The author (right) teamed with  Don Boyle, vice president and general manager of the Scott Family of Dealerships, to create an online marketing campaign designed to drive more service traffic to the five-rooftop auto group.

The author (right) teamed with
Don Boyle, vice president and general manager of the Scott Family of Dealerships, to create an online marketing campaign designed to drive more service traffic to the five-rooftop auto group.

At the Scott Family of Dealerships in Allentown, Pa., fixed ops is a big deal. By combining an outstanding service department with a carefully planned and faithfully executed marketing campaign, Vice President and General Manager Don Boyle is implementing processes he honed in his 17 years with Hendrick Automotive Group at the Scott group, which includes a standalone used-car lot and Chevrolet, Cadillac, Mazda and Volvo franchises.

Several key elements drive this success. First and foremost is a focus on acquiring lifelong clients rather than just winning sales. Boyle trains his staff to pay attention to every customer in every phase of the relationship. He uses advanced marketing techniques to get new clients in the door, then takes a holistic approach. “You have two showrooms: the sales side and the service side,” Boyle says. “It’s just as important to make sure you have a good, disciplined selling system on the service side as you do on the sales side.”

That discipline is paying off. The focus on fixed ops has resulted in more service visits, larger average service tickets, faster throughput times, higher client satisfaction and better employee retention.

“You have to change the perceptions and you have to be competitive,” Boyle says. “You have to shop your market. Everyone who comes in, whether they need tires or not, we quote them a price — we would quote ours, the local competition and even big-box stores. We make sure our prices are lower, and if they aren’t, we would discount it. People will say, ‘You cost less than Costco.’ And when they’re ready for tires, they’ll come back, and maybe add rotation or balance services as well.”

Use the Website

Most dealer sites now include a form for requesting a service appointment as well as contact information and directions. The general idea is to get customers to visit the store or make contact via phone, email or chat. But many, if not most, of them will leave your service page without taking action. The website should do more than remind existing clients of your phone number. It should help all customers find the information they need and assure them you can handle their problem.

Scott’s websites include a detailed service FAQ. He poses some of the most commonly asked questions — and then gives answers. The list includes easy tasks like checking oil and fluid levels as well as more complex items, such as instructions for changing a battery. This may seem counterintuitive. Why help a customer swap their own battery when you could bring them in, write a ticket and earn the store a couple bucks?

There are two good reasons: First, providing useful information is an important step toward achieving “trusted advisor” status. Second, studies have shown that a significant percentage of the consumers who search for do-it-yourself information end up bringing their vehicle in for professional service anyway. A recent Google survey found that 73% of respondents would return to a service center they visited for preventive maintenance or big-ticket repairs. Your goal is to leverage the power of content and video to educate drivers and build trust before they even walk through the doors.

“Focus on customer satisfaction before anything else,” Boyle advises. “If they’re not completely satisfied, they won’t come back. Our message to our guys is, ‘We want to be the Neiman Marcus of Chevy stores. We have to give the best service.’”

For the Scott group, that mandate has paid off with a significant increase in service conversion rates from the website. And the benefits don’t stop there. Google scans website content and knows where to find it when shoppers ask for it. And boy do they ask! In a typical month, there are nearly one million searches related to “check engine light” alone. Google’s optimization and targeting algorithms reward dealers who post relevant content by sending shoppers directly to their conversion pages.

Six Reasons to Service Your Vehicle

Scott’s websites also include pages dedicated to vehicle maintenance and inspection. To keep the relationship strong after the vehicle sale, Boyle says, dealers must make it easy for the client to contact the store. But he also provides post-sale information — not a list of dates and specifications, mind you, but real clues to how a little TLC today will save them money in the long term.

The six benefits Boyle includes on his service page are:

  • Safety
  • Reduced pollution
  • Lower operating cost
  • Higher resale value
  • Improved performance
  • Fewer roadside emergencies

Together, these items create a fantastic sequence. It starts with benefits to the shopper’s family and community, then discusses the direct personal benefits, including benefits both economic (operating cost) and hedonistic (performance). It then closes with a nod to protection of the buyer’s family.

Today’s vehicles are more complicated than ever, and even mechanically inclined drivers know less about their machines than they did a generation ago. As the gap between product complexity and operator knowledge widens, compassion and caring are the best tools to fill it. When consumers feel they have a partner they can trust, they have no problem buying things they know they will never understand how to repair. Consider the success of Apple products: They offer complex but easy-to-use electronics, and they sell and service those items at inviting stores staffed by friendly, knowledgeable techs.

That attitude will go a long way in your service department, and it must extend to the content on your website. That is where customers will go when the store is closed. The value of a well-built page cannot be measured in clicks. A positive experience for just a handful of customers can mean thousands of dollars in profit each year. Your customers should be raving fans, devoted service clients and advocates for your store.
Finding Ways to Connect

Now that you know what to offer, let’s take a look at a few proven ways to connect with service customers.

