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Christopher Carlucci

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3 Reasons Satisfied Customers Still Don’t Return for Service


Learn how urgency, susceptibility, and perception influence customer retention.


In the automotive service industry, there is a widely accepted misconception that customers defect due to dissatisfaction with your dealership.

For this reason, most of us rely on our customer satisfaction index (CSI) score to help predict customer retention, believing that if our customers leave happy they’ll come back. But this isn’t always how it works.

Yes, CSI is important — and no doubt an effective measure of the level of engagement a dealership maintains with its customers — but satisfaction is not the only factor that impacts loyalty. At DriveSure, we’ve helped many dealerships with good CSI scores, but who still needed something to boost retention.

This post discusses three important customer retention influencers not related to your CSI — urgency, susceptibility, and perception — and outlines several recommended strategies for overcoming them. 


The urgency customers feel toward addressing vehicle maintenance and repairs vary wildly. In some cases, circumstances warrant immediate repair. In others, owner complacency results in long delays before an issue is ever addressed.

Consider general maintenance indicators. These handy dashboard indicators are designed to trigger the customer to perform factory-recommended maintenance immediately. However, dealerships cannot simply rely on satisfied customers to return to them for service as soon as the light comes on.

Here’s why:

  1. 1. Since the vehicle still operates while the light is on, the driver remains in control of choosing when to go in for maintenance. Some will pull into the closest repair shop, while others may ignore the indicator for months.
  2. 2. The light does not tell the customer where to return. Once the light turns on, aftermarket providers have an open opportunity to lure customers away via marketing and other outreach.
  3. 3. The lights are not perfect at predicting need. No two driving patterns are the same, so an issue triggered early for one driver may come later for another.

Unplanned repairs are even more troublesome for customer retention. When there’s an impending need for maintenance — for example, a flat tire, dead battery, or check engine light — vehicle owners often need to find the quickest solution.

In these situations, customers might defect because:  

  1. 1. Your dealership’s location is not convenient. When a breakdown happens, there are likely many aftermarket alternatives between its location and your service department.
  2. 2. Cost is not the most important issue. Often the need to get back on the road is a top priority, so a vehicle owner might choose not to confer with you. This may result in them taking the first resource available, often paying more than necessary, and not necessarily addressing the underlying cause of the needed repairs.
  3. 3. Delayed maintenance needs performed. Customers who have the repair handled at an aftermarket shop will likely get delayed maintenance work done there too. This means the opportunity to fix the repair AND perform scheduled maintenance goes to the aftermarket and not your service department.


Well-timed and well-crafted marketing messages can lure the most loyal customers away — even if they’re not inherently a price-hopper. For example, when a customer sees a compelling offer for a routine service, they may not think twice about having it done somewhere else “just this once.”

Here are three areas where susceptibility becomes a defection trigger:

  1. 1. Factory-paid maintenance has expired. The sticker shock associated with routine maintenance that was once free can be significant. Consider being upfront about the normal cost of the service while it is free so there are no surprises down the road.
  2. 2. Encountering mass-media marketing. Aftermarket alternatives routinely promote their ability to provide factory-recommended maintenance, so they are often top of mind for drivers. This becomes an even bigger challenge once factory-paid maintenance has expired.
  3. 3. Returning to aftermarket repair shops. Customers who visit an aftermarket alternative for immediate repair can be tempted by offers and promotions based on time, mileage, and other relevant vehicle needs recorded in the aftermarket’s database.


Customer perception of the need to service their vehicle at the dealership they bought it from changes the further the customer is from the date of purchase. As this perception changes, common misbeliefs about dealership service centers can cause even satisfied customers to defect.  
For example, customers often wrongly believe that dealerships are:

  1. 1. More expensive. All things considered, this is often inaccurate. Many dealerships today have a price comparison board to combat this misconception. They also often offer value-added perks that aftermarkets do not.
  2. 2. Less convenient. This perception can be true for customers who purchase their vehicles from a location far from their work or residence. To counteract this, dealerships offer car rentals, rides, and remote delivery and pickup for their loyal service customers.
  3. 3. Not quick or efficient. Unlike aftermarkets, dealerships will check for open recalls and provide the most comprehensive multi-point inspection, which is often why it takes a little bit longer.

Fighting Customer Defection with a Well-Rounded Strategy

Of course, understanding your CSI is important for establishing the foundation for customer retention. But focusing on CSI alone is not going to address all of the potential defection points for your customers.

To craft a well-rounded strategy for contending customer churn, we recommend:

  1. 1. A comprehensive marketing strategy. Marketing that is grounded in customer awareness and serves all your dealership’s departments will help you stay top of mind with customers and educate them about the unique value you provide.
  2. 2. Creating a sense of urgency. The value-focused marketing messages you create should be associated with a sense of urgency to cause the customer to act, and to act by returning to your service center.
  3. 3. Avoiding short-term gimmicks. Tactics that pander to price shoppers can undermine your ability to be seen as a value-added leader in your market. Likewise, one-time offers can hurt your long-term sustainability as some customers may only be shopping for the perk.

Additionally, participating in programs like the one offered by DriveSure can help you create a greater sense of urgency, minimize susceptibility, and influence perception. For example, by requiring customers to return for service to renew their benefits you can immediately establish a deadline, which reduces the susceptibility of your customers to the marketing initiatives of aftermarket providers and ultimately changes the perceived long-term value offered by your dealership.

DriveSure makes it easy for dealerships to offer unbeatable vehicle maintenance and bring customers back for service, tires, and unplanned repairs — all without complicated loyalty programs or profit-cutting discounts.


Have you seen otherwise satisfied customers defect for any of these reasons? How are you bringing them back to your business?

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