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.
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.