Loyalty- bought or earned?


By Drew Singer

Always chased yet never fully understood, loyalty remains one of the most important, yet elusive ingredients in the service department formula. Plus, with more informed customers armed with instant information, dealers have to fight harder than ever to not only retain old customers, but grow new relationships as well.

The Right Offer
Service departments are finding specific discounts, such as a free service, are one way to encourage loyalty. According to Frank Kovacic, fixed-ops manager Wallace Chevrolet, specific service offers such as a “buy four get one free” oil change or a similar interval-based special can leverage retention and lead to returning customers.

“That’s one of the ways to have a customer continue to come back and build loyalty. It insures that they come back for that fifth service, which is complimentary.”

Wayne Tweedy, fixed-ops manager Morningside Nissan, said although specials offers have their place as loyalty builders, they can only go so far.

“Value is all great, but to save $10 and go out of your way? I don't think that's what most of today's customers do,” he said. “Time is valuable to people. That’s a commodity they cant get enough of.

In the Dealership
With so many options available to customers, “whether it’s aftermarket, independent, or the dealer, they have a choice. They’re more educated, and more informed about their ability to have their vehicle serviced,” said Kovacic.

Due to the sheer volume of choice available, dealers have to impress customers the moment they walk in the door, he added.

While low service prices are a big factor and will always remain the deciding factor for select customers, exceeding customer expectations and unparalleled satisfaction are truly the tent-poles of loyalty.

“You have to offer a service that is bar none,” he said.

He said Wallace Chevrolet strives to ensure every customers is satisfied from the time they arrive to the time they leave.

“Having customers that are completely satisfied ensures loyalty down the road,” he added.

Tweedy said courteous actions such as greeting customers by name, updating customers during the repair process, checking the vehicle for recall and attending to details have considerably improved customer satisfaction rates at Morningside Nissan in the last six to eight months.

He added that while the dealership experienced service turnover several years ago, now, Morningside Nissan customers are finding familiarity, regaining faith and finding somebody they can trust.

“Customers want to know who they are servicing with, just like (people) go to the same barber all the time,” he said.

“Once you have confidence in where you go, you’re being treated nicely, and it’s a fair price, I think you are going to keep going there to a degree, when it’s convenient.”

Adding Value - The Extra Mile

Truly exceeding expectations can be tough when every dealership is competing for business. Many dealerships are going even further to impress and retain customers by adding a special touch with every service.

Kovacic said Wallace Chevrolet includes a rear-view mirror hanger in every vehicle.

“(The hanger) talks about making sure they are completely satisfied, thanking them for the business. It’s another subtle way of letting the customer know we appreciate their business.”

He also said after every vehicle service the dealership will send a “thank you” card individually signed by each service consultant.

“The cards will ensure and communicate another subtle way, a nice touch, to make the customer aware we don’t take their business for granted, we are here to service their vehicle as best as possible.”
Tweedy said always being courteous, looking after the customer, offering complimentary shuttles and being weary of OEM issues also adds value. He added that he would like to offer a complimentary car wash (not possible due to space constraints) and a bottle of water in the vehicle cup holder in the future, further improving the customer experience.

The Bottom Line

Loyalty, then, is a mixture of ingredients – a feeling instilled within the dealership shared with each and every customer. Concocted out of courtesy, trust, familiarity, service, price, speed, added value, attention to detail and a dash of unpredictability, customer loyalty is both a product and an indication of success and it is the lifeblood of the service department.

Simply put, “If you don’t have a loyal customer that comes back through the door for routine service you cannot survive in this industry,” said Kovacic.