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Rapport: The Gateway to Retention

Couple talking
Article Highlights:

  • Customers want a valuable interaction, not a one-time transaction.
  • Building a connection with customers will keep them coming back.

Picture this: a customer comes in to your store to buy a vehicle, they find the one they want, they go through the entire process to close the deal, and they drive off with their new car. You don’t know it, but this is the last time you ever see that person. Think about how many times this scenario plays out in your dealership each week. How many faces do you recognize from previous visits?

Sure, this is a natural part of business: you won’t turn everyone into a lifelong customer. But every customer retained helps your business grow. How can you get more customers to keep coming back when they need a new car? Let’s talk about it.

There are several potential causes behind one-and-done customers. Maybe your store is the only one in a 200-km radius with the specific vehicle the customer wants, as we’ve seen in recent trends. Or, perhaps a customer was shopping prices, and your store provided the best deal at the time.

Regardless of the specific scenario, one-time purchases often happen because the customer viewed their interaction as a business transaction and nothing more.

How can you show customers the value behind returning to your dealership?

The gateway to providing true value is the ability to build rapport and trust with your customers, and could be the ultimate tie-breaker between your store and the competition. It’s a practice that should span across all your customer-facing departments to have the most impact. Let’s dive into each one to get a better idea of how to do this.

Gain Trust in the Sales Department

Typically, the first interaction a new customer has is with the sales department, whether being met by a salesperson out on the lot as they’re looking at cars or coming in to pick up a deal they started online. This is the best chance to create a connection with the customer and build on the perceived value of working with your dealership.

Most positive customer reviews share a similar thread: “they seemed to care about me and my needs.”

Even though the world of technology and the way we communicate is ever-changing, one aspect never has: people love talking about themselves and connecting with others. Find out what motivates them. Ask them about their day, see if they have any plans for the weekend – just get them talking to connect with them.

Keeping things light and open-ended creates the most opportunity to form a connection. If you or your coworkers have made notes in your CRM about the customer’s favourite sports teams or life updates from previous in-store or online interactions, you can easily pick up conversations the next time they are in your dealership.

Establishing this newly-built trust early on will trickle through the entire process and sets the tone for an engaging F&I experience or a future service appointment for their new vehicle.

Guide Through the F&I Office

The F&I process can be a long, frustrating experience for the customer. Most customers would probably prefer to drive their new car off the lot than sit for another couple of hours and do paperwork or spend more money. Again, this is where your team can use rapport to make the transition into F&I smoother and more informative, maintaining a positive experience and conversation.

The most important piece of advice? Even when selling F&I packages, be a guide first and foremost. In most cases, customers have probably already done some research about the coverage they want. But as a F&I manager, you can help them confirm they’re looking at the right package, or to even consider additional accessories if you uncover needs they hadn’t thought about it

Stick with your customers throughout the entire process and don’t pressure them to agree to terms they aren’t comfortable with – educate them on what is in their best interest given their particular situation. Be honest about package offerings and what’s covered in service warranties or insurance options.

As they go through the F&I office, walk through the deal options with the customer instead of just reading from a computer screen. Overall, be a guide to your customer. Building rapport and showing a vested interest in their experience will help you close more deals and keep the relationship positive throughout F&I.

Retain Value in the Service Drive

Hopefully, your team has built a connection with the customer as they interacted in sales and the F&I office. A best practice to follow is introducing sales customers to someone in service before they leave the lot to make sure they know where to go for future visits, how to set appointments, or best yet, to schedule their first appointment right then and there.

If done right, the rapport built during the sales and F&I conversations should create enough trust with the customer to consider your dealership down the road when service is needed.

Customers will remember the connection they built with your team and will expect the same experience in all future interactions. Service retention is a huge factor in the profitability of your dealership, so continuing to build trust in your relationship is just as important in fixed ops as it was in the beginning of the sales process.

Ask them how they’ve been enjoying the car. If they need additional work, help educate them on the recommendation and be transparent about costs. Offer to explain payment plan options or offer more time to decide if they want the service done or not, when possible.

Keep them updated on service progress so they aren’t left guessing how much more waiting they have to do as their car is being worked on. If they drop off their vehicle, ensure you’re letting them know when it’s ready to be picked up, so they aren’t left waiting.

Open the Gateway to Retention

Building rapport from the start and maintaining the relationship through every interaction, online or in-person, and throughout the entire sales-to-service lifecycle is the gateway to keeping customers coming back.

Buying or servicing with your dealership would no longer be just a transaction, but a trusted place to do business. These customers are also more likely to tell other people about their positive connection and send them your way, leading to new customers in the future. You’ve now turned this potential one-time buyer into a regular.

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Director, Reynolds Consulting Services

Carl Bennett is the director of North American Consulting Operations and Sales for Reynolds Consulting Services. In his consultant role, Bennett teaches automotive retailers in the U.S. and Canada how to achieve higher levels of success and better results in vehicle sales and F&I. Prior to joining Reynolds and Reynolds more than 15 years ago, Bennett worked in dealerships for 15 years as a general manager, finance director, and sales manager.


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