If customers prefer to communicate by phone, text, and email, why do so many dealers still send postcards?  
 -  Photo by oatawa via Getty Images

If customers prefer to communicate by phone, text, and email, why do so many dealers still send postcards?

Photo by oatawa via Getty Images

Sometime in the next few years, the market will shift again. Maybe it will be rising interest rates or gas prices, maybe shifting corporate perceptions, or perhaps a movement from fossil to electricity.

Whatever “it” is, wouldn’t it be better to futureproof your store now and be ready for the coming market shift? Or would you rather wait until the wave of change crashes on your store and you suddenly realize you never learned to swim your way out of a chaotic swirl. Which sounds better to you?

Here are three action items you can use to futureproof your dealership, starting now:

1. Modernize Your Communications.

Every customer that comes into your store has a smartphone. Every single customer. My dad has a smartphone, and he is 80. Everybody has a smartphone.

And they use that phone to communicate to the world. They can call, email, text, record and send videos, or use an app to take a picture and send a visual message. They can use their voice to compose texts or send recordings. There are so many ways they can communicate. And what are you doing in your store to keep up?

Sending reminder postcards?

Think of your dealership as a living, breathing business. It needs to have effective communication so your business can thrive. It needs communication to make a sale, schedule a service appointment, interact with the factory, and sell a part. … And your team is using <ital>what<ital> to communicate your message?

Do you have a viable and active Instagram account? Facebook? LinkedIn? Are you active on Yelp and Google+? Do you regularly post educational videos on sales specials, service specials, and weather conditions, and how they affect the way your vehicles are operated? Do you send links to customers? Are you using texts to advise and update your service customers?

I don’t know how a busy service department stays in touch these days using only the phone for contact. Everybody checks their texts all the time. Their mobile devices ding, buzz, and chime all day long, and people respond to the notifications like a toddler to an ice cream cone: hands outstretched and crying “Gimme, gimme, gimme!”

I took over a dealership where an advisor was struggling because of poor communications with his customers. Nice guy, but struggling — as in if-you-don’t-do-something-different-you’ll-be-out-of-a-job struggling. He was generating so much heat, I could cook hot dogs at his desk.

I signed all the advisors up for a text service from their DMS provider-driven desktop. It turned him into a superman with super sales overnight.

In fact, he became his dealership’s top-selling advisor for three months in a row, and he stopped getting heat, stopped me from getting his heat, and customers liked him. It was a total game-changer. He became an effective communicator. He was staying in touch the way his customers wanted him to stay in touch.

When evaluating your communications, you need to look at everyone. Consider how your advisors communicating with your techs, the parts desk, lot porters, and the receptionist. Are you still paging Bob for a call on Line 1 over the intercom? How do you think that sounds to the 20-something-year-old customer who uses their smartphone for everything?

Think speed, contact, and convenience. Grade your store on a scale of one to 10. Look for gaps and fill them. Be prompt, communicate with customers the way they like to be communicated with, and be sure it’s easy for them to stay in touch.

Experts say today’s consumers demand a predictable, uniform experience from retailers, but homogenization is better suited to fast food restaurants than car dealerships.  
 -  Photo by Marie Martin via Getty Images

Experts say today’s consumers demand a predictable, uniform experience from retailers, but homogenization is better suited to fast food restaurants than car dealerships.

Photo by Marie Martin via Getty Images

2. Advertise Effectively.

Have you watched “open source” television lately? Me neither. Most of my viewing is on cable, Amazon Prime, or Netflix. Rarely do I flip to a local broadcast channel to see what’s on.

Your customers are doing the same thing. Most surveys say that the average person is watching two to three hours of video a day, using platforms they want to use and not “open source” television. And they are turning from traditional radio to app-driven “listen to what I want to” platforms.

It doesn’t mean that TV and radio are dead. But they are becoming increasingly desperate for advertising dollars.

If you are not moving forward on social video platforms, getting on the app-driven music platforms, and advertising where your customers live, you are going to have a tough time in the future. You will find an ever-shrinking audience for your message.

Set a budget of dollars per repair order for your fixed operations and start a campaign that takes advantage of social platforms that people are paying attention to. Send videos explaining everything from the shuttle service to the waiting room to the parts counter. Everything can be videoed and sent to the customer, put on your website, and installed on your waiting room TV.

Use every means of communication that is effective, not just the “tried and true.” Advertise to educate first and entice second. People are watching because they want to be entertained and they want to learn something while they are being entertained.

3. Retrain Your Personnel.

Dealers must train managers and staff to capture and keep this and future generations of customers. Transparency, convenience, speed, competency, value proposition — all words describing what our customers want and what they say will lead to them making a repurchase decision or come back for service.

The problem is, we have been “industrializing” our dealerships to provide cookie-cutter processes, just like a fast food chain. It’s all the same. A tornado could pick up one of these stores and plop it down three states over, and it would deliver the same experience as if it had never moved.

Customers may say they want this, but they really don’t, especially when it comes to their dealership. While there is comfort and predictability in familiarity, there certainly are no profits in commoditization, nor any loyalty. Why should they visit your store when they can get the same experience anywhere?

The average customer rolling into your service drive (and dealership) is seeking something else. They don’t want an “industrialized” or “institutionalized” service or sales experience. We all want to feel as if the world has been tailored to us.

Think attraction. Think value. Think personal contact and relationships. I don’t want a relationship with the guy who loads my tray at McDonald’s. I do want a relationship with the advisor who is responsible for the service on my vehicle.

A value-driven experience answers the question of why a customer should choose your dealership over any other service provider out there. What can they expect that they can’t get anywhere else?

This means your training must stress personal service and relationships. We do this by reeducating our service personnel to build value by being human, personable, helpful, caring, and empathetic while using a service sales process that walks the advisor and the customer down the aisle together.

The future is now. Equip your dealership with useful communications tools, advertise in a way that makes sense to the buying public, and retrain your personnel to build value by stressing what makes the experience personal and value-driven.

Leonard Buchholz is the founder of CarBizCoach. He helps dealers meet performance objectives in service sales, CSI, and profitability, and has extensive experience in evaluating fixed operations and providing corrective training and guidance. Contact him at [email protected].