A recent article in Automotive News tells the story of Carlos Liriano, a car dealer from New Orleans who migrated his dealership to Texas and brought with him a passion – gumbo. Initially, it started as a way to show appreciation to and treat his employees every month. But, at his dealership’s 5-year anniversary, he decided to invite the community, and they came. And, not only did they come when it first started, the community has kept coming to the point where customers are actually scheduling service appointments on the day gumbo is served.
What started with a couple of gallons of gumbo has grown into 25 gallons, feeding over 250 people. This dealer’s passion – and tradition – is increasing service business along with the top thing that every dealer wants – selling cars.
But why is his gumbo tradition so successful? Serving food at dealerships isn’t a new thing. How many dealers serve hot dogs, drinks and such on weekends? A lot.
What makes this so successful perhaps begins with the fact that his family’s gumbo recipe is good. Secondly, and most importantly, he chose to share that with both his staff and his local community – and it paid off. Even his digital marketing and social media efforts are reaping the rewards and endearing his dealership to the community.
Community involvement is a vital component in branding, in building trust and the DESIRE for local residents to do business with your dealership. Building trust with consumers isn’t always an easy task – especially if you’re a car dealer. The stereotypes and poor consumer perception can be an uphill battle. The big gorillas and wavy tube men do nothing but attract attention – and most of the time that attention simply confirms that the dealership is “just another car dealership.” There are many ways to stand out in your community and every community is different. Mr. Liriano simply embraced HIS passion for gumbo and then involved his community.
Consider exploring opportunities to embrace and involve your dealership in the local community. Keep in mind that you may not see results right away. But whatever your passion is, share that with your primary customers. Don’t use it as a selling gimmick, but as a genuine way to reach out to your community, share your passion and build rapport and trust. If you build it, service and sales will come.
Discover your passion and build it.
It’s a logical conclusion that customer retention and loyalty are important to the survival and growth of any dealership, yet many dealers focus on growth by intangible metrics, simply looking at numbers – 100 units last month vs. 125 this month, or $125,000 in service revenue last month vs. $175,000 this month – without knowing whether that growth was influenced by customer acquisition or retention.
Most dealers spend a lot of money on marketing every month and it’s very easy to attribute any growth to successful marketing campaigns, technology or vendors, when, in fact, it could very easily be coming from successful retention strategies.
An excellent article on Customer Think spells out precisely why loyalty in the automotive industry is incredibly important, and how you can better leverage retention, loyalty and acquisition strategies to increase growth, revenue and volume.
The article suggests the use of data to predict when sales are ripe as one way to help your dealership thrive. Your CRM has many data points which can help indicate that a customer is ripe for a new vehicle based on things such as marriage or kids, along with many others. Hopefully, these customers are coming to you for service, which gives you a running profile on what has changed in your customer’s lives. This allows for more targeted, personalized and relevant offers which ultimately will convert into sales.
Of course, service plans (pre-paid maintenance) are also huge retention drivers, with a retention rate of close to 60 percent, according to the article. Pre-paid maintenance keep customers visiting your dealership for years. Assuming they’re having a good experience, this also helps them decide to get their next vehicle from your dealership, rather than a competitor.
You can’t always rely on your customers to tell you when lifetime changes occur that could indicate they are ready for a new vehicle. Pro-active marketing and continual, relevant communication with your customers is imperative to retaining their business – for both service and sales. Without a continuous conversation, it’s very easy for the competition to conquest away your customers. This worst-case-scenario, when it happens, means it’s too late, in most cases, to continue the customer relationship. It may not even be that anything went wrong, simply that a customer was attracted by a competitor’s offer. However, it’s very hard to win them back. So, keeping in touch, being relevant and anticipating your customer’s needs, rather than reacting to them, is incredibly important.
Also, be sure that your dealership always offers a superior customer experience. It’s much harder to conquest a loyal customer than it is a satisfied one. Don’t mix the two up because they aren’t the same. A satisfied customer simply means that they are fine with the service they are receiving, but are still vulnerable to competing offers. A loyal customer, on the other hand, is much more likely to stick with your dealership.
In the end, it’s important to develop a way to measure, manage and cater to both new and existing customers. If you can’t differentiate between the two, growth is easily attributed to acquisition efforts, while retention gets ignored.
Remember that it’s much less expensive to keep an existing customer than acquire a new one.
