Article

Boost Service and Parts Business with One-on-One Relationships

November 2008, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Gary Simmons - Also by this author

Customers are squatting on their money, afraid to spend in case the economy continues its downturn.  As a result, new cars sales are down dramatically, with used car sales not far behind.  There is a lifeline:  your fixed operations department.  With consumers buying fewer vehicles and holding on to their current vehicles longer, it can pull you through this down time.  The key to pumping up this revenue stream is in developing one-on-one relationships with customers, so they come to you for service and parts, and return again and again.

Although fewer consumers are buying vehicles, some are still buying, and it is crucial that you retain them as service customers. The average dealership in the United States converts only 22 out of every 100 new car customers into service customers.  This percentage is a killer, but it’s no wonder why it’s so high.  

Consider the usual dealership scenario: the sales person sells the vehicle and assumes their job is done.  Instead of introducing the customer to the service team, showing them the bay, and explaining that their services are cost-effective and specialized for the best results, they decide it’s not worth the time to show them what they perceive to be a non-sales environment.  The customer gets the keys and drives away, left feeling like their one time purchase is all the dealership values. 

Instead, cultivate a concierge atmosphere where the customer feels valued and important, so they want to return again and again.  Conduct a thorough tour of your service department at the time of the sale.  Introduce the customer to your service managers and explain that they will always be personally available to take care of any issues or needs. Educate the customer that you’re capable of completing the manufacturer’s entire recommended services, not just repair work.  Send a follow-up email, or make a personal phone call, thanking them again for their purchase, offering a service special, and including the names and contact numbers of the service staff they have already met.  Now you’ve started a relationship, instead of just conducting a one-time transaction. 

In tandem with retaining more of your vehicle buyers, reach out to those customers in your database whom you haven’t seen in nine to 12 months.  Target those customers who live in a zip code within a 10 to 12 mile circumference of your dealership since they are most likely to respond to offers.  On average, only about 12 percent of customers in any given dealership’s database have an email address recorded.  For this reason, go after customers with a combination of email, phone calls, and physical mail. 

Many dealership staff don’t want to call customers because they are afraid that one-on-one calls will prompt a complaint that they will then have to deal with.  In actuality, that happens with only a small percentage of calls.  If a complaint does happen, instruct your employees to key their responses to how the customer sounds.  Maybe they will vent for a minute about a lengthy repair, or a surly employee, but that is a perfect opportunity to improve the situation.  Give your employees the power to offer a special perk.  Most customers will snap these up, which gives you the opportunity to cultivate a relationship and make a lifelong customer. 

So now you’re getting customers into your service department; keep them coming back by, again, cultivating relationships.  Before a customer arrives, check to see if they bought their vehicle at your dealership.  If they did, greet them by name and thank them again for their business.  If they didn’t, act like they did.  Ban third-party conversations from your dealership.  You know what these are: if a customer’s car is taking longer than expected, employees tell the customer it is the dispatcher’s fault, or the technicians, or the parts didn’t come in on time.  They’re spraying Teflon all over themselves and the customer becomes exasperated.  Instead, use ‘I’ statements.  “I will make sure the work is completed.”  “I will come give you an update in one hour.”  “I will order the part and call you personally when it arrives.” 

To increase your fixed operations business, give customers what they want: acknowledgement and one-on-one recognition.  When a customer buys a vehicle, new or used, introduce to your service staff and show them your shop.  Use your database to make a connection with ‘lost’ customers.  Send an offer and follow-up with a personal phone call.  When customers patronize your service department, do your homework and remember their name and what business they’ve given you in the past.  These personal touches can boost your service and parts business now, and far into the future.

Vol 5, Issue 10

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