Customers are more likely to order needed repairs and return for future service when dealers make constant, transparent and friendly communication a priority.

Customers are more likely to order needed repairs and return for future service when dealers make constant, transparent and friendly communication a priority. 

Last year, I introduced the Six Touchpoints of Service, a list I created from all the best practices I’ve seen among the dealers I work with. Even the best service marketing programs can only drive traffic to the store once if the customer’s experience is poor. A fantastic internal operation serves as a multiplier to the store’s marketing efforts by bringing clients back in the door for all their service needs, increasing the average repair order amount and attracting additional business through client advocacy. Let’s take a closer look at each touchpoint and see where we can improve.

1. The Pre-Shopping Experience

The name of this game is client acquisition. Whether it starts with a call to the sales or service teams, foot traffic to the showroom or an online form, your goal is to satisfy every client and create relationships. Many dealers lack this focus and dedication to service retention and client satisfaction. They rely too heavily on profits from the front end. Volume is critical, and a repeat client is far more valuable than any one-time deal.

Another tool many dealers fail to utilize is a dedicated business development center. At one of my client’s stores, 100% of all website queries and 60% to 65% of all calls are answered directly by a full-time service BDC manager. That team currently boasts an average response time of less than five minutes.

Another key to ensuring an above-average pre-shopping experience is to focus on providing information. Dealers fear that giving away too much information or pricing, especially online, will dissuade clients from booking a service appointment. I believe the opposite is true. Take the time to be aware of what your competitors are doing. Offer better prices or incentives such as coupons or a list of reasons why you provide a more comprehensive service for the price.

Like car buyers, today’s service customers are researching multiple options before they leave home. Again, your goal is client acquisition, so give them all the information they need to make the right choice.

2. Create a Welcome Arrival Process

Service clients should not set foot in your service department without being greeted and offered assistance by a manager or advisor. In fact, you don’t even have to wait that long. An employee should be standing beside the driver’s side door before their feet touch the ground. That’s not just an expression; it’s a strategy. Removing the initial wait time provides a welcoming atmosphere, and your service team can get to work that much faster.

3. Clear Communication in a Comfortable Space

One sure way to create value is to move vehicles in and out of your service bays quickly. Create a culture of open communication between the parts and service departments. Clients appreciate updates on parts orders and the progress of repairs. They are comforted by transparency and assurances that you are working as fast as you can. Clients are happier, employees are happier and your bottom line benefits from the enhanced loyalty from both.

Make your waiting area a place worth waiting in. Get rid of worn, torn and stained furniture, install a nice TV and offer free Wi-Fi. Make sure the coffee is hot and the vending machines are within sight. If you have the room, a children’s play area and one or two unused workspaces won’t hurt either.

Finally, in addition to loaner units, consider offering shuttle vans to get people wherever they need to go. This level of service, combined with regular status updates, will create the kind of atmosphere customers will remember when they or their families and friends need additional service down the line.

Why hide the price of your services? Customers searching for a deal on an oil change, for example, will be more likely to find your store if you list your prices — especially if they are competitive.

Why hide the price of your services? Customers searching for a deal on an oil change, for example, will be more likely to find your store if you list your prices — especially if they are competitive. 

4. Demonstrate Your Value

Sell as much needed service as possible, and make sure each client is made fully aware of the risks and costs associated with delaying repairs. Color-coding is the secret to getting paperwork completed quickly. Green means the item was inspected and is safe; yellow requires maintenance that should be fixed at the time of the appointment; red means the item must be immediately repaired. Clients respond to this simple system and so do employees. No one wants to see a vehicle with red items leave the store without repair, and every effort is made to help the customer understand and agree to repairing items in yellow by assuring a rapid turnaround.

Price is another area in which you can demonstrate value and position yourself as the leader in your market. Some dealers shy away from using prices to lure clients in, especially when providing a high level of client care. However, the cost per client can decrease with volume. Volume is also the key to buying parts cheaper and scaling advanced software systems.

One example is your oil change offer. One dealer I know offers his $36.95 oil change service — with no adjustment to the service itself — for $19.95. Some might see this as giving away $17 in marginal profit, but the overall results show otherwise. That store’s fixed coverage ratio is 137%. Their break-even point is negative-60 vehicle sales.

Prices on oil changes are a key lure for this dealer, but that’s just one example. He also matches prices with area shops on a same-parts, same-labor basis. These offers bring hundreds of service clients into a system designed to deliver a great experience from a team trained, equipped and incentivized to sell the client every bit of service they need. In short, they do not price their way to fixed operations success. If you price strategically to generate the opportunity to earn a client’s future business, you will see larger volumes and get the opportunity to sell a bigger service ticket down the road.

5. Communicate After Drive-Off

Make sure your clients leave the store with an appointment for their next visit or a scheduled phone reminder in your system. If the client left the store with $50 or more in needed service items, make a call within 30 days to find out whether the repair has done elsewhere and, if not, why not. This is your chance to find out where you may have fallen short or, better yet, recapture the business.

If price is the issue, make an effort to unravel the root cause. Sometimes the issue is availability of funds; often, it is a perception the service could be done cheaper somewhere else or won’t really harm the vehicle if it isn’t completed. When a bad experience is to blame for a missed sale, make every effort to understand the experience, apologize when appropriate and turn the situation around before the customer leaves the dealership — and vents his frustrations online.

6. Direct Mail, Emails, and Phone Calls to Client Base

Current customers should be receiving direct mail and emails reminding them to come in for service and notifying them of current specials. Phone calls made at the agreed-upon intervals are often all it takes to persuade clients to make a service appointment.

While focusing on continuing the relationship with current clients is key, don’t stop looking for new clients. Create online marketing campaigns to reach your community on a regular basis. Make sure your website has all the information and calls to action a potential customer can handle. Work with an agency to create a mailing list that targets your core demographics, then send offers tailored to bring people into your service department. Once there, if you’ve put all of these touchpoints into practice, you will quickly convert them into loyal, long-term customers.

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