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Customer retention: It's good to talk

That old saying ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ seems especially relevant when it comes to dealers keeping in touch with customers.

As Sue Myers, director of sales pro-cess, funding and insurance at the Marshall Motor Group, said: “Technology can aid communication, but can’t drive it – that has to be down to good old-fashioned people management.”

Myers said the company’s dealer management system had its limitations.

“It’s great at flagging up when to contact a customer, but there’s nothing to stop a sales exec simply moving that task to another day.”

For independent dealer Morrison, one method of ‘flagging’, from finance provider Alphera, puts them in pole position to clinch sales.

As business manager Doug Shand explains: “Each morning I get emails on my BlackBerry informing me of customers nearing the end of their personal contract purchase or hire purchase agreements, or asking for a settlement figure.

"That is information we wouldn’t otherwise know about and is obviously invaluable in providing sales leads.”

Morrison, based in Turriff, Aberdeenshire, sells around 2,000 cars and light commercials a year and has been using Alphera – the multi-brand part of BMW Financial Services – for four years.

“They are by far the most pro-active provider we have used keeping us up to date on new products and promotions,” said Shand.

Data protection

But information supply routes are not completely free flowing. “Data protection is an issue, especially with emails,” said Steve Nash, aftersales director of BMW UK.

“A dealer has information and for us to obtain it we have to obtain the customer’s permission.”
Myers said another problem was the turnover of email addresses.

Typically, Marshall’s monthly cleansing of its database by Experian shows around 20% of addresses to be out of date.

There’s also an issue over the way information is presented. “Every manufacturer requires something different,” said Myers.

“It’s very challenging and complicated delivering messages bespoke to the 26 different brands we represent.”

For customer contact through direct mail, Marshall uses a marketing com-pany, but processes such as service/MoT reminders are done in-house.

Returning to the ‘you can lead a horse to water’ analogy, Myers says Marshalls uses a recording system with a number prefix to identify the caller.

“Not every call is monitored; it’s a few a month. And it’s not intended to beat up a sales executive for something they should have done, to catch them out.

"Rather, it’s used as coaching tool to persuade users to buy into the benefits of using the system.”

Marketing Delivery – whose clients include Cambria, Ancaster and the Co-operative Motor Group – concluded that none of the call-tracking and recording products on the market were the complete article so decided to create its own version.

The result is SmartCall, allowing dealers to track responses from their activity and listen in to how those calls are handled.

Added to that is a voicemail and missed call alert via email and/or SMS.

Jeremy Evans, Marketing Delivery’s MD, said: “We try to automate processes as much as possible so the dealer has to do as little as possible.”

He ranked email as the most effective method of communication, followed by mobile phone, landline and direct mail

“There’s very little evidence to suggest that social media generates direct sales, though it has benefits in adding to the ‘noise’ of dealer activity.”

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