Customer retention and dealership management systems are intrinsically linked. But they often run parallel to one-another, crossing paths now and again at contact points such as annual servicing. The future will be different, linking the two inherently to improve the consumer experience and aid retention.
The future dealer will start the relationship early, ensuring consumer experience inspires confidence and begins to build the crucial links which will garner a long-term relationship. To keep up with consumer expectations this should begin as soon as a potential customer begins their research into their next purchase – most likely on the web.
Over one-third of car buyers use dealer websites to help them decide on a purchase, so managing their experience from a website visit onwards will be a key priority. The focus will be less about managing post-sale retention; consumers expect a higher level of service from the very beginning.
Transparent business practices will be a driver of early retention. A closed door approach does not inspire confidence, so demonstrating to a consumer why they should buy from your business, via the web, is hugely important. Customer reviews – posted via a third party website and completely impartial – are a powerful tool. Think of Trip Advisor – businesses have both flourished and died as a result of reviews posted on the website.
Facilitating the buying journey through the web is also important. If research isn’t easy to undertake, or if contact points aren’t effective, people will be put off from day one, and simply go elsewhere. In the future, it will be the norm – not the exception – for dealers to include Live Chat, integrated social media presence and more frequent, high quality contact with customers and potential customers to aid the retention process early.
Where dealers also fall behind in maintaining an effective relationship is aftersales. In new car sales, even a top-performing franchised dealership may only retain 70% of customers for scheduled servicing in year one, dropping to nearer 50% in year two. For approved used sales, the figure in could be well below 60% for year-one service retention alone.
Schemes like loyalty cards have their place on the high street, but have regularly proven inadequate for automotive retailing. A major reason for this is that transacting with a dealership is a comparatively rare event – not like popping into the Supermarket and collecting a few Nectar points several times a week. Customers are less likely to remember their dealership loyalty card and even less likely to perceive any genuine value from it due to the timescale over which it is used.
Maintaining clean DMS records is also no easy process, yet doing so can be a big driver of profitability. A lot of data relating to leads and customers, which is ultimately superfluous, will go in and cleansing it to ensure that only the relevant data is kept is both costly and time consuming. Automating processes relating to stock and servicing is comparatively advanced; maintaining customer records is all too often an antiquated process.
In the future, CRM and DMS will come together – as they have done in other areas of commerce. Amazon and iTune are great examples of how consumers will utilise online portals which help to build an immediate, strong relationship. Ten years from now, it’s more than likely that most dealers will have adopted a similar strategy.
Opening up the DMS to customers and offering them the ability to edit pertinent information, such as contact details and preferences, as well as presenting customers with an online record of their car’s service history, gives consumers a reason to return year-after-year. The bonus is that it will maintain DMS records without dealer staff intervention. Combined with other tools, such as service plans and online service booking, it is possible for dealers to interact with customers on the customers’ terms, which they will prefer.
By opening up one side of DMS to customers, dealers will stand to get more out of it. Dealership staff will be under less time pressure, and inaccurate information is less likely to be logged, making targeted marketing far more effective.
In the future, giving consumers the experience they expect from modern commerce throughout the buying and ownership process, will make them more likely to return to a dealer year-after-year.