Exactly how important is it to stay on top of managing your dealership’s customer service reputation? Very! The annual J.D. Powers Customer Service Index (CSI) study is a long-established standard in the world of automotive marketing. CSI scores serve as benchmarks for OEM brands and dealerships, which customers factor into buying decisions. In addition, they can serve as valuable predictors of customer loyalty and the likelihood of referrals and other social endorsements.
Beyond influencing potential car buyers, these scores often determine future inventory and annual bonuses a dealer receives from their manufacturer. With so much riding on the CSI score, it was not unheard of for salesmen to literally beg their customer to give them a perfect score.
It’s no longer enough to train your staff to “ask for the 10.” Consistently earning the 10 takes a serious strategy that begins with marketing and customer engagement, follows through all the way to service and follow-ups throughout the life cycle of your customers’ vehicles, and onto the next vehicle.
How Automotive Marketing Helps You Earn the 10
Dealership marketing has evolved significantly since the days when blasting coupons and inventory listings was all it really took for successful marketing. In today’s complex marketplace, automotive digital marketing success is measured on a more comprehensive set of criteria, which leads not only to successful sales performance, but also to improved brand loyalty and customer retention.
Where, in the past, brand recognition and public perception were primarily seen as the responsibility of manufacturers, dealerships now play an increasingly integral role in building and supporting the growth of the brand as well as their own business. While every person in your dealership needs to be well trained in providing the best customer experience possible, that experience is only one piece of the CSI score puzzle. To earn the 10 more often, you need to engineer an environment that brings customers in the door with positive feelings and expectations, then encourages them to not only give the 10, but to become active brand advocates, providing social endorsements and direct referrals.
Building and maintaining these customer relationships is where a comprehensive dealership marketing strategy becomes invaluable. A comprehensive marketing strategy is one that incorporates all marketing avenues from print ads, TV, and radio ads that you may have been doing for years, to now, more than ever, digital advertising and social media marketing.
Build Your Online Presence with Reviews
When discussing CSI scores, it may seem irrelevant to talk about building your online presence, but in fact, online reviews on sites like Google My Business, Yelp, and Facebook are key factors to marketing and business success. First, when you actively build and manage your online reputation through listings and review management, you can gain priceless insights into how customers perceive your business and where their pain points lie. What is their perception of your dealership or brand? What can you do to influence that perception for the better? You can use this feedback as a checklist for addressing issues that may be costing you in overall CSI ratings.
When prospects look at sites like Yelp or Google My Business, they can easily see which businesses are actively responding to customer comments, both positive and negative, and how those responses are handled. Comments that are addressed professionally and effectively, even the negative ones, demonstrate that the business is committed to customer care and satisfaction. This leaves those prospects with the impression that your business cares about the customer experience, and that your attention to customer service doesn’t end when the check clears.
The truth is, sticky situations that leave a customer unhappy can occur in any business, in any industry. Most prospects understand this and know that what really matters is how a business handles those situations. Don’t sweep these comments under the rug or try to justify the problem and don’t take the discussion entirely out of public view. Keep at least some of the resolution process in the thread, even if it’s something as simple as, “John Doe, we’re so sorry to hear about this issue. We’ll be calling you within the next 12 hours to discuss how we can make things right.”
In a MarketingLand study, 90 percent of consumers responded that their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. That means that each online review is an opportunity to demonstrate your attention to customer service as well as your willingness to and skill in correcting problems. This all works together to build positive expectations in prospects who view those reviews and responses and begin to form ideas and preconceived notions about your dealership in their minds.
While it’s obvious how these practices will help your dealership online presence, you may be wondering how this helps your CSI ratings. Social endorsement is a complicated and powerful factor in marketing psychology. People most trust reviews from people they know, which is why word-of-mouth and direct referrals are such highly valued types of recommendation. Interestingly, in today’s digital climate, we are seeing that even online reviews from strangers can produce a strong influence over a person’s impression of a business.
When prospects walk in the door to your dealership with positive expectations built, in part, on the social endorsements they consume online, they’re more likely to look for the positives in their interaction with your business and overlook small negatives. These inherent social pressures can work in a dealership’s favor by keeping reviews favorable and customer ratings high, which then translate into higher CSI ratings.
The catch is, you’ve got to put in the effort to obtain those positive online reviews in the first place. You can do that by maintaining an active presence online, whether it is by interacting with customers and prospects on your own sites or on third-party sites like Yelp or Google My Business.
Establish Your Dealership as a