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Keep Customers Engaged and Motivated for the Long Term

“Retention is easy to overlook, but in some cases you are picking up dimes as you walk over dollars.”

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Retention is great for every business, and no one has better retention than the National Football League. Teams like the New York Giants have a 10-year waiting list for season tickets. We can probably never achieve that level of retention in the automobile business, but we can do much better than we have been.

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Automotive business has been strong for a long time. Can’t we forget about retaining customers when so many people are just wanting to buy a car? The best way to grow our industry is not to sell more cars, but to retain more customers. Anyone who has been in this business for any length of time knows how cyclical it can be. Sales will go up and down, but a good service department never has to deal with down cycles.

We can talk all day long about all the things dealers think they are doing to build retention. Most programs, however, are just like throwing darts against the wall. If you don’t have a way to track it, a comprehensive program that works for every department and a plan for long-term success, you are probably wasting your money.

Customers want to be engaged. Easier said than done. We need to give them reasons to come back. How do we get them excited about doing business with us long term?

Let’s lay out a program that will keep your customer engaged and motivated year after year.

First, we need to provide customers with reasons not only to buy here but to service here. A valid lifetime engine program can accomplish this and, in many cases, can be reinsured to offset potential liability. Next, couple this with an oil change program sold in F&I. Unlike prepaid maintenance, an inexpensive oil change program can double retention for three to five years.

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Next, look at the digital side. Dealer Websites are generally good, and so are dealer mobile apps. From a retention standpoint, though, a personalized Website for each customer and a customer-centric mobile app are more successful in engaging the customer. This allows you to customize your message to each person in your database. Blanket CRM reminders work, but a better method is to create customized graphics with service specials, birthday greetings, service reminders, announcements of community events and all other direct communication you want to have with each customer.

How do you thank a customer for doing business with you? A nice note from the dealership? A call? A picture of them in the showroom? The airline and hotel industry have shown us for years what works. Copy this type of program and you can’t go wrong. Everyone wants to be rewarded. A customer likes it when they think, “I spent some money with you, but you are reinvesting some of it back to me as a thank you.” What keeps a customer more engaged: $100 off a set of tires or a box of cookies?

Retention is often overlooked on the service drive. Why not take the same oil change program you developed for F&I and sell it to everyone who uses your service department? Approximately 80 percent of customers who buy a car do not buy prepaid maintenance. Here is a great second chance to capture them again — and when you do, they will be loyal for up to three to five years.

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Finally, use your database to keep customers. More and more people want to shop from the comfort of their own home. Develop an online store to keep your customer always thinking of you for their automotive needs. Offer the oil change program and service contracts. Allow them to shop for tires, batteries and anything else they might need, but often buy elsewhere.

This is the path to successful retention. A program like this will create a retention rate of 75 to 85 percent. It is cost effective and, in most cases, highly profitable. More important, you can track it, see what is working, where it is breaking down and tweak it each month to get the best results. Most dealerships have a lot on their plate and the meat and potatoes of the business consumes most of the day. Retention is easy to overlook, but in some cases you are picking up dimes as you walk over dollars.

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