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Top 5 Customer Relationship Management Tools for Car Dealers

When we talk about revolutionizing the service business, it’s important to remember to focus not just on the dealership, but also on the health and work-life balance of your team. I talked to somebody recently who said they were working 75 hours a week, skipping lunch, killing themselves every day, and having no way of knowing whether they’re winning or losing… It’s crazy!

It’s easy to forget about health when you’re busy, but it shouldn’t (and doesn’t) have to be that way. You have to listen to your body and do the right thing. One of the things we focus on is building a sustainable, profitable business, and having fun in the process. You’re allowed to have fun. That’s part of the revolution.

I had two great questions this week… 

The first was about clients that make an appointment, and within an hour they’re calling and want an update on their vehicle. Meanwhile, the technician hasn’t even looked at it yet. 

This is a great question, and there are two critical parts to this: building trust, and setting the right expectations. 

Remember– we’re going to do the majority of our work with the sales presentation and building trust at the initial writeup… You’ve got to build trust and you’ve got to manage that expectation. If you’re not framing it right up front, then the customers won’t feel safe. If they’re calling you within an hour, that’s a pretty aggressive way telling you they don’t trust you. If they’re calling so fast, then they’re a little bit worried.

One of our key principles is the process that helps service departments run like a well-oiled machine. With that framework, it’s all about managing the clients’ expectations… Petting the dog.

Early on in my career, I was guilty of over-promising and under-delivering. My brain thought, “We can do this in X amount of time, I’ll have an update for you and an answer,” not realizing that between dispatch, nine other advisors, and 45 technicians, customer service became a labyrinth. 

We typically set an expectation with the customer that we’re going to call in a couple hours with an update. Let them know you’re going to call them and they don’t have to call you. If it’s a broken vehicle, you may want to set the expectation that you’ll need the vehicle all day, possibly even multiple days, just to buy yourself time. Then you can dazzle them with that two-hour callback early on.

The second question is what to do when customers come in with a check engine light on and they want to know if I can scan it for them. Now, the dealership does have a scan tool that he can use, but he says if I scan it, I’m not making any money, so there’s kind of two things to this one. The money part, which we need to keep secondary, because if our focus is only making money, guess what? The customers are going to feel that, and we’re not going to be able to build trust with them. Remember, instead of making money, what we want to be focused on is helping customers and building our trust fund by being a customer collector, right? That’s ultimately important, so your money’s going to come if you help enough people and focus on helping customers, so let’s look at the damage a quick scan does on the drive. 

One thing we should take into consideration in this scenario or the context of this question is, he has a manager and so his manager is going to set the policy on how they handle check engine lights. Now, doing check engine lights for free is a good way to drive traffic, but if that’s not a part of your pricing strategy or how you’re driving traffic, then I would just tell customers that our process is, because we’ve made some mistakes and jumped to some conclusions and sometimes codes lead to other codes, that we have technicians who are qualified to do this and so I’m going to need to create a repair order and actually have a tech look at it. Because we’ve diagnosed things in the drive before and it ended up that it was a code that led to another code, and we were only looking at half the equation. I would explain it that way, because it’s true, you’re not a technician and I don’t know that we’re qualified to be looking at codes. Let’s get the doctor to diagnose it, not the nurse.

One of the things I do is everything begins with a repair order, so let me get some information, I’ll help you out. Go out and pet the dog, do your walk around and get the information off the car. Get the customer back to your desk and write the ticket, right? Then start to collect valve springs. Now what do I mean by collecting valve springs? I have a couple here now, this one’s off a Mercedes E350 with 106,000 miles. This is off of a Volkswagen Jetta with 89,000 miles. These parts should not be broken this early. The message is this: There is no simple repair today. These are jobs we did at our shop and every single customer called in for a tune-up due to a misfire. You could have major internal engine damage from a lack of properly maintaining your car. What the customer needs is not a quick scan, they need a trusted advisor to help them navigate this repair in the most affordable way. Our process is going to help with that, so we write the ticket up and get them enrolled in our level one testing package to find the root cause of the check engine light and fix this in the most affordable way. We just can’t take things for granted.

And now for this week’s topic: Top five customer relationship management tools for car dealerships.

  1. The Car is a Commodity

Too many people fall in love with their brand or whatever, but the car is a reason to collect a customer. Your future is in your relationships with the customers, not in your relationship with the car. The car is irrelevant, the car is just the vehicle for you to have that relationship.