Coupons: We live in a time when some stores have different prices online than at the dealership, and some retailers require printed, documented coupons, even when the shopper can show the coupon on their mobile device. Boyle makes service coupons easy to print or display on a mobile device. Once the coupon is printed, sent or saved, it becomes a standalone marketing piece. As such, it includes store hours, address and contact information. Boyle includes another detail: “Courtesy of Don Boyle, General Manager.” There is no one thing that can instantly generate trust and credibility, but simple, personal touches always help.

Recall Checks: Offering a free recall check can do more than generate recall-related work. It can generate trust, new clients and even vehicle sales. But having the form is not enough. You must value these contacts enough to personally respond and reassure them. Any recall, or even the thought of it, can cause clients to worry. For stores with the proper compassion, online and off, this is a fantastic relationship-building opportunity.

Meet the Staff: Many dealers have seen the value in introducing their sales and F&I teams; some have learned that including the service staff can pay dividends as well. Help them remember that friendly manager or tech they interacted with by listing names, photos and, if possible, video bios. You can take it to the next level by creating a separate page for each employee and offering staff-personalized coupons on those pages.

Trade-ins: There is an alternative to having your vehicle serviced at Boyle’s stores: Sell it to him and buy a new one. Working the service lane for sales makes sense, and it makes just as much sense online. Boyle personally emails the Black Book trade-in form to potential trade-in customers and embeds a video in which he promises 110% of Black Book value. The message is clear: If you plan to trade up, now or in the near future, this is the right place to do it.

Drive Traffic Online and Onto the Lot

One secret to Boyle’s success is his ceaseless efforts to find new ways to drive visits to his websites and his stores. To match his success at your operation, consider the following key points:

Targeting: You can spend every penny you have at your disposal, but if you are not targeting the appropriate audience, you may be wasting them. When it comes to geotargeting service campaigns, you must define your target area. How far will new customers drive to reach your service bays? To optimize geotargeting, try aggressively marketing within a certain radius and create a less aggressive campaign for a wider area. If a particular zone in the larger radius pays off, hit it harder. You may have pinpointed an area in which your competitors are falling short.

Retargeting: After an individual visits the website, Boyle has the ability to retarget them with ads specifically designed for top-of-mind brand awareness and logical next steps. Retargeting lists are built out by segmenting visitors of specific service-related landing pages. Customers who receive specific service incentives or strong calls to action are more likely to visit the dealership for service. The ads can range from service discount coupons and client service accolades to ads highlighting the benefits of a service contract or an incentive for a free vehicle-recall check.

Mobile Traffic: Search queries in the cars and trucks category grew by 62% between 2012 and 2013. The number of searches generated from desktop computers actually declined by two percent; however, mobile search queries grew by 60% and tablet searches grew by 72%.
This is good news. Mobile ads offer a higher level of interaction and the individual clicks are, on average, cheaper than ads targeted to computers and tablets. To compare the engagement on these devices at the Scott Family of Dealerships, the click-through-rate in September 2013 was 1.5% for desktops, 1.68% on tablets and an astounding 2.6% on mobile devices. In the same month, there was an average cost per click of $3.96 for desktop traffic, $3.83 per click on tablets and $3.01 per click on mobile.

“Go on Google or Bing and type in ‘oil change’ and your city. We tried that and found Valvoline, Midas, Monro, Jiffy Lube — no car dealers. So we came up with an oil-change deal and marketed it. Consumers had to put their email address in a form, and we sent them a coupon. Now they’re our customers. We might not have sold them anything today, but we treated them the way we’re supposed to. And when they’re ready for service, they’ll come back, and eventually they’ll make their way to the showroom.”

Landing Pages: To achieve results from those search and display campaigns, the content found on your website must correspond to the messages contained in those campaigns. Content such as the “Service FAQ” and the “Six Reasons to Service Your Vehicle” pages have tremendous value in creating authority and providing information. A page containing service specials or coupons will help the individual feel as though they received a better deal for their service dollar.

Supporting these pages with related search-and-display campaigns can help keep clients coming back. Landing pages are designed to contain all the necessary information. By directing search and display ads to these pages, service leads are likely to increase.

On average, the vehicles you sell today require less maintenance and fewer repairs per mile than their ancestors. Many industry experts interpret this as bad news for franchised dealers whose financial backbone remains fixed operations. Boyle sees both the present and the future differently. He knows that leading-edge digital marketing campaigns — combined with expert execution and an extremely well-run store operation — can win back service business lost to independent repair stores, established chains and big-box stores.

It only makes sense. You can offer a much higher level of customer service than those businesses, and they don’t have any new cars for sale. There is nothing futuristic or theoretical about the ability to dramatically increase revenue and profit from fixed operations. It’s time to write a success story of your own.

Paul Potratz is COO of Potratz Advertising and a nationally recognized expert in digital, mobile, behavioral and social media marketing.
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