Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 30% of customers surveyed by Cox Automotive stated that they’ve serviced their vehicles at the dealership in the previous year. Keeping customers coming back for service is where the legacy revenue lies, and it’s been a statistic that’s been relatively unchanged for two decades. Yet, all dealers understand the value in retaining customers. What happens when a pandemic occurs – does it change how customers interact with vehicle servicing and repair?

Customers area buying local, small

Americans have been cognizant of economic effects on small business during the pandemic. Although online retailers like Amazon have flourished, the need to keep small businesses afloat has been a popular theme. For the automotive industry, that’s likely to mean that car owners will tend to use the mom-and-pop repair shops at a higher rate and defect from the larger service departments at franchised dealers.

An Intuit survey found that 57% of people who shop small are aiming to drive their local economy, and 37% do so to connect with their community. Although dealerships are franchised, the average consumer might not recognize that it’s an independently owned and operated store that stays in business with local spending, just like other small and medium businesses.

But how do you influence customers to return to the service department at the dealership rather than a small street-corner shop?

Emphasize community involvement

According to Intuit’s research, customers have certain criteria in mind when shopping small and local. They want their money to be re-invested in the local economy whether to create jobs or fund local initiatives. Most people also believe that a more intimate customer service experience can be found in small businesses.

To that end, keeping your customers returning to the dealership rather than an independent competitor requires intentional mentions of community involvement like food drives, donations, housing support, and other activities. It also helps to make the store seem more “human” by mentioning how many locals are employed there – even doing a staff spotlight from time to time.

Broadcast the benefits of specialized service

The Cox Automotive survey discovered that the “% of customers who are very satisfied and extremely loyal” is almost even between general repair facilities and the selling dealership’s service department. When car owners believe they can receive the same level of service between a jack-of-all-trades shop and the dealership, it indicates a failure to communicate the dealership’s expertise.

Customers should hear about and believe that the local franchised dealership is the only place where their vehicle is checked for recalls, the only location that can perform warranty work, and employs the only technicians that know their vehicle and have access to manufacturer repair information in real time. In any service communications by email, use the opportunity to “talk up” the benefits of visiting the dealership over an independent shop.

Cater to the customer’s wish list

Finally, customers will return if they know your service department checks the boxes on their wish list. In today’s world, that begins with knowing safety protocols are followed for customers and vehicles alike. From there, the wish list includes convenient hours, alternate transportation, the option to have vehicle pickup and drop-off services, and competitive industry pricing.

Customers who understand the benefits the dealership offers are willing to pay marginally higher prices. However, it’s only once their other criteria are met – safety and convenience – that price enters the picture. Don’t assume they know what your service department offers. On social media and in any email blasts or direct communications, take the opportunity to tell customers about the services you offer.

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