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Use Customer Service to Improve Retention at Your Car Dealership

As pointed out by JD Power and Associates, the automotive industry is continually challenged by fewer new cars sales and decreased service traffic.  In understanding the impact these two situations have on the bottom dollar, car dealerships are forced to evaluate all processes related to sales and service retention.

Sales and service retention programs are critical to keeping your dealership top of mind with customers by delivering personalized, relevant and timely messages dependent on their position in the customer lifecycle.  However, let’s face it, your dealership can send direct mail piece after direct mail piece, email after email, and place newspaper ad after newspaper ad…but if your dealership fails in one critical area, no marketing effort will help.  What is that one critical area your dealership must not fail at?

Customer Service.


In our recent blog, How To Improve Dealership Retention? Try Service, we mentioned the role of customer service in retention efforts. The truth is that providing exemplary customer service is not an easy task for a car dealership (frankly, it’s difficult for a lot of companies in every conceivable industry). Between the heavy pressures to increase revenue by selling cars and upselling service clients, the art of taking care of the customer can be overlooked.  Based on the exemplary customer standards established by such companies as Nordstrom and Ritz Carlton, the purpose of this blog is to point out specific things your dealership can do to improve customer service.

Isn’t it interesting how two of the most renowned companies for customer service aren’t associated with low prices?  You see, price doesn’t always sell…even in the automotive industry.  According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study,SM “more than half of new-vehicle buyers indicate that dealer treatment was a major reason to purchase their new car or light truck from a specific dealer,” while “only 38% of buyers cite vehicle price, or the “deal,” as the reason for selecting their dealer.”

Here are a few ways for your dealership to improve customer service, which will, in turn, improve sales and service retention:

1. Make Customer Service Part of Who You Are. The culture of your dealership is incredibly evident in your customer service.  Dealership staff will treat customers and prospects as their managers treat them.  Therefore, make sure that “top down” message is clear and that your dealership’s core values of respect and courtesy are evident.  Inspire by example!


“If we are not customer driven, nor will our cars be.” Henry Ford

2. Hire and Retain GOOD Employees. Expanding on the first point, pay special attention to hiring and retaining quality people.  When interviewing potential employees, ask them how they handled a particularly difficult situation with a customer in the past.  Look at how they interact with you during the interview process…do they make eye contact with you?  Smile?  Say Thanks?  These seemingly trivial acts are anything but that.  They are clear indications of how the person would interact with customers.

3. Pay Attention to Customer Interaction. When a customer enters your dealership or calls you on the phone, are you looking at them simply as a transaction or do you approach your interactions with them as a relationship?  When your mother walks into your house or calls you on the phone, do you ignore her? (Please tell me you don’t…if so we have a lot of work to do!) Back to the customers. Do you promptly acknowledge their presence on the showroom floor and attempt to help them, even if you’re busy working with another customer?  Do you answer the phone in a timely manner?  Nothing irritates a customer more than having a call go unanswered or having to sit on hold for minutes on end.  Think of the opportunity you may be missing when the customer hangs up in frustration.  Many dealerships employ a virtual BDC to handle inbound calls, whether it is to answer all incoming calls or just backstop call handling.

4. Empower Your Employees & Be Prepared to Say Sorry. Listen, it’s a fact of life that you won’t be able to please everyone that enters your dealerships.  However, when a complaint is issued, outline how they should be handled and give your employees the power to fix things.  If you don’t trust your employees to make the situation right or appease the customer, you shouldn’t have hired them.  In order to facilitate restitution processes, clarify what’s available to make the customer happy and communicate this to your employees. Can they give free oil changes?  Free car rentals? Other value-added services?

Customers have a number of choices when it comes to buying a new car or having their car serviced.  Having said that, fair prices and phenomenal customer service are critical to customer retention, turning your one-time buyer into a lifetime customer.

Are there specific things your dealership has done to improve customer service at your dealership?

~ Missy Jensen, Social Media Manager at DMEautomotive

Missy designs, deploys and maintains the social media initiatives for DMEautomotive in an effort to increase brand awareness, distribute company and industry news, provide updates on products and services and promote consumer engagement. Missy enjoys the process of learning; researching and watching projects come to fruition!

Prior to her transformation into a web specialist and work with DMEautomotive, she has 10 years of experience in the marketing and communications industry. Missy served as the Director, Handicapping & Communications for a regional golf association and helped successfully launch and maintain a cutting edge technology-based ticket resale program on behalf of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Missy attended St. Lawrence University where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BS in Psychology. She also holds a Master’s Degree from Miami University in Oxford, OH. She can be reached at and check her out on LinkedIn.

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