One of my favorite terms is “bi-directional integration” or as I like to call it, “duplicate customer generation.” I was recently working on a customer’s database and found the same customer in their database seven times! It would have been nice if the customer had bought seven vehicles with different customer numbers, but sadly enough – this customer had only recently purchased one. After calming down the general manager, I told him I’d find out what had caused this in his DMS system.
After doing some investigation, I found out that this customer had first entered the system as an Internet lead. The ILM software was “bi-directional” and added the customer into the DMS database. Next, the customer came into the showroom and must have forgotten about his Internet salesperson because he went into their CRM software and another record got added.
After that, someone ran a credit bureau on the DMS system and that software added the prospect as a customer. Next, the sales manager used a desking product that interfaced with the DMS and added the customer again! Finally the F&I manager added the customer – I guess ignoring the other four choices and started the deal.
This deal got stalled in F&I, but delivered to the customer who made an appointment for service and guess what? That 3rd party appointment software added the customer one more time. When the service advisor got the appointment email, the appointment software hadn’t been updated yet to the DMS, so he added it and that night the update must have added it one more time.
This is probably a more rare case and a timing problem with the “real time” integration, but after looking at the rest of his database, it looked like one program or another was causing duplicates. This is a technology problem that can be solved, but what do you do when a customer does buy two vehicles and each one gets its own customer number? How can you merge those vehicles into one record – or “un-dup” your customer database?
The first step is to stop it from happening. First, find the source of the problem. Three are three common areas on the DMS system: cashiering, credit reporting and F&I. When a cashier takes a down payment for a vehicle, often a deal hasn’t been started in F&I. When she asks for a control number, the salesperson might say, “there isn’t a deal yet” and she adds the customer. With simple training, the cashier can be taught how to search for an existing customer number instead. Next, if your sales department is using the credit reporting software inside the DMS, they might not search first to see if the customer exists – they just add the customer so they can quickly run the credit bureau.
Finally, I’ve sat with F&I managers that ignore a prompting list of possible customers when adding a deal because “it is just easier to enter it fresh, rather than checking all the fields.” This change in attitude will require the encouragement of management because your customer database is one of the most valuable things your dealership owns. Knowing how many vehicles a customer owns and when they were last in for service is important for great customer follow-up.
How do you clean your duplicates? First establish a set of rules of which customer number to keep and which one to merge using your DMS software. My recommendation is that if one customer number has an active salesperson, then keep that number and merge the other. If both or neither salesperson is still with the dealership, then use the one with the most recent service date. If the customer hasn’t come back in for service, then use the most recent sale date. If your DMS has a good merge routine, it will merge all the car deal, repair order and parts ticket history into one record and you’re on the way to having a cleaner database.