Companies increasingly invent new and creative ways to earn loyalty from their customers. Every year we hear of companies pulling off interesting and creative ways to gain exposure and foster loyalty through acts of kindness, goodwill or just being fun. For the fourth consecutive year, Uber became the ice cream man. It seems that every year for the past four years, Uber holds what it calls an “ice cream social.” On this day, the Uber app opens up a new feature – rather than simply being able to choose which type of Uber you want, on that day you can order up some ice cream. For $25, Uber will send one of its drivers to your house, workplace or wherever you wish and hand deliver five ice cream treats in a goodie bag all from an “Uber Ice Cream” branded vehicle. Needless to say, people went crazy over this on social media. Just search the hashtag #UberIceCream on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean. This annual event has been an excellent way for Uber to engage its customers in a fun way while reinforcing its branding and generating buzz.
Car dealers can use the same idea to engage their community. No, I’m not talking about delivering ice cream for $25 but rather finding creative and fun ways with which to provide an unexpected surprise for a customer. A dealer in North Carolina holds “Free Gas Friday” every week. This amounts to no more than a sales manager and second employee (to film) driving around town armed with balloons, a goodie bag filled with a dealership shirt and hat and a gift card for $25 in gas until they find a vehicle bearing their dealership’s license plate or sticker. When they find somebody, they cause a big scene thanking the customer for their business and awarding their loyalty with the prizes. Since they make sure that they start this quest at lunchtime, more often than not the person they find is in the midst of eating lunch at a restaurant or other food establishment. Simply by being in public and raising a little ruckus, they gain positive exposure for the dealership and return to the dealership armed with some excellent video content for social media use. This content is by far the most engaged with on their social media accounts and adds some fun into their dealership’s personality.
There are many paths to earn customer loyalty. They are, however, becoming harder to navigate as customer loyalty becomes more fragile through new technologies centered around price or convenience. Dealerships should look for unique ways in which they can engage their customers and their communities. Small things like this can generate buzz and exposure while not only directly affecting a single customer but also indirectly affecting many others. And a little ice cream on a hot day or some free gas will almost certainly score your dealership some brownie points.
In a recent press release, Amazon announced that, in celebration of its 20th birthday, July 15 will be “Prime Day” – a day on which Amazon claims it will offer more deals to its loyal Prime members than Black Friday. Amazon promises, “new deals starting as often as every ten minutes,” with the ultimate goal to make this a global shopping event. For non-members, Amazon is offering free 30-day trials of its paid loyalty program.
Amazon has steadily increased the value of its Prime membership by adding movie and music streaming services, in addition to its free 2-day air shipping. And, that’s not all — to increase the buzz and introduce the new Prime Photo service, social media contests are being held, with a rather enticing $10,000 gift card as the prize. The hype surrounding Amazon’s announcement, along with its offer to non-members of free trials, will almost certainly result in a membership enrollment spike.
Well … this is all very interesting, but how does it apply to the auto industry?
Dealers who use loyalty programs gain two valuable assets:
- A customer that enrolls in your loyalty program is telling you that they will be returning. This mental commitment in the customer’s mind increases with each visit, as they progress towards a reward, or use the membership for savings. As long as you consistently provide a good customer experience, the chances of defection by that consumer decrease. In addition, members of loyalty programs tend to visit more often and, on average, spend more when they do, which increases revenue in all departments.
- These programs usually have robust reporting tools. As such, you gain access to valuable data that can be used to market better. You can also identify customers who are likely to defect through such data as time between visits, or decreased spending. Loyalty programs also help identify – and reward – those customers that are the most loyal. These customers are the most likely to refer friends and family, as well as to become brand advocates.
Innovative dealers that think outside-the-box usually trump the competition. Perhaps it’s worth taking a page out of one of the most successful retailers on the planet – Amazon. Consider holding loyalty events, or days similar to the one Amazon is employing. These events don’t have to be costly. It could be something as simple as “Free Member Car Wash Day,” or an additional savings day in service. This could help to keep your loyalty members loyal AND drive in more members.
