While there are a lot of tools and services designed to help dealers reach the place of “trusted advisor” with their customers, the key to making it all work is by understanding some basic philosophies of creating customer loyalty. When your dealership is seen as a trusted partner, rather than the gauntlet that separates them from their vehicle needs, the sales and service process is easier for everyone involved. Here are three elements to keep in mind that will allow your dealership to become your customer’s dealership.
For the vast majority of customers, a visit to your dealership has one purpose: to remove pain from their life. While they might not describe it in those terms, the fact is they are hoping that you hold the key (sometimes literally) to fix a problem that is causing them discomfort. Some of these pains might be that:
- They don’t have a vehicle at all and need one to accomplish their daily tasks.
- Their current vehicle no longer meets their needs (growing family, changing work situation, entering a different stage of life, etc.) and they need to make a conversion.
- Their current vehicle needs repair so they can get their life back to normal.
- They’re tired of their old vehicle and want something with the latest technology and benefits to make their commute safer, more dependable and more enjoyable.
For most people — especially in those areas without viable mass transit or other transportation alternatives — a vehicle equals freedom. They can go where they want when they want. When your salespeople understand this simple but powerful fact, they understand on a deeper level what this transaction means to their customer. It’s their job to fix this pain.
The quickest way to disarm the customer and defuse the situation is to show that you’re there to help them select the vehicle that will best meet their needs — fix their pain — and not just to put them in any vehicle to make the sale. When you become a partner in their quest, the dynamic shifts. Instead of an “us versus them” mentality, the experience becomes a “win-win” relationship.
After being in a dealership day after day, year after year, even the best, most attentive staff can forget what it’s like for customers walking into the store. Whether they’d admit to it or not, most customers have some level of intimidation — this is a major purchase and they know that, if they make a bad deal, they could be living in regret for years. Because of the sometimes- deserved stereotypes of car dealers, they often come prepared for battle.
- Be Interested — Show that you want the best for your customer by asking them pertinent questions about what they want in a vehicle and why they want it. By asking questions and listening to their answers, you’ll get a much better understanding of what it is they’re looking for. Sometimes, you might ask questions they never considered, vastly increasing your worth in their eyes.
- Be Knowledgeable — You can’t find the right vehicle for the customer’s needs if you don’t know everything about the vehicles in your inventory by heart. This can be more challenging when you’re dealing with used vehicles of various makes, models and years, but make an effort to know what you’ve got to work with to fix your customer’s pains.
- Be Realistic — Get a feel for what your customer can afford, or is willing to spend, early on in the relationship. While you should treat all customers with respect — not only is it simply the right thing to do, but today’s struggling student might be tomorrow’s successful doctor, lawyer or real estate developer — showing a customer a vehicle they cannot afford doesn’t do anyone any good. They might feel embarrassed and, after finding a car in is their price range, they’ll have that unpleasant feeling of “settling.” Make them feel good about the vehicles they can purchase rather than envious of the ones they can’t.
- Be Empathetic — This purchase is a big deal for your customer. It’s not just a financial transaction; it’s emotional. Some customers may need more hand holding than others, but everyone needs support. Customers who buy from you will leave in one of two emotional states: excited about their new vehicle or apprehensive that they’ve made a huge mistake. Help them leave feeling good about themselves, their vehicle and your dealership.
As good as the customer may feel driving off your lot in the vehicle of their dreams, there are a lot of things clamoring for their attention once the initial excitement wears off. The relationship your salesperson forged during the sale won’t survive long if there’s not an organized, systematic plan of keeping that relationship alive. By offering relevant communications with the customer, they’ll keep your dealership in mind when the time comes to service their vehicles or purchase a new one.
- A few days after the sale, to make sure they’re enjoying their vehicle and to answer any questions they didn’t ask at the time or have come up now that they’ve driven the vehicle in their day-to-day life
- When it’s time to perform routine maintenance (oil change, tire rotation, seasonal adjustments, etc.)
- Birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions
- When their circumstances change (new driver in the family, impending retirement, new baby, etc.)
A properly configured, properly utilized CRM — capturing information gathered when your salesperson asks questions to get to know the customer — is crucial to making sure this follow up occurs. Don’t let your dealership’s staff get so busy bringing in new business that they forget to maintain their relationships with existing customers. Generating customer loyalty is a critical goal but can only happen if your dealership is loyal to them.