  1. First Contact Basics

This is about how we answer the phones, how are we greeting them when they come in? Focusing on the basics. One of the things I love to do when I’m at a dealership is test how we’re handling appointments. We say we want a higher RO count, but we’re anti-RO count in the way that we do things, and those are the basics. Dealerships are busy places, and they have a lot of cars. We can be backed up three or four days, what do you want me to do, right? Be helpful. Smile. Be accommodating. Anytime a customer’s upset, anytime anybody asks a request of me, if you respond with, “I’ll be happy to help you,” it melts their heart. Their defenses drop right there. These are first contact basics. 

A lot of people overlook that customer that’s stranded from out of town and they will say something to the effect of, “Well, they’re not going to come back.” But the truth of the matter is you’re thinking is short minded. One, they might come back, and two, usually those tickets are higher ticket ROs, because they’re stranded and they have to do whatever it is you want, so it’s an easy sale. The out of town customer is also a gold mine for social media and user generated content, which brings us to number three.

  1. Social Media and User Generated Content

UCG, baby. Some of the most powerful marketing that I’ve seen done has been the organic user-generated type where let’s pretend that you were out of town and your vehicle breaks down and you have a service advisor that goes out of the way to help you and they get you back on the road and they do an amazing job. If you were to take a selfie with that service advisor and leave a five star review organically on Google, Yelp, Facebook, anywhere, do you realize the tens of thousands of dollars that it would cost to get the impact, and it’s absolutely free? If you’re at a dealership you’ll want to check with management and ask permission, but you can also use your own social media to build relationships with customers and humanize yourself.

  1. Take Reviews Seriously

You have to take all reviews seriously. Not just the good ones. If 99% of your customers are happy, but they’re not posting reviews, you need to ask for that. Otherwise the ones who post will be the ones who have issues. And when they do, you have to address those issues, you don’t want to be right. You have to accept their experience. If they had a issue, they had an issue. If he had to come back, he had to come back. You have to attack those things. 

I see shops sometimes ignore reviews, they’ll say the customers are crazy. The customers aren’t crazy, some of them might be a little hard to please, some of them might be a little bit demanding, but the fact of the matter is businesses that are really good and really care about customers can make difficult customers happy. That’s the game, that’s what we’re here for, so you need to change your outlook on that. That’s execution right there, you’ve got to be able to execute. It’s important to frame it as a chance for us to get better. It’s a chance to learn.

  1. Send a Handwritten Note

I love this. In today’s digital age, if you want to really separate yourself from your competition, every first time customer gets a handwritten thank you card and we do a little token of appreciation. We have these really nice customized cards that are just blank inside, and we hand write on them, welcoming them to our family, and basically we’re here to take care of you with anything you need with your vehicle, thank you for the opportunity to serve you. Then we put in a little $5 coffee card just as a token of appreciation and it works like magic.

Now, the backside of this is repeat customers who we just send a handwritten postcard to thanking them for their continued trust in us. It works like magic because everything’s digitized today, so how many people send you a handwritten card? When I get them, I definitely take notice and I write them. I had some really nice stationary made and I write a lot of handwritten notes to people, and it matters, it always gets a call or some sort of response.

Yes, so an easy way to execute this is once or twice a week you can pull new customers and have the advisors all write handwritten notes and you can have cards made up pretty inexpensively. Just spend 15 minutes where everybody just does it and gets it done. Pull the list, say, “Hey for 15 minutes we’re going to write these notes.” They don’t have to be long, it’s the thought that counts, but pull the list of anybody that’s a new customer to your business or whatever it is you want to highlight. Anything like that, customers that you know are inactive, you can send them a we miss you handwritten note, nobody else is going to do that. 

These sorts of things add up. 

So, to recap the top five customer relationship management tools for car dealers:

Number one: the car is a commodity. It’s about your relationship with your database. 

Number two: focus on first contact basics, like how we answer the phone. Remember that quote, “How we do anything is how we do everything.” 

Number three: social media and user-generated content. 

Number four: take reviews seriously, the good and the bad… but get more of the good, and attack the bad ones. 

Number five: handwritten cards, notes, and letters. You can’t overstate the value of that personal touch.

Those are our top five customer relationship management tools for car dealerships. Stay tuned for more great content, and remember if you post a question, we’ll send you some swag and we’ll answer your question here on Service Drive Revolution.

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