In the time it takes to read this article, a service customer will research, evaluate and select a provider for their next vehicle repair. Chances are – if you don’t have a strong digital presence – they’ll head to the national quick lube chain down the street rather than your dealership. Big box service chains don’t outperform dealerships on quality or warranty, and we’re all pretty close on price, so why are they favored by consumers? The million-dollar difference is that they’re out-marketing dealerships where it matters most: online.
Today’s consumers pick national chains and independent shops over dealers at a rate of two to one, 1 meaning that franchise dealerships account for only 27% of the nearly $310 billion spent on parts and service in the U.S. each year. 2 Why the disparity? One major reason is that, unlike many dealerships, service chains make it easy for consumers who go online and research service and repair information. This access lets shoppers find what they need – namely, details to help evaluate providers’ costs, reputation and overall convenience – and ultimately leads them away from dealerships.
The good news is that you don’t need to be a digital marketing expert to boost your service department’s online presence. Start winning back savvy service shoppers by following these five tips.
1. Establish a Strong Digital Footprint
As I travel around the country talking with dealerships of all sizes, in all types of markets about their fixed ops marketing strategy, I hear one key similarity: it doesn’t exist. Those that do have any type of plan rely heavily on print and direct mail, failing to account for the majority of shoppers making service decisions online.
Today, more than 80% of the vehicles on the road are off-warranty, 3 and of that group, only 31% of owners still use a dealer for their service. 4 This sends the majority of vehicle owners searching for a new service provider, and they start that search online. Building a strong online presence is the first, crucial step to showing these shoppers why they should not abandon you, and to convincing those who have to come back.
Two key areas of focus:
Your dealership’s website – most dealerships dedicate less than 5% of the content on their website to service, yet we know the service department drives the majority of profits. Check to see if you’re omitting important information about pricing, technician certification, OEM parts, service amenities and customer reviews.
Third-party sites favored by consumers – we know shoppers seek out independent, unbiased information during the research process. Why not leverage their audience to share key details consumers look for – basic information like location, business hours and contact details for your sales and service departments; pricing, consumer reviews and amenities. These sites are also well-optimized in search engines so they can help you better compete with national chains that are spending millions of dollars to dominate keyword searches online.
2. Change Price Perceptions
More than half of consumers believe dealerships are the most expensive options for service, regardless of the repair type,5 and it’s because service departments aren’t doing enough online to combat this misconception.
For the majority of services, dealerships compete head on, yet we’re not telling consumers that. We’re not being clear that an oil change or a brake job done by factory-certified technicians at the dealership is about the same price as one at Jiffy Lube. The crazy thing is that vehicle owners are willing to pay a premium for service at a dealership, they’ve just got to know what they’re paying for.
By simply being transparent about pricing for common services, dealers can eliminate a key reason customers stray to the service chains. Keep the following in mind when it comes to promoting price:
Post actual prices on basic services
Offer price guarantees within an established range
Put prices in context with your competitors
3. Communicate Value
Dealers initially have an advantage. Consumers feel confident their vehicle is in the best hands with dealership technicians who are experts on their particular make and model. This, in addition to the many other advantages dealerships have over chain competitors, makes them more trustworthy and contributes to their overall value in the eyes of the consumer.
Sharing key benefits, like the ones below, wherever you share pricing information is another step to changing price misconceptions and building customer loyalty:
Factory-certified technicians provide confidence that the job will get done right.
OEM parts are the highest quality you can use.
Parts and labor warranties mean customers will only pay once.
Other perks – loaner vehicles, an inviting waiting room with complimentary beverages and a child-friendly area, free wash and vac, etc. – create a more enjoyable consumer experience overall.
4. Translate CSI Scores into Online Reviews
Consumers seek out reviews for seemingly every purchase these days, whether it’s an expensive new lawn mower or a $3 cup of coffee. So it’s not surprising that online reviews rank as one of the top three most important factors customers consider when selecting a service provider.5 In addition to helping boost business for your service department, they can have a major impact on sales as well. A recent Harris poll found nearly two-thirds of in-market car shoppers consider a service department’s reputation when deciding where to purchase a vehicle.6
Building your online reviews doesn’t need to be a time-consuming undertaking and is often as simple as asking for the feedback:
Make it part of your standard operating procedure to ask your customers, upon checkout, to take the time to share their experience.
If you follow-up by phone or email with customers following their service appointments, use this touch point as another opportunity to ask for a review. Provide a direct link to the review site in emails.
Include materials in your waiting area that compel customers to share their service experience.
Don’t forget to show your appreciation – if a customer takes the time to write a review, make a point to thank them. Most dealers don’t complete this last step, and it is one more way your service department can stand out from the rest.
5. Cater to Your Digital Customers
Whether surfing Facebook or tackling work projects, today’s consumers want to stay connected. Make the customer experience at your dealership more enjoyable and productive by making it easy for everyone to log on.
Offer free wi-fi – though many dealerships have started to offer wi-fi, often the signal falls short. One surefire way to frustrate your customers is with a painfully slow wi-fi connection or one that drops constantly. Invest in a wi-fi network that can adequately support these connected consumers.
Provide tablets – Sure, most people today have smartphones, but checking email, playing games and surfing the web is more enjoyable on a larger screen. Make a few tablets available for customers to use while waiting – this can help entertain them, and often impatient children. Place a sign next to the charging station that asks for feedback, and you’ve just increased your chances of getting another online review.
Keep communications mobile-friendly – Need to follow up after an appointment? Have a new seasonal promotion to share? If you’re contacting a customer, be it before, during or after a service transaction, make sure the messages you share are optimized for mobile. This means emails should designed with responsive templates, SMS should be an option and landing pages should fit on any screen size.
Incorporating the tips above into your service department’s regular marketing activities requires minimal, sustained effort, and it’s an investment that will continue to pay dividends in the form of more digitally savvy shoppers in your service bay.