—Originally Published in Fixed Ops Magazine—
“It’s the worst marketing program I’ve ever seen,” he said, “and I’m sure because we’ve been running it for the past two years.”
I believe that a prescription without an examination is malpractice, in any industry, and even within the same industry, every market is slightly different. So, I always first ask a dealer what’s currently being done, and how it’s working. When asked, it would boggle your mind to know how often we hear dealers say: “It’s ok”, “horrible” or even worse, “No clue”. How do you know if you should keep doing or stop doing something if you don’t even know if it is working for you? A service director once said the following about a marketing campaign he was running prior to working with us, “Its the worst campaign. We’ve been consistently running it for the past 2 years, and it doesn’t work.”
In my office we speak to hundreds of dealership decision-makers a month. The focus of a majority of these conversations is retention. We all know how important current customer retention is for any business, however it seems to be a constant source of struggle for many dealerships, and the major manufacturers watch it carefully. It can be the lifeblood of a dealership. The best, most reliable sales customers are the ones who stop by every three months for a filter change. The truth is, service carries every month, because not only does it generate revenue, but it’s also the richest source of sales customers. But, that’s only possible when retention is top-notch.
Bring the customers in, treat them well, do the job right, and charge a fair price. When done properly and with sincerity, they will not only return to you but they will refer you repeatedly to friends and family. Sounds easy, right? Well, there’s a problem…
You are contending with aftermarket service centers. Price, more than ever before in recent memory, is a serious concern for customers; it’s tempting to try to compete with the little guys. But, in a race-to-the-bottom, you can’t win. A tiny operation with generic supplies and one service will always be the ‘low-price leader’. Racing to the bottom results in cost-cutting shortcuts that can hurt the customer’s experience. A deep discount can only be a one-time teaser to woo a customer back. You cannot and should not play this game, even if you’re the rare company that can win it. But the true sale must be made on the experience.
BUDGET/GOING WITH THE CHEAPEST OPTION/PRODUCT
While you’re pushing hard to distinguish yourself from the Lightening Lube stores, stop and think you’re your customer for a moment. Don’t make the same mistake that your customers make all the time: focusing entirely on price. If all marketing programs were created equal, price would be the only concern. But they’re not. The true litmus test is the dollor-for-dollar ROI generated. A million-dollar price tag is a bargain, when the return is $20 million, just like $99/month is a ripoff when it fails to produce. Focus on cost conceals value. Value is Benefit vs. Cost. Great quality service is cheap at twice the price. Keep that in mind, because at the end of the month nobody wants to say, “I know we didn’t hit our numbers, but we got a really great bargain on the marketing that didn’t help us.”
My advice to dealers for their customers is the same thing I tell my dealerships as clients, and it’s boilerplate sales copy: build the value for your customers. Be distinct and market yourself distinctly. Then, sell your service drive on it’s own, with amenities, services, and skills that no neighborhood Lube-mart can touch. Craft a great experience and they’ll happily pay full price for the next oil change or service interval.
If they have never been in your dealership before, do something above and beyond, like noticing that their headlights need restoration and take care of it for them at no charge. Let them know that you handled it for them and thank them for coming in. Things like this show that you care about the customers themselves, not just their pocketbooks. Get creative and empower all members of staff within the dealership to do whatever they can within reason to make customers feel comfortable and special. There are many ways to do this without spending money or losing profit. When everyone feels like a VIP, you are creating customers for life.
If a person has a truly winning experience, they will probably tell a few close friends. However, if they have a bad experience, or at least what they perceive as a bad experience, they will tell EVERYONE. A client of mine once mistakenly told a customer (who left angry) that a repair would not be covered by the warranty. Despite making immediate attempts to call the customer back to apologize and correct the oversight, the customer went on a 24-hour dealership review-site marathon slamming his store. The impact was tremendous. Negativity spreads like wildfire… and your money is flammable. On a handful of occasions, while looking for a dealership’s website, I’ve found hate-sites ranked higher than the client’s own webpage.
One of the cool “bells & whistles” of my retention product is a web form that asks flat-out where customers used to service before coming back to your dealership and why. We call this “Industry Espionage” I read every one of these reasons personally. Most of it is simple stuff. It would surprise you how a few easy changes can drastically improve the way customers feel about you and increase the frequency at which they visit you. Replenishing the hot coffee more often, free doughnuts, shuttle service, kid’s play rooms are great starters, but nothing can compete with the real basics: simple courtesy, competence, realistic completion times and accurate job estimates.
GETTING THEM IN
Before you can show a customer some love, you have to get them to come in. So how do we get new people in or get lost and inactive customers to come back? Marketing. Good marketing would be better, and unique marketing would be best. As we all know, there’s a lot of competition out there. Many other companies are fighting for these very same customers. No mystery there. Constant banners and pop up’s on the computer, radio spots (most of which are horribly annoying) television commercials (equally annoying), costumed people dressed as livestock or superheroes spinning signs on every corner, and we all have direct mail pieces in our mailboxes multiple times each week.
The problem is that most of these look exactly the same. There is usually very little difference between one dealership’s service coupons and another’s. Further, these are not much different than the after-market service center coupons either. With the exception of whoever put in the lowest price, they don’t give customers much of a buying preference. Price is only what something costs. We have all paid more money than we had previously anticipated for something we wanted because a buying preference was created based on value being built. Value needs to be added. Not sending a message communicating the unique value of your product will just become a spending contest; because when the message is the same, whoever puts the most pieces out there wins, whether print media, digital, or broadcast. The more unique, the more you stand out, and the more objectively effective your efforts are, the less you have to spend for the same result. That’s value, not cost. I’ve seen 2000 pieces of unique direct mail outperform 10,000 pieces of run-of-the-mill stuff 10:1.
Running a campaign within any medium of advertising needs to be easy to track. Whether this is done through Op Codes or another method and I highly suggest “another method”, you should always be able to tell at a glance if a campaign is bringing in customers. But, more importantly, whom it is bringing in, (ie: current customer, lost customer, no-history customer), number of visits, the total ROI to date for the campaign as well as an exact total upon completion. If it worked well, keep running it. But, the bottom line is this: if you can’t tell at a glance how well the campaign is producing – with hard numbers – find another.
We don’t just preach this stuff, we practice it too. We have 80-90% retention with our strictly automotive clients. Many of whom have even recorded video testimonials for our blog. When was the last time that your experience and results from a direct mail company prompted you make a video testimonial about them?
Now that’s real value.