I had just finished reading this article on marketsoft.com about customer loyalty, when a business associate told me about a similar situation that happened to him. In his mailbox was a glossy, oversized postcard offering a discounted oil change for his vehicle from the dealership from which he purchased it. In an attempt to cater to new customers, the dealership was offering a $16.95 oil change, which it claimed, was a savings of over 50 percent off of the regular price of $34.95. The next day, my associate received an email from the service department at the same dealership. It was reminding him that his oil change was due and that he could schedule an appointment on the dealership’s website and lock in the VIP customer rate of $34.95 for the oil change.
Wait, what? The VIP customer price is actually the regular price. Where is the VIP rate? As a current customer, it surely appears that he needs to pay double? It may not seem to be a costly mistake on the surface. But stop for a moment and view it as the customer would. Suddenly both of the communication pieces become worthless as the customer level of trust is now fractured.
This happens all too often in the auto industry. For marketing purposes, customer information and vehicle data is imported into a CRM from a DMS, or many times obtained from outside third party resources. Sometimes the information is duplicated, errors occur between software platforms due to different data structures, multiple entries are created, and of course, sometimes, humans make mistakes with their data entry. You can probably count dozens of ways that you’ve gathered customer information: in person; from the OEM; purchased marketing lists; and Internet leads are just some that come easily to mind. Data isn’t routinely scrubbed for duplication or errors. With the numerous software applications being used, it isn’t hard to see how in one instance, one person may be viewed as a valuable prospective new customer, and then in an instant becomes a long-time “VIP” customer
A customer database is a gold mine and should be treated as such. Have you ever taken the time to evaluate how you assign customer ID numbers to your service files? Duplications and old outdated information is the norm, not the exception in most dealerships today. Every dealership would be wise to make a concerted effort to go through their customer database, update phone numbers, emails, remove duplicate entries, and ensure that the data is correct. How many times has your store sent out a service reminder to an individual that no longer has the vehicle? Without accurate data, how can you correctly target your customers and prospects? Customer attrition will surely accelerate if you make the mistake my associate’s dealership did of targeting the same customer with different messages, offering a higher price for a “VIP” customer than a new customer: that’s a great way to drive away loyal customers.
It is common knowledge that it costs significantly more to attract and obtain new customers than it does to retain current ones. With little or no profit in the discounted oil change, it is fair to assume the dealership hopes to sell additional services to the customer when they first visit, as well as capture their future business. However, what is surprising is that, like many other companies, this dealership appears to be focusing the majority of their efforts on customer acquisition, instead of customer retention.
Looking at the volume of car dealers that use newspaper ads and television commercials to deliver sales offers, the audience is clearly directed to acquiring new customers instead of delivering messages to their existing customer base. While acquisition is always a necessity in order for businesses to grow, the marketing efforts used are often out of proportion to the energies, resources and potential returns on maintaining existing customers.
The marketsoft.com article shared a research study by Harris Interactive, which found that “only 38% of businesses are primarily focused on repeat customers for revenue growth, while nearly half (49%) are still focused on new customers.” Assuming these numbers hold true with car dealerships, as they do with other businesses, it comes as no surprise that the dealership my associate has used for years is trying to capture new business by luring him in with a service special. However, the dealership is actually shooting itself in the foot by sending him both offers so he can see how little value he has as a regular, loyal customer.
It’s important to have an ongoing effort of eliminating multiple customer files and ensuring that the data you have is accurate. Investing in the resources to review and clean your data can pay off immediately. It enables your dealership to generate the correct marketing pieces to each precisely targeted segment of prospective customers. It can also save you from the embarrassment of sending lowball customer acquisition offers to customers who don’t qualify for the offer. This then leads to better customer loyalty, a rise in customer retention and a lessening of customer attrition.
It sounds backwards, at first, but when was the last time you asked your customers for a complaint or some constructive criticism? If you’re like most dealerships, you’re doing everything you can to avoid complaints and negative reviews. In the past, you may have even ignored customers that voiced a complaint. However, in today’s world of instant feedback and review sites, it’s key to understand the importance of taking care of your customers. Failing to listen to them could damage your reputation. This is why many dealerships survey their customer via e-mail within 24-48 hours of purchase or vehicle service.
Why would you want to purposely bring attention to the shortcomings of your dealership or your staff? The answer: It’s a great way to improve customer service in the future.
Imagine your service writer or cashier handing a comment card to the customer when the work has been performed. Are you likely to get the card completed on the spot? Statistically the odds are small. Your team’s follow up call a couple of days later may not yield a truthful answer either – unless the proper question is being asked.
