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No matter how much things change in our industry – how many new models are launched, how many innovative technologies are introduced, how many revolutionary products are unleashed – dealerships are still built on the same chassis. Or at least they should be. Customer satisfaction.
“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.”
– Michael LeBoeuf
Business author, professor and consultant
But What About …
Search engine optimization. Lead generation. CRM. Pay per click. Social media. Inventory management. Online reputation. Every day, I hear dealers bandying these words about, wrestling with issues like what new products to bring on board, how much resources to devote to them and which ones deserve prioritization. Then, once they’ve made those difficult decisions, dealers are left with an even more daunting task. Figuring out how to integrate their ever expanding battery of online tools, software and systems into one efficient and streamlined operation.
But it has to be done. We know that. Because today it’s Internet, Internet, Internet. Customers aren’t coming out to dealerships and kicking tires, they’re clicking on them from the comfort of their own homes. Ten years ago, customers visited 6.7 dealerships before they bought a vehicle, now they visit 2.1 dealerships. And 85% of them start shopping for an automobile online.
So if a dealership doesn’t have a heavy web presence, it better get one. Not only that, it would pay to monitor what customers are saying about the sales and service departments on sites like Yelp.com, Edmunds.com and DealerRater.com. Because the old saying, “There’s no such thing as bad press”? There’s a new kind of press – online reviews – and businesses that don’t rate well, don’t fare well.
“It is not the employer who pays the wages – he only handles the money.
It is the customer who pays the wages.”
– Henry Ford
Founder of Ford Motor Company
The Wheel: Customer Service
Everyone is in a frenzy to get their hands on the next latest and greatest “thing”, whatever it is. But you already have the most valuable resource you could ever hope for – your previous customers. Sure, you can purchase services, consult specialists and increase your online presence, but in the end, you can’t control the Internet. You can, however, control your owner base. I think of this as a two-step process: remember and remind.
Step one: a dealership needs to remember that while how it does business may have changed over the years – and here I’m going to show my age – from books to software and cash registers to computers – the reason for its success remains the same. Good old-fashioned customer service. The dealer needs to remember that promoting and rewarding excellence in this area is one investment that will never suffer from obsolescence.
The Vehicle: Strategic Communications
Step two: a dealership must remind its owner base why they chose to purchase their car from that business in the first place – exceptional customer service. But it’s all about timing. The dealer needs to do this before they risk losing a previous customer. They need to do it before that customer hits the Internet “to see what kind of deals are out there”, but they can’t do so before the customer is ready to “hear” the message. Otherwise it’s not an effective use of resources.
It’s a fine line and it’s why many dealerships turn to companies that specialize in multi-channel communications for help developing proactive owner marketing strategies. Either way, campaigns should not be a one-time deal or created with an only-when-we-need-it approach. They need to be strategic and systematic in order to be effective.
Even if a campaign doesn’t draw as much of a response as a dealership might have anticipated or hoped, there is a lot of valuable information to be gained. That’s when a dealership needs to ask some tough questions. What are some of the reasons why the communication might not have performed as expected? It provides the opportunity to analyze the results, refine the strategy, revise the communication, reassess the targeted customers and try again. If it was a great success. I’d recommend the exact same course of action, so the campaign can be even better next time.
Put It in Drive
The products, software and systems a dealer uses to build the vehicle that drives its business evolve over time. But the wheel remains the same. Or at least it should, so long as it’s great customer service. Because if it is, I’m ready to bet that ride will get the dealership exactly where it wants to go.