As automotive services marketers, we all claim to understand what omnichannel marketing is. So what’s my issue? You’re not delivering on your most important channel: the in-store experience. You spend a lot of time and money on mail, email, text, and online communications trying to convince customers that you know about their vehicle and the services due. But it can all be canceled out in a single store visit.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that store operation and personnel training are incredibly challenging. However, your customers are demanding that the same experiences and expectations you create in every other channel be delivered in person. In an industry that’s plagued with trust issues, you need to be sure that you’re building trust every time customers interact with you and your staff.
Given that there are so many different points of contact with a customer, from arrival through service completion, I’m going to focus on that moment when the customer pulls into your parking lot and is shown to the waiting room.
1. First impressions are everything
This seems almost too simplistic to mention. But based on my experience with different brands in the automotive services industry, many of you are forgetting this. The grass in your parking lot shouldn’t be taller than my three-year-old. A customer shouldn’t have to wait because your employees are taking a smoke break or playing with a BBQ grill in the back of your service center. (Yes, I’ve seen this, and worse.) Your waiting room should be clean and provide basic amenities to make customers’ wait times more pleasant: Wi-Fi access, recently brewed coffee and current publications.
Do you allow your customers to drop off their vehicles after you’re closed? Make sure that your service center is well lit and the dropbox for keys is easy to find. Customers’ first impressions are a reflection of how they think you will treat them and their vehicles. Make sure you’re creating a positive image.
2. Greet customers and tell them how long they’ll be waiting
If I’m like most of your customers, I don’t want to spend a lot of time waiting for my vehicle to be serviced, because I’m usually in a rush to go somewhere else. I want to know immediately that you’re going to take care of me quickly, and I want to know how long I should expect to wait.
Don’t make me guess. Make sure your staff knows how to share this information; if wait and service times change for any reason, go back to customers to reset their expectations. Respect their time and show them you’ll respect their car.
3. Don’t repeat yourself
If customers have called ahead to schedule an appointment (or done so online), don’t ask them questions that they’ve already answered. Leverage any data that you have about them. Show them that because they took the time to share their service history with you, their experience will be faster and easier. Always validate contact information. If possible, use technology to gather information that you wouldn’t typically have easy access to, such as services completed at competitors’ locations.
Some of this may seem obvious. But if it’s so obvious, consider why automotive service marketers aren’t consistently delivering a better in-store experience. Does the team need a refresher on the right way to treat your customers? Do you have the right team? If not, do you need to modify job requirements for future recruitment efforts?
The bottom line is, there are always areas that you can improve to help exceed your customers’ expectations. Make sure you’re fostering a culture that encourages your team to reinvent your customers’ experiences, and give them the tools to do so.
Elizabeth Mertz | Director of Client Services
Liz’s areas of expertise include strategic planning, account development, campaign analysis, campaign management, and franchise marketing. In addition to leading high-volume accounts at Catalyst, she’s held management positions at Vertis and Draft Worldwide.