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Retention Strategy for Auto Dealerships

Jacob Brain


There are no hard and fast rules for customer retention in the auto industry. With such a competitive market driven by costs as well as customer service, you have to present a consistent message and engage with your customers frequently or you lose them at the next oil change or service light.

While you can’t control when your customer is going to need you next, you do have control over your retention strategy, and it should be executed with seriousness and attention to detail – as though each interaction with your customer might be your last. Let’s look at some of the tactics that any auto dealership could implement to keep customers engaged and coming back.

Understand Your Customers

Knowing your customers beyond their vehicle is the first critical step to creating a retention strategy. Anyone in the sales or marketing function understands relationship building both socially and professionally. The more you know about your customer, the more you can do to keep them. Think about it. The customers that have been with you the longest are the ones that have interacted with you the most in a positive manner and value your relationship. Start looking at your customer list and fill in the blanks with surveys or through conversations with customer service representatives. Do they have kids? Where are they in their career? Do they own a new home, or are they looking to buy? Many life decisions have a financial impact. We call these events “triggers”. These social triggers as well as the technical triggers associated with regular maintenance, give you a deep pool of data to work with to engage with your customer.

An Ounce of Prevention

Knowing how to anticipate “triggers” is a critical aspect of a successful retention strategy. Once you fill in the blanks for your customer list, it’s time to start thinking about why customers leave you. Typically they do it after an unsatisfying interaction, or before their next purchase. In the first instance, the focus should be on improving customer service and creating positive interactions. But the latter of the two is more important. When they prepare to make the next purchase, do you have enough equity with them to be involved in that decision? Anticipating, offering, and reassuring them in their the next purchase decision is going to be paramount for your retention process. Your competition comes into play as well if they offer a compelling product that competes with yours. Stay ahead of them with what you have, which is open communication with your customer and a better knowledge of who they are.

Meet Their Needs

Once you have an idea of what events or triggers are coming up in your customers’ lives,  you can start to understand and reach out to them with effective messages that meet their needs, or help them in these times of transition. The level of detail here is completely dependent on your data. For example, if you know if your customers are expecting children, you might be able to start a conversation on a new vehicle to better accommodate. If you know they take a regular vacation every year, it might be a good time to bring them in for maintenance before the trip. Once started on this exercise our clients have no trouble creating message points that would be relevant to triggers in their customers lives. The key is to identify the triggers, create a plan, and execute it. The execution could come in the form of emails, phone calls, direct mail, or social media. A successful retention strategy is all about communicating with them on their terms with messages that resonate.


After your plan is in action, keep records of all the events and messages you send out. We are advocates of measuring every piece of marketing to evaluate its success. Retention plans should be the same way. Keeping a log, or updating your contact list with new triggers is a great way to stay on top of your investment in the campaign and allows you to see real results. Take special care to track referrals, as that is great way to really serve the customers that promote you. Your goal should be to know something more about your customer every time they come into your dealership. You can invest in the relationship for stronger retention and trust.

In Conclusion

You have a limited window to retain your customers and the key is developing an understanding of your customers as individuals. Technology can help you keep track, but acquiring the information is most important. If you need help setting up a retention or loyalty program at your dealership, contact us today for a free phone consultation at 240.575.5887.

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