In some areas of the Country school has already started and there are many more students that will be hearing the bell ring between now and just after the fast approaching Labor Day holiday. Speaking of Labor Day, and of kids going back to school (which means they are in the car more often) how many of you readers have taken the opportunity to address either holiday delinquency or travel safety issues with your customers? I mention delinquency because it may be that some of your customers have not properly budgeted for the expenses of back to school. Therefore, you may experience a slight uptick in the delinquency rate.
This is where a good promotional effort would help, especially when it is organized and directed to serve your customer with information well in advance of such an important date or event. I elected to go ahead and write this piece even while knowing that our next upcoming opportunity (Labor Day) is almost in the rearview mirror, so that my dealer friends could properly plan for the next event and even take a look at how their promotion would happen if one were currently scheduled. Promotions are not expensive when properly managed and the effect of direct customer involvement returns more for the investment dollar than any other form of Marketing. Since we know that our customers are sending their kids back to school and within a week we are also celebrating a holiday, it’s a great time to have a “Customer Appreciation Promotion.”
Managers should look 30-60 days down the road and check the calendar for dates that make sense to have a promotional event. A good promotion is a win-win proposition. Dealer and Customer each benefit.
Recently, I listened as a dealer explained his frustration when a customer had experienced damage to their vehicle from lack of routine maintenance. While many of our customers get caught up in their busy days, many more are guilty of neglect of regular maintenance or safety checks for the vehicles that they are operating. Are you prompting your customer to be proactive with maintenance during the deal closing? Remember, our customers are buying higher mileage used cars that seem new to them.
Take for example the upcoming holiday when most travel is done by car. While not many of our customers will be headed out for extended travel, they will be visiting friends and relatives while enjoying the day off. A promotion for your business prior to a holiday when travel may be expected is a great idea. Not only does it promote safety and a demonstration of your concern, it may well serve to motivate customers to visit the dealership and take advantage of special promotional offerings as well as making their payment.
When hosting a promotion, you can make it easily affordable by offering hotdogs and burgers cooked up on the grill with potato chips. Offer an inexpensive “Customer Appreciation” prize that has been on display and have your customers sign up for a drawing. Since we are suggesting that this promotion provide a safety or educational aspect, do not forget that it also must be fun and provide for customer involvement. Your customers will appreciate a cold soda or water with the chance to stop for a moment and have a plate of food. It is not difficult to hand them a flyer or spend a moment with them to review how they maintain their vehicle. Even if a promotion budget reached the $500.00 level you are many dollars ahead if you avoid one engine failure.
Solicit referrals and have staff on hand to help the customer address the following issues or by providing them with a list so that they can perform the checks with the help of a friend or family member:
- A periodic maintenance reminder date (use a birthday date and repeat monthly) mine would be the 27th
- Have them check their tire pressure, spare and jack for functionality and knowledge of use
- Has the oil been checked (27th – monthly) or changed recently? When is the next maintenance due?
- Do they have a set of jumper cables and a flashlight?
- Conduct promotions that promote wearing of seatbelts (promote safety and avoid traffic stops)
- Have a vehicle winterization and anti-freeze program (Memorial Day and Labor Day)
- Do not loan your vehicle to someone (it might be impounded)
- Use turn signals and check brake & headlights monthly (another safety and traffic stop issue)
- Lock your car even when you are driving it (do not become the victim of a crime)
- Never leave it running when parked or unattended (it might be stolen)
- Do not operate your car on “E” but try to maintain a ¼ tank or more gas level
- Keep the gas cap lid tight and try not to use gas that contains alcohol, use a mid- grade gas
Even if your customer does not plan on travelling for the holiday, I recommend a pre-holiday promotion that provides support for your customers, checking items like those listed above at least two times per year. Depending upon the climate in your area of operation the customer will have dramatic tire pressure losses between summer and winter operating conditions. Promotional programs such as these show customer appreciation, reward loyal customers and offer the opportunity for viewing the collateral or soliciting a trade-in.
In a day and age when contract terms are extending well beyond three years in some cases, it just does not make sense to be a dealer that is not involved with promotions that help customers protect their investment which is your collateral.
The checks listed in the bullet points above are compiled because they are consistent with real life issues, help prevent problems and reflect our customers experiences and reported complaints. They are proven preventative measures which limit vehicle complications and or breakdowns.
If you are paying referral fees but not conducting a sell-a-friend promotion to generate referral business, please contact us so we can discuss this valuable tool for generating sales. If you are not conducting a CAP or customer appreciation promotion to reward current customers, please contact us for information on this also. The key to effective promotions is that they be executed properly.
We suggest the use of weekend promotions to reward current customers and to assist them by encouraging them to be proactive regarding maintenance issues. At AFS Dealers we have helped Buy here Pay here and Lease here Pay here operators develop many successful promotions that keep them in touch personally with their customer base. We offer communication avenues within our operating system for e-mail and texting as well as contact by phone or robo call. Even today when many customers do not make in-person payments we keep you in direct touch with your customer in many ways.
-Mike Eskina, August 31th, 2018