e-book, they printed softcover recipe books and handed them out as gifts in the service drive. This, now traditional, contest was a winning success for Howdy Honda. It engaged their customers and promoted their brand.
In an attempt to transform things away from a strictly seasonal promotion, the dealership added a summer picnic grilling recipe book along with the same contest, voting and prize for the winners. This year, they’ve also added a design contest for a new Howdy Honda tote bag.
Howdy Honda set out to do what every great marketing strategy desires – to engage its customers and market to them in a way that, well, doesn’t feel like marketing. Part of their success is their loyalty program and their membership base since adopting their loyalty program in 2008 – which is a little over 63,000 members — and they are adding an additional 400+ each month due to the success of their promotion. This is a fantastic way to engage a captive membership base.
Every year the dealership has run these promotions it has increased customer engagement. The trick in implementing any contest or promotion is to make it engaging and one that fits your demographic. In addition, as with any branding play, ensure that you are consistent with any deployment. Howdy Honda customers look forward to these engagements as is evident in the increased engagement year after year. You may not see massive viral success in your first attempt. But, remember, with a consistent and committed strategy, you too can win the war for your customer’s attention. And that, my friends, is the recipe for success.
The average U.S. household now belongs to more than 18 loyalty programs, for a total of more than 2 billion memberships. That’s an awful lot of loyal customers. But, all these programs and cards can have an unintended effect: customer loyalty fatigue.
Most consumers do still participate in their ‘favorite’ loyalty programs, and for many businesses, it’s a proven marketing tool that adds revenue to the bottom line.
So what is it that turns customers off? Some of the most common reasons are “I always forget to bring my card,” “the coupon I got in the mail has expired,” “restrictions on merchandise,” “not getting good discounts,” etc. For the most part, it seems that customers just aren’t perceiving much value in their customer loyalty programs.
To combat this customer loyalty fatigue, make it a priority to create a loyalty program that stands out from the rest, and is perceived as valuable by your customers. Here are a few tips on how to accomplish this:
First, you may want to consider adopting a mobile app where customers can store their cards on their phones. People may not have their loyalty cards with them all of the time, but they will always have their phones. Apple’s Passbook, for instance, allows consumers to add all types of cards to it, including loyalty cards. This makes it easy for consumers to always have – and access – their loyalty membership when they visit your dealership. In addition, ensure that there is a way to access and/or credit a customer’s loyalty account when a transaction is completed –even if they do not have their cards with them. It’s also a good idea to have a system that can look up the customer via their name, phone number or perhaps even their vehicle’s VIN or license plate.
Second, a loyalty program is only as desirable as the potential it offers its members. Make sure that the rewards you are offering are desirable, worthwhile and attainable, or you may find customers become apathetic about your program. Rewards can include much more than simple freebies or discounts. Consider offering experiences, front of the line passes or other VIP perks for those customers who show their loyalty through bringing you their business. An excellent way to figure out what your customers are interested in is simple – ask them. You may get some unrealistic answers, but I promise that you’ll get some great ideas that you can then implement. The best part is, by doing this, your customers are engaged and feel included in both the program and the process. For a customer to see a new reward appear that was something they suggested is priceless and further strengthens their loyalty.
Third, consider offering coupons with no expiration dates. While the coupons you send may be relevant and desirable offers, there’s nothing more frustrating for a consumer than when they are ready to use a coupon and find it just expired. Whatever you’ve chosen to offer a customer, make it “no strings attached.” You don’t have to send the offer to every member. You can segment the membership list into types of members and then market to them as sub-groups. Consider going through your loyalty program and sending a coupon to all members who haven’t earned any points in the last 6 months. This is a great way to re-engage the customer and potentially recapture their business.
Loyalty programs can be an excellent customer retention tool and help increase revenue while rewarding your customers for taking actions that benefit your dealership. Examine what you’re doing now and how it can be improved for a better customer experience. As a result your customers will be more engaged as they will perceive more value in your program.