Auto dealers are well known for their huge support to local communities. Especially around the holiday season when they do many good deeds including toy drives, donations to food banks and a variety of other activities that have special meaning to those particular dealers. It’s noble not to “brag” about the great things we do as businesses. In fact, many repeat good-deed offenders prefer to stay anonymous. And that’s OK.
Sometimes, however, the smallest of deeds are the ones that touch the most lives.
Take for example, the story of a boy that has been going viral this holiday season. There’s nothing spectacular about him that has been reported. He doesn’t have a life-threatening illness that we know of. He’s simply a boy being a boy… who happened to like playing video games. He liked playing them so much that he visited his local Best Buy every day to play his favorite video game in one of their demonstration kiosks.
If you worked at the Best Buy, it would be hard not to notice the same boy visiting every day, playing video games at your store’s demo kiosk for the Nintendo Wii U system. But, in most cases, that would be the end of the story.
Well, this holiday season, the employees decided to act. These are just normal people working at a retail store. This wasn’t a corporate level marketing play. This was simply a group of employees, at a local Best Buy, who decided that this boy deserved their attention.
What they did was special. In fact, it was so special that the video (one version of it) has been viewed over 7.5 million times on Facebook and over 2 million times on YouTube (again, only one posting of the video). What did those employees do? They all pitched in and bought the boy a Wii U console and a copy of the game he came in to play every day (Super Smash Bros.) as a surprise Christmas gift.
Nobody has mastered the recipe for a “viral video” as of yet… and chances are nobody ever will. This was an act of goodwill by employees at a local business in order to make a boy’s holiday that much better. It turns out that the boy really wanted this game but his family could not afford it. I bet this boy remembers this act of kindness for his lifetime, becomes a loyal customer and passes that along to any children he may have, simply because these employees cared and gave him a luxury that he couldn’t afford.
You don’t have to be a mega-corporation. You don’t have to have a huge in-house marketing department devising acts of goodwill. I’m sure you see this frequently this time of year: That flat tire that can’t be repaired but the owner can’t afford to replace or any numerous acts of kindness that dealerships make.
This act of kindness cost Best Buy nothing, and cost the employees around $400. Eight million views later (and counting), that $400 act of goodwill has paid off for this individual store and for the brand.
It’s not how much you do, but whether you do it at all that counts. Happy Holidays!
This common saying is certainly one that everyone knows. And, whether it’s true or not, has endured time. Why? Because someone cooking for you is an intimate act that is satisfying and elicits fond memories. In essence, this act accomplished on a regular basis is supposed to be the recipe (pun intended) to win the love of a man, or woman. The gender of a person has little to do with what it takes to win their hearts.
That being said, this simple saying can easily be transferred from the realm of interpersonal relationships to the world of business. How? Every time a customer visits or interacts with your dealership, you are essentially feeding them.
Customers have appetites for quality products and excellent service. Just look at the hoards that stand in line for hours (or sometimes days) for every new Apple product. With each commercial, tease, leak or ad, Apple caters to that appetite. But why do consumers do this? Well, Apple has created a brand trusted by the masses. Consumers believe the product(s) Apple develop will be of exceptional quality and that they will receive an excellent customer experience while using them. The food in this equation is multi-dimensional.
Let me explain:
Apple is, by nature, a very secretive company when it comes to product releases. However, there are usually numerous “leaks” for any product offering, which culminate with a very short period of time between the customer entering the restaurant (the official announcement) and the main course (product release). These leaks serve as teases to their customers and whet their appetites for the product or service. Without these, customers would be left in mystery, with little information to help in the buying decision, and a rather short period to decide whether they want to plop down the typically premium price, or perhaps wait.
Once the main course is served, all preconceived notions, hopes, wishes, dreams and speculation end and reality sets in. Either the product or service lives up to the expectations of the customer – or they do not.
Customers are constantly fed either the appetizers (your marketing) or main courses (the actual customer experience). How they perceive or experience both can weaken, or strengthen their loyalty. If the experience is everything that it was hyped up to be, and the product fulfilled their expectations, they will probably get in line a little earlier the next time and be less skeptical or trigger-shy.
All dealerships advertise. The messages that you put out there whether it is about price, experience, or other unique selling propositions, whet the consumer’s appetite and get them to visit your dealership. Once there, their actual experience can either reinforce your marketing messages or convince the customer that you made false promises and are insincere.
Make sure that the food you are feeding customers – whether it’s the appetizer of the main course – fulfills all of your customer’s expectations and you’ll find that with each visit, they love your restaurant that much more.
And when the food is great, people tell their friends. Which is exactly what you want.
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.