Amazon’s “Prime Day” sale is likely to be a success. Whether or not it trumps Black Friday in the eyes of consumers is yet to be seen. One thing it will probably accomplish, however, is to add a whole new group of consumers to their membership base, anxiously awaiting the next deal – and there is no business that wouldn’t want that.
If you were to ask today’s consumers if they’d like to hang out at a car dealership, chances are that the majority would respond “no.” When consumers do visit a dealership to purchase a vehicle or get their vehicle serviced, many times the process can be longer than desired and is not always a great experience for the consumer. Dealerships have been attempting to streamline the sales and service process through the use of technology to make the entire process faster andmore efficient so as to be more consumer friendly.
Some dealerships are going a little bit further to make the customer experience more enjoyable with the addition of delis, Starbucks, movie theaters and hair salons, as permanent fixtures. And thinking even further outside the box, a recent Automotive News article highlighted a Fort Worth, Texas dealership that chose to open a 250 square foot wine store inside their dealership. It has been so popular with their customers that it has actually added $700,000 to the dealership’s annual bottom line.
Due to its popularity, the dealership then opened a full size retail wine bar in downtown Fort Worth… with a catch. Not only does the dealership display new Cadillacs inside (and outside) the bar, the bar also serves as a satellite service drive that allows wine bar customers to have their vehicles serviced while socializing and enjoying some wine. The wine bar is 20 miles from the dealership so there are employees on-site who transport customers’ vehicles to the dealership for service, then back to the wine bar upon service completion. This provides a very unique customer experience. It also makes service much more convenient for the many downtown Fort Worth employees who would otherwise have to drive 45-minutes to an hour to have their vehicle serviced at the dealership. In addition, the wine bar produces at least one vehicle sale per month, to say nothing about the increased service business.
Regardless of whether you decide that a wine bar within your dealership is a good idea, creating an excellent experience for your customers certainly is. If your customer experience is less than great, it won’t matter if you have an amusement park in the back lot, your customer could still leave. Customer loyalty is a fickle creature that can be lost much faster than it can be gained. Give your customers a reason to choose your dealership. Then ensure that the experience they have is one that they would want to repeat. Only then can you really build that relationship and transform your customers into loyal customers that will return because they want to – not because they have to.
I’ve written many articles about the different types of loyalty and how each can affect your business’ growth and revenue. However, I’ve never written an overview of how all these components fit together in a holistic manner. Hopefully, this blog article will help put the pieces together so that you better understand these concepts more globally.
Internal Service Quality:
It all begins with your internal service quality. Components of this include:
- Workplace design – A well-designed dealership will maximize space to create a more efficient environment for employees and customers.
- Job design – This doesn’t just include job descriptions but practicality. Ensure that the right employees are responsible for things that they have the knowledge and experience to handle effectively. And that all positions complement each other and generate the most efficient work-flow possible.
- Employee selection and training – By having a hiring process that enables the best selection of employees with the highest chances of success in a given position, you can create a team of people that are effective. Experience and knowledge must be considered along with a candidate’s ability to work well with others. Ongoing training also assists in maximizing employee efficiency and productivity.
- Recognition – By recognizing employees, you reinforce positive behavior and provide other employees with examples to follow. This also assists employees in better understanding your expectations of them, and it lets them know that they will be recognized for good work.
Paying attention and implementing programs and processes for these areas, can help increase employee satisfaction. Employees that are satisfied with their jobs tend to be more productive. This can then create a need for fewer employees, thus lowering your fixed expenses for staffing, reducing employee turnover and increasing employee retention.
External Service Value:
External service value should include a results-oriented service concept focused on providing an excellent customer experience through efficiency and communication. Customer recognition programs, such as loyalty programs, reinforce to the customer that you value their business.
If employees do their jobs in the most efficient manner possible, while the company rewards that hard work by providing a great work place, a positive environment is created. In this type of environment, employees care about customer service and experience which translates to higher customer satisfaction.
Higher customer satisfaction then leads to an increase in customer loyalty and customers become brand evangelists. Loyal customers are essential to any growth strategy. They generate revenue from repeat business in service and sales. They also lead to increased retention and generate customer acquisition through referrals. All of this, of course, leads to revenue growth and profitability for the dealer.
