How do you maintain customer relationships and loyalty?


Customers may be loyal to your brand, but they’re also loyal to your dealership. It’s a lot easier and cost-effective to keep existing customers than draw in new ones, and your retention strategy should begin the moment someone leaves the driveway in their new vehicle.

Studies have shown that the majority of customers won’t return if they have a bad experience. That isn’t surprising, but it reinforces the need to treat customers well and also look after any issues right away, following through quickly to solve the problem. It’s also proven that the vast majority of people who have their vehicles serviced at the dealership are more likely to buy their next vehicle at that store. It’s obviously essential to start them off with a positive introduction to the service department. From there, there’s value in offering incentives or loyalty programs to keep them coming back, especially as the vehicle ages and they may be thinking about quick-lube shops for oil changes, or big-box stores for tires.

Much of the follow-up falls on the service department, because it’s the next step for owners after they’ve purchased a vehicle, but successful customer retention is the entire dealership’s responsibility and the result of all departments working together, including sales, service, and F&I. It’s basically a “retention web” between departments – making sure that no one drops the ball on customer contact, while also ensuring that there aren’t so many overlapping follow-ups that the customer is overwhelmed.

The initial follow-up. The day after delivery, the salesperson should call the customer. Don’t ask if they’re happy with the vehicle; instead, ask if there’s anything they need help figuring out, especially if it has higher-tech features than their old model did. Even if everything was explained during delivery, it’s a lot to take in at once, and they may have forgotten how to adjust the adaptive cruise control or save a new phone contact.

The second follow-up. A week after your first call, contact the customer again. As before, it’s not about how happy they are with it – some people see that as a pointless question, because they’ll tell you if they aren’t – but if there’s anything else they would like clarified about the vehicle’s operation, and to be sure they received information about the first service visit and schedule it if necessary. If they do say that they’re happy with how they’ve been treated, ask if they’ll consider giving a positive online review.

Offer a “bird-dog” incentive if they bring you a new customer. Offer cash or product if your customer recommends someone who ends up purchasing a vehicle.

Set up a loyalty program. This may be a long-term retention strategy, since dealership customers don’t come in all that often, but consider something like a free oil change after they’ve had a specific number done, or purchased their second set of tires, or similar programs. Even something like a free tire pressure gauge or flashlight on their maintenance visit is appreciated, and you can brand it with your dealership’s name and contact information.

Keep on top of maintenance visits. Customers should be getting automated reminders when their vehicles are getting close to their maintenance intervals. Salespeople and managers should check the service schedule each day to see if any of their customers are coming in. It’s an opportunity to say hello, get them a coffee, see if they have any concerns, and possibly take them through the showroom to look at what’s new.

Keep track of anniversaries. Some dealerships keep track of customer birthdays and mail a card – which always gets more of a reaction than an electronic message. Also note the vehicle’s sale date, and as the anniversary comes up, send a text or email along the lines of, “Hard to believe it’s been two years already! Drop by any time to say hello. We’ll be glad to give you a free evaluation of what your vehicle could be worth if you’re interested in looking at what’s new in our model lineup.”

Follow up immediately on issues. If the customer has any problems with any department, be part of the resolution. That doesn’t mean stepping on toes when someone else is working to fix an issue, but your customer will appreciate you checking in, such as, “I heard there was a problem with your service appointment scheduling today – did it get resolved?” If it didn’t, take steps to get the right people involved, and continue to follow up with personal messages until the customer is happy, or at least understands why a request couldn’t be fulfilled.

Hold customer appreciation nights. When new models come in, invite customers to come in and have a look, complete with refreshments and perhaps small gifts or prizes.

Most customer retention policies come with little cost to the dealership except for your time. Go to the trouble and the rewards will follow.