Each month I put almost 3000 miles on my car and usually change my oil that same month at my local dealership. There is a list of things that I’ve noticed dealerships could do to improve a customer experience in both sales and service but I wanted to address one that is very apparent. I’ve never understood why a dealership seems divided into two different divisions; sales and service. It’s almost as if there is a civil war between the two and sending customers across the battle lines is something of the past. When did this begin to happen - when was it that a Dealer sat back with his management team and said “Let’s divide?” I don’t believe that was ever the case, but the fact is that most dealerships are divided and customers know and experience this on a daily basis. In today’s industry it is imperative that we work together and ensure that our customers remain our customers. You’ve heard it before– united we stand, divided we fall.
We all know that warranty work is going away and that maintenance intervals are stretched. The figure that shocks me the most I found in a recent NADA report stating that on average after one year less than 30 percent of buyers don’t return for customer pay maintenance and service. That means they’ve strayed to one of the 81,533 independents that survive solely on your lost customers. I think you could also safely assume that service may not encourage customers to visit the sales department. So, there are two clear disconnects that I’ve observed at dealerships that harm the new/used car customer transition into service and the regular service customer into sales.
The first disconnect is the failure to introduce the buyer to service. When a customer signs on the dotted line after hours of test drives, debating the price and working on financing – the salesperson is exhausted or the service department is already closed. The likelihood of him walking the customer to the service drive for an introduction is very slim anyway, and he knows from appearance that the service department is already very busy (key word – appearance) and may not have time to really spend properly meeting the new customer – so the transition was never made. Even if he or she had a great buying experience they never made it to service and may not even know if your dealership has a service department or if it’s where they should service their new vehicle! I am sure this isn’t what you want to happen.
Here is how to correct that. The best thing you can do is to remember one of the first rules of running a Service Department – don’t appear too busy. Your customers will see it and the sales people will see it too. If the sales people think service is too busy, they won’t even consider attempting to introduce the customer and so forms the division. The next best thing you can do is sit both the sales and service staff down and talk about the process of a vehicle delivery. Ensure that every salesperson knows that they are required to walk a customer to service after purchase (or even during the process) and ask your Advisors to keep an eye out for a customer walking into service with a salesperson – its what I call opportunity walking! A polite introduction to preferably the Service Manager or an available Advisor is all that is required to hedge the odds and increase your chances for them to return for future service.
The second disconnect I’ve observed is that Service Advisors often fail to move a customer to the vehicle sales department when the time is right. Here, the trust between the customer and the Service Advisor is not being exploited to its full potential. A good relationship between the two is a perfect opportunity to sell not just more service but additional vehicles. The Advisors need to listen for what I call buying whispers - “I really want that new ---“ or “It’s about time for me to trade” and move the customer (if willing of course) to sales quickly and safely. This problem is very similar to what I discovered in sales; the service people don’t want to send the customer to the front, they’re afraid to! To an Advisor, sales appears (key word – appears) to be focused on one thing and that is getting the customer into a vehicle and out the door as quickly as possible – regardless if it’s true or not. They just don’t want to jeopardize their relationship with the customer.
You can help correct this and shift the appearance by doing something very similar to what I mentioned before. Sit the sales and service staff down together and talk about moving a customer between the two. Maybe the sales staff can help teach the advisors to listen for some of those “buying whispers” or maybe you can show both teams the process and benefits of delivering the customers from service to sales and then back to service again. Both departments need to think positively about every customer and about each other, regardless of appearance throughout the entire transition. If the service customer does buy a new/used vehicle after moving from service to sales, you’ve completed the buying circle and the chances of them returning for regular maintenance and recommending you to family and friends are much higher!
Most likely you spend thousands of dollars on advertising and marketing each month to bring the customers in, but if they don’t stay at your dealership you’ve not only lost them forever – you’ve wasted a great deal of money. You need to play the game and improve owner loyalty, complete the buying circle and form a unity between sales and service now. It requires the cooperation of the entire dealership to provide a customer with an experience that will ensure their return. The times are tough and now more than ever we need to form a truce between both departments. Today, dealerships are forced to rethink their methods of doing business and these are some clear problems that need addressing. Regardless of what the newspapers say, you can still operate a very profitable business. The real key is to not think of how terrible business is, but to instead think of how much more business you can generate as the competition around you falls and you stand united and strong. Teach your dealership how the two divisions can become one and work together to mutually benefit one another. A dealership can either stay divided and die or come together and prosper. Where does your dealership stand?
Joshua Hays is the Marketing Director for Car People Marketing, a leading provider of customer retention and service marketing systems for auto dealers. Joshua can be reached at 866-227-7337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.