Holding on to your customers after they have driven off the forecourt is essential for future business well-being, making customer relationship management vital for all companies, irrespective of size and sector, Debbie Kirlew reports.
The customer experience begins online. In fact, according to Auto Trader, consumers spend on average 11 hours online researching their next car, compared to six hours offline, so dealers need to ensure their presence in the virtual world is engaging, open and honest.
Nick King, Auto Trader insight director, said: “The forecourt experience should be a seamless transition from the online experience, and those who embrace transparency will be more successful.”
At some point, customer details need to be captured and entered into a customer relationship management (CRM) system for follow-up during the purchase process and ownership cycle.
CarVue provides a cloud-based management system and marketing director Alex Knight said: “The ability to call up a customer’s details while they are on the end of the phone and see straight away that you suggested a future brake pad change the last time you saw the car, means you know your customer and you are providing a personal, but not intrusive, service.
“The ideal system transcends many aspects of customer retention, joining the dots from work carried out on the vehicle to the invoice information and any customer notes.”
Successful CRM relies on gathering good-quality data.
Jeremy Evans, managing director of digital agency Marketing Delivery, said: “Make sure data is up to date. You need to check all fields are completed, particularly for email, mobile and service and MOT dates, which are the most important of all data and should be gathered and updated on every visit.”
CarVue’s Knight added: “All other CRM processes will work better as a result of good-quality data.”
Data gathering brings huge responsibility, warned Marketing Delivery’s Evans: “The law is changing and you need to demonstrate you have gained permission to use a person’s email.
“The new regulations are far more explicit and permission is key. We recommend asking the question verbally and ticking the box with them. If I were to say ‘can I have your email address as we would like to keep in contact with you’ they are more likely to agree than if they are given a form to fill out.”
CarVue’s Knight echoes this view: “Sell the benefits of data capture properly and your success rates will be much higher. Not just ‘can I have your mobile number’, but can I have your mobile number so that we can send you a text as soon as your car is done’.”
Emails & texts
Stuffing your customer’s inbox full of unwanted mail is a guaranteed way to have them reaching for the ‘unsubscribe’ button.
Marketing Delivery’s Evans said: “Don’t bombard customers with promotional emails. People like to keep in touch – as long as the message is relevant and personal, they welcome it.”
Auto Trader’s King said: “Everyone has a phone now and checks it regularly. But don’t overuse this medium or the audience will become blind to it. Keep the message short, punchy and enticing.”
Text message use in CarVue has risen 300% since January 2016 and Knight recommends also using it to keep customers posted on the progress of their vehicle in the workshop.
He said: “Better and more frequent communications are what today’s drivers want and it’s an area in which the automotive industry has traditionally been lacking – the dreaded customers all calling up at 4pm can be avoided with simple tools like texting.”
Create a contact plan
Marketing Delivery’s Evans advises dealers to create a contact cycle and implement it. That way, customers receive regular communications with key messages at the right time. While service and MOT reminders are the obvious touchpoints, others include when the finance agreement is nearing its end and during the purchase phase when a would-be buyer has enquired, but has yet to take the next step.
Customers will have built up a perception of the business from a variety of sources online, so it’s vital the experience is matched or even surpassed when they arrive on-site, including responding to customers when promised or quickly after an enquiry has been made. Auto Trader’s King said: “Blend your online offering with a great forecourt experience.”
Reviews and surveys
Auto Trader research found 61% of car buyers highlighted car testimonials and reviews as one of the most important factors in the car-buying process.
Auto Trader’s King said: “Reviews and testimonials demonstrate trust and transparency. If customers are engaged with you as a business, they’re more likely to buy from you again – it also helps attract new customers.”
For review site Judge Service’s founder Neil Addley, customer feedback is more important than the review itself, although the former also fuels the latter.
Addley identifies four major touchpoints – immediately after a visit to the premises has taken place, post-transaction, post-service (as sometimes the sales process experience isn’t matched at handover) and long-term – to understand whether a customer is truly happy and likely to purchase again.
He said: “The number of people who highlight coffee and parking astounds me. If you ensure they can park and provide a decent cup of coffee, you are halfway there. The post-service survey is particularly important for the independent sector because they are not subject to the same investigations from the manufacturers as franchised dealers. It offers a real opportunity for an independent to become a real first-class business.”
He added: “If the survey is issued at the right points of the process, we can improve, celebrate and share views with other customers.”
Social media helps a business develop a ‘personality’ online, but backing it up in real life, such as by sponsoring a local sports team or backing a charity, is just as important, as well as providing excellent content for these channels. Auto Trader’s King suggests ensuring that dealers and customers are connected on Facebook and posting photos of them picking up their car, as well as running competitions on the site.
Nothing beats exceptional customer service, but service plans will ensure that those who sign up are more likely to return for their routine servicing, establishing a stronger relationship should any other work be required and ahead of purchasing their next vehicle.