According to a recent blog on Forbes.com, by Salesforce.com Vice President & Chairman of Customer Care Management & Consulting, John Goodman, many companies believe that when complaints decline satisfaction levels increase when, in fact, that’s typically not the case. The blog goes on to state: “…not even 25% of customers bring their service issues forward because it’s often just too much hassle. Many of them still believe companies won’t care and/or won’t fix the problem to their satisfaction, even if they did receive their complaint.”
Genuine complaints can be valuable – you can’t fix things that you don’t know need correcting. Consider a service advisor that over-promises the timeliness or cost of a repair. The work takes longer than expected and costs more than estimated. And the customer doesn’t voice the complaint. There clearly was a problem (at least from the customer’s perception) and management should know so the advisor can be trained properly so as to provide more accurate information in the future.
Goodman advises that you use the verbiage, “We can only resolve problems we know about” when soliciting feedback from customers. Using a message like this will invite the customer to open up and bring to the forefront any complaints. In this way the problem can be handled and the customer does not feel the need to defect to another dealership, give low marks on an OEM survey, or post negative comments on social media. It’s far better to hear the bad before they go home and take their unresolved issues to Facebook or Yelp! Inviting their feedback immediately can help solve problems faster and help the dealership improve through a more accurate awareness of customer experiences.
If your dealership can capture honest and immediate feedback from the majority of its customers, your success rate to resolve the issues can skyrocket. Along the way, asking for complaints may yield some great positive reviews or feedback as well.
At your service desks, a sign that reads: How did we do today? Tell us, we really want to know. Or you something along the lines of, “Now accepting complaints” or “Wanted: Your Complaints. We want to be perfect.”
If you request legitimate complaints or ask your customers for ways that you can improve your levels of service – you’re bound to get some. This proactive solicitation of complaints will impress your customers. If you then actually take steps to change your processes to avoid the same problem in the future, customers will see that you really care (or at least the original complainer will). And that’s how customer loyalty is built… one customer at a time.
If you implement a process like this, you may find that more complaints can actually lead to increased customer satisfaction levels.
Is your car dealership doing everything possible to keep your customers satisfied and happy? Now, more than ever, your reputation for building relationships and retaining customers may depend on your company’s focus on providing the very best customer service.
How is good customer service defined? There isn’t a clear cookie-cutter answer to the question on what makes up “good” service, however bad service is easier to define. In your dealership, an extended time to receive a price on a vehicle, a phone that goes unanswered, or an email inquiry that takes hours, not minutes for a reply, could fall in the category of poor, or at least less than satisfactory customer service. And something as simple as giving the customer upfront, factual information the first time could mean the difference between a good customer service experience and a bad one.
Would you believe that failing to properly respond to a customer could haunt your car dealership for years to come?
According to this article, on Forbes.com, a poor customer service experience could result in a customer avoiding doing business for two years or longer.
Today’s busy customers don’t want to wait to get answers or assistance. It may be hard to convert minutes into dollars, but the longer a customer waits to receive information, answers or a resolution to a problem, the likelihood of dollars lost increases. Simultaneously, the probability of that customer returning to your dealership decreases
According to the article, a quick resolution to a reported problem will more than likely yield a positive customer service experience. The root of great customer service begins and ends with the customer’s belief that you have their best interests in mind. Let’s face it; even though the auto industry’s reputation has improved over the last few years, consumers are generally still cautious when it comes to auto dealerships.
Imagine John Smith, a business executive with a six-figure income. After his initial online research, he has chosen your dealership, based on customer reviews and the prompt, well-written email that he received after he submitted a lead to your store. Upon his arrival, a sales manager greets John warmly when he steps inside the showroom. He is shown the vehicle he inquired about and is given a fair and upfront price. John appreciates the friendly, no-pressure approach of the sales consultant and manager that handles the sale. Within a couple hours, he’s driving home his new luxury sedan. John didn’t encounter any hassles while he was at your store, he was treated with respect and was given the opportunity to share his opinions and provide feedback about the store and the employees he dealt with. Because of this, John is a satisfied customer and promises to be in for all of his service work. A relationship was born.
From the receptionist to the general manager, everyone at a dealership has the opportunity to show that they care and have a genuine interest in the customer. Sometimes it doesn’t take much more than a smile to have a good customer experience, but retaining customers for life takes outstanding service by outstanding employees.
There are many stories of young kids or teens starting successful businesses. And there are as well the simple stories of kids mowing lawns or washing cars to earn extra money while their friends are out playing. A similar story gained national media attention when a 12-year old decided to open a lemonade stand in his neighborhood. He even convinced a neighbor to allow him to display a sign advertising the lemonade stand in his yard. Most people would applaud this behavior. However, apparently, one of the neighbors wasn’t too keen about it. In fact, this neighbor actually complained to the city about this teen’s “illegal business” – 4 times. City officials investigated and stated, “We’re not out there trying to put lemonade stands out of business.” Kudos to them.