My goal has always been to help dealerships see value in each of these areas and assist them in improving through education. Every one of these components is equally important.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that you are only as strong as your weakest link. Usually this saying is in reference to a team. What I’ve outlined is no exception other than it is also applicable to your processes. A weak link in process can be just as damaging as a weak link in your team. Take a moment and do an honest assessment of these areas of your dealership. The pieces for the puzzle are all right in front of you. It’s up to you to complete it.
Have you accessed your dealership? What changes did you make?
How does your dealership recognize employees to promote employee retention?
I came across an excellent blog article recently that discussed the different forms of loyalty that exist in the car business. In this article, the author described three levels of customer loyalty: brand loyalty, dealership loyalty and salesperson loyalty. He described these three different types of loyalty as follows:
Brand loyalty: The focus here is on customer loyalty to a specific vehicle brand. Manufacturers’ entire marketing efforts are designed to retain current owners and convince owners of competing brands to switch. They use many different ways to build this loyalty including quality comparisons, performance, safety, comfort and practicality. This is important for brand market share but also just as important in assisting franchises by driving customer interest and traffic.
Dealership loyalty: Loyalty to a dealership is built through providing an excellent customer experience, treating customer right and being consistent in efforts to recognize and reward frequent and repeat customers.
Salesperson loyalty: Salespeople that stay at a specific dealership for any length of time have the ability to develop relationships with customers that can last a lifetime. They can even get to the point where they no longer have to assist new customers as their referral and repeat business keeps them busy with a constant, steady flow of business.
These are all valid and excellent points. The author of the aforementioned blog placed these different types of loyalty in order as sort of a funnel from the top down. I believe that it’s important for dealerships to recognize the importance of all of these areas but to also realize that, from a business point of view, there is a definite hierarchy that management must recognize in order to create a loyalty strategy that maximizes success.
This is the order I believe accomplishes this best.
Dealership loyalty: By far the most important type of loyalty to a dealership must be loyalty to that dealership. This is the only type of loyalty that a dealership can directly influence. Dealerships must build a base of loyal customers, and then service those loyal customers in order to survive. The less customer retention a dealership has, the more focused on customer acquisition they must be. A solid and growing base of loyal customers will assist dealerships in growth and make customer acquisition less important. If your dealership has a 30 percent defection rate, it will always need to replace that 30 percent with new customers, just to maintain the status quo. Decreasing defection through customer retention allows a dealership to grow. Dealerships will only accomplish this through providing an excellent customer experience in all departments. They can also reinforce and reward repeat customers through rewards programs and recognition.
Salesperson loyalty: Dealerships can assist in this effort by building employee loyalty. Providing a great work environment, with basics such as training to help increase the salesperson’s abilities, along with a company philosophy that reinforces positive attitudes and behavior, can decrease your employee turnover and increase longevity of employment. This allows relationships to be built and serves to reinforce to the dealership’s customer that your dealership is a great place to do business with. Ultimately, however, dealerships cannot control an employee. Turnover does happen, and the last thing any dealership wants is to lose customers because they are more loyal to a salesperson than to the dealership. Too often salespeople take their customers with them which is why dealerships need to focus on retaining their staff.
Brand loyalty: Manufacturers focus almost entirely on brand loyalty and conquest. A dealership’s sales revenue is dependent on both new and used car sales. Most dealerships carry multiple brands in their used car inventory and would be more than happy to sell a customer a pre-owned vehicle of a competing brand. Not only is brand loyalty affected in this manner but a recent study by ADP showed that 63 percent of online shoppers began their research with the intent of purchasing a specific brand. Only 20 percent of those shoppers actually ended up purchasing that brand. While a dealership can certainly reinforce brand loyalty through new car sales and leasing retention, this is where they have the least influence.
The bottom line is that every dealership must focus on loyalty at all levels, but just as in all facets of business, focus must be prioritized to maximize efficiency. Place the order of importance on items where you have the most influence at the top, to those that you have the least at the bottom. By doing so, a dealership can maximize its efforts in creating a loyal customer base that will sustain the dealer and assist in its growth.
What order do you believe accomplishes “a loyalty strategy that maximizes success” best?
What is your dealership doing to reward repeat customers?