How Dealers Can Assist and Retain Customers Through the Web

ChannelNet's OneClick Loyalty program generates customized websites for customers who opt-in.

ChannelNet

Last week we reported on how Sesi Motors is changing the generally poor communication process with customers with a website that neatly integrates all customer communications, from the sale throughout the ownership of the car and into the next one. The CEO and Founder of ChannelNet, Paula Tomkins reached out to The Drive to demonstrate the OneClick Loyalty system, which is the online system used by Sesi Motors and other dealers to gain and retain customers throughout the ownership cycle.

Dealer communications, on the whole, are pretty bad. Sure, some have good looking websites. The best ones let you search their inventory online and begin the sales process right through the web. But once you buy the car, efforts at customer retention are disjointed, at best. The dealer sends me a reminder for service I've already had done. The dealer group mails me—to my physical mailbox—a brochure for a new SUV I'm not even interested in. And when I'm ready to buy a Mazda MX-5 for the summer to supplement my Subaru WRX in the winter, the Subaru side of the dealer doesn't know what the Mazda side is doing.

The pre-sale and sales process is similar to what you find on most dealer websites, with an online inventory and all the usual bells and whistles. Upon purchase—and with the customer's permission—a photo is snapped of the customer and the car, the vehicle identification number, or VIN, is scanned, and the information is sent off. The customer then receives an email with a link to their custom website, with specific information about their car and requests for additional information, such as hobbies. If the customer selects hobbies such as skiing, the site will display links to accessories such as ski racks to fit their needs. But don't worry, you're not signing up for an endless cycle of email spam. While the website is always available, you can expect only occasional emails for service reminders, anniversaries, and special offers.

ChannelNet

The driving habits help the system estimate when the car's first service will be due, and make it easy for you to schedule it. Customers receive an email, which again takes them to their custom web site for information and to make arrangements.

ChannelNet

At this time, customers are also asked about their driving habits. This will make the service reminders more accurate. If Jim does a lot of stop-and-go and off-road driving, service intervals will be more frequent than the low mileage driver.

ChannelNet

After each service, customers are sent a survey to rate the service experience and make any comments they want to. This gives the customer a chance to compliment the service, or to call out the dealer on forgetting to put the oil cap back on, for example. Where a customer might not feel comfortable calling the service department to complain, they may be more likely to share how they really feel through the website. Similarly, dealers want to know about such issues. If they don't know that one of their service techs forgets to reinstall the oil cap, they can't fix the problem.

ChannelNet

These service reminders continue throughout the customer's ownership of the car. On the first anniversary, for example, the dealer recommends rotating the tires to ensure even wear as well as an oil change and provides a link to easily schedule both at once.

ChannelNet

Once the second anniversary rolls around, the system begins to gauge the customer's interest in buying a new car or keeping the current one. This applies to leases as well as sales. If the customer wants to keep the car, it's business as usual and they will continue to get service reminders, with another upgrade query on the next ownership anniversary.

ChannelNet

If the customer is interested in a new car they are shown several online tools to assist in the purchase. These tools cover trade-in value, pre-approval for the next loan, and even scheduling a test drive, on-site or delivered to the customer if the dealer provides that service. 

From here, the customer can search inventory and choose a new car just like they did when they bought their current vehicle. But unlike other online inventory systems, this is based on the identity of a dealer, not the brand(s) it offers. So if I own a Subaru and am looking for a four-door wagon under $25,000, I'll see Mazda 3s as well as Subaru Imprezas at a Mazda/Subaru dealer. Or if I'm looking for a Mazda MX-5 to supplement my Subaru WRX when it's not winter, I'll be able to search for that, too.

It's not online shopping from the manufacturer since that would destroy the dealership franchise network. But ChannelNet's OneClick Loyalty system seems like the next best thing, providing dealers with the ability to perform many transactions online. The system is quite flexible, allowing dealers to turn specific features on and off as they please, making it fully customizable. In the age of Amazon where online shopping exists for pretty much everything except cars, this is a great way for dealers to keep up with the times and provide customers with what they want on the internet.