Building Customer Loyalty inside and outside your dealership

By Paul Smith, Director of network key management systems provider for car dealerships - Traka Automotive

We hear a good deal these days about numbers of visits to out-of-town or edge-of-town dealerships falling and about the fact that more and more elements of the buying cycle happen well away from the dealership – predominantly in the comfort of customers’ living rooms in front of a laptop screen.

So how can dealer managers entice more prospective and existing customers to come into their local dealership and, perhaps more importantly, how do they improve the customer experience when they are there so they keep coming back?

Most of us today, if we are working full-time or nearly full-time, are time-poor. We need things done quickly and we need to be kept informed of progress if we are waiting for a service or product to be delivered. 

Technology enables us to track everything in near real-time - from the parcels we are awaiting to the (hopefully) winning bid on that gadget we found on eBay. Our tolerance for surprises, and for waiting without explanation, is diminishing rapidly.

That would explain why many of the major franchise dealerships are investing significantly in improving the ‘waiting room’ customer experience. It is worth looking at how the servicing experience could be improved for customers by taking our cue from the largest BMW dealer in Germany which has deployed RFID technology to track cars that arrive at the facility for servicing.

Up to 400 cars pass through this Munich servicing facility each day, serviced by 130 mechanics. With so many cars moving through the facility, the dealership was looking for an easier way to track vehicles as they are serviced. So, systems integrator Dimension Data installed RFID readers at 70 locations throughout the dealership. Upon arriving at the dealership, each car is given an RFID-enabled hang tag, which is hung from the car’s rear view mirror.

Customers in the waiting room can view a dedicated information screen, much like you might see at Argos, only this one tells you what servicing stage the car is in and what time it is will be ready for collection. Understandably, this innovation has gone down very well with time-pressed customers. Could a scaled-down version of this sort of system by seen in BMW dealerships in the UK anytime soon?

In the UK, we are already seeing big investment by prestige groups and manufacturers to entice people back into beautiful-looking buildings. The new dual JLR ‘Arch’ dealerships which have been rolling out nationwide over the last two-years, point the way in terms of providing drive-in or valet-supported servicing combined with very plush waiting facilities equipped with great coffee machines and business-grade Wi-Fi coverage. Others have invested in crèches and soft play areas for parents with small ones.

So, gone is the need to drop your car in an overcrowded forecourt and then try to find the service desk to drop your keys. The aim is to take the strain out of the drop-in and pick-up processes, while also keeping you informed every step of the way through the servicing process. The JLR Arch refit does not come cheap at £80-170 per square foot but one of the potential upsides for joint dealerships is the ability to sell Jaguars to existing Land Rover customers and vice versa.

The other thing that is changing is the type of staff you are likely to encounter in the new-look dealership. The bottom-line is there are less out and out salespeople and more product experts, following the Apple product genius concept. In other words, they are paid to impart information and ensure customers are making the most of their new purchase(s). As cars get more feature-rich it makes sense to try to keep the customer up to speed with the features which could keep them coming back for more (if only they knew the power they actually have at their fingertips), thereby binding them into your brand and model.

Improving customer experience and engagement no longer only belongs inside the confines of a dealership. The Smart Driver Club On-Board Diagnostics-connected app is just one data-driven way of adding value, relatively cost effectively.

Smart Driver Club is happy to allow you to white-label their mobile app-based service which gives useful vehicle usage information to your customers via an app on their mobile phone. They can set it up to tell them how many miles they are doing on an average month, when their next service is due, and gather information there about which maintenance warnings they need to pay attention to for their own safety.

Ultimately, because this information can also be set up to be available to the dealership simultaneously, your dealership could be phoning up its customers to proactively book-in maintenance and servicing work based on real diagnostics information about what needs to be done soonest.

This diagnostics information equals power for the customer but could equal extra servicing revenue for you if handled proactively and correctly to alert customers when their car really ought to be booked in to get some specific work done.

By sharing this OBD data, a potential dealer-customer trust issue also evaporates. No longer will customers feel press-ganged into expensive servicing for their vehicle. The Smart Driver Club app will confirm to them that the work that the dealer is recommending at your next service is indeed required. As Internet of Things penetrates deeper into the automotive world we are likely to see much more car usage and maintenance data out there and it will be in the dealers’ gift to turn this data flow into value added services commanding greater customer loyalty, thereby preventing internet-borne forces of customer disintermediation getting to work on your current, as well as your future, customer-base.