This particular neighbor complained because he said the lemonade stand “causes excessive noise, traffic and trash and illegal parking.” Ironically, it appears that his repeated complaints have actually made city officials aware of the fact that he is also operating a home-based business illegally. That’s karma for you.
All businesses, and especially car dealers, have people who just don’t like them. Whether that’s because of a poor experience the customer had, or is based on something the customer heard about, they will exist. Typically, these are the customers that you listen to the most due to fear that other customers and potential customers will hear their complaints. Many dealership managers take these personally and, while some may have merit, their initial reaction is one of anger.
People all have opinions. Rather than dwell on the detractors, change your focus to all of the positive comments you receive from happy customers. To when things have gone right. It’s certainly important to handle legitimate customer complaints, when possible. And these complaints can have a positive aspect – they should be used as a learning tool to prevent reoccurrences of similar problems. It’s way too easy to get sidetracked by negativity and allow it to negatively alter your behavior. If you keep your focus on ensuring that your customers have the best experience possible, you will see happier customers. In this way, just as the community around the boy with the lemonade stand did, your customers and local community will rally behind you when you need them most.
I’m fairly certain that this teenager did not set out with a goal of creating a booming lemonade stand that would rake in a fortune. However, through the media and the assistance of a local radio host who actually committed one of his staff to assist in its operation, business has been surprisingly good!
And it all started with a dream, a little hard work, and a commitment to overcome obstacles.
These days, car dealerships, try to express their individuality from their competitors through value propositions. Almost every dealership has some sort of template or message as to “Why Buy from Us” integrated into their communications with their customers. Some find that they fall short in discovering or realizing what is the truth – customers are not as in love with them as they may think. Customers have their own perception as to what will make a lifelong marriage. Will the dealership realize that its promise hasn’t lived up to consumer expectations and strive to correct it?
Quite often there’s a large gap between a company’s brand promise and the reality as perceived by their customers. A recent article on ZDNet cites several studies that show the disparity between what a company claims to deliver or strives to achieve, and the perception of the same by the consumer. One of the studies cited in the article stated, “…fully 80 percent believe their firm offers a superior proposition. However, only 8 percent of customers held that same view.” This gap is so wide that it leaves little question that many companies are falling short of providing what the customer expects of them – and this leaves the door wide open for the customer to file for a loyalty divorce.
So how can your dealership avoid going to divorce court with your customer and turn the relationship into a wedded bliss – one that could lead into years of happiness and maybe even some offspring (referrals, repeat business)? Like a conversation with your spouse, it all starts with communication.
With your customers taking to the web and social media at ever increasing rates, finding out what they are saying about you is step number one. Engaging with the customer is just a half-step behind. Imagine the customer who brought their vehicle into your service department for the third time for the same repair. Bothered that she had to return time and again for the same issue, she told her friends in the office about her less than satisfactory experiences. She then spread the word on her Facebook wall and posted a message on your dealership’s Facebook page. She then left a two-star review on Google. Six months earlier, when she purchased her car, she said “I do” to your dealership and trusted that you’d be faithful to your promise: great customer service plus timely and accurate repairs.
You brand yourself as the dealer in town that everyone trusts to get the job done right. Yet this wasn’t the case with this customer and countless others that perhaps chose not to voice their frustrations. Some have decided to take their business elsewhere, even if that means a longer drive to a dealership in another area. Others are just waiting out the marriage, hoping that someday it will magically improve.
What can you do for this customer? Start with a conversation through the mediums that she has publicly taken to. After you’ve listened to, empathized with and addressed the concern, you can take back what you’ve learned from her (and others like her) and begin to implement strategies to improve any weakness you may have discovered in the relationship. Perhaps you need to educate or train your staff; maybe staff changes need to be made; or perhaps it’s a simply a matter of better communication between the service team and the customer.
While no individual or company will be perfect, if you have not bridged the gap between the customer’s expectations and the reality of your service, you may find the customer walking away after her six-month marriage, instead of riding out some of the rough patches until its time for an anniversary celebration.
It might be time to take a closer look at your dealership’s mission statement. Are you fulfilling your promises and striving to improve. Or have you become complacent? Are you listening to your customers and responding appropriately when concerns arise? Have you empowered your team to go above and beyond the customer’s expectations so that the customer will feel “warm and fuzzy” when they visit your dealership?
It’s time to take a look in the mirror and ask if you would say, “I do” if you were the customer. Or if it’s time to call off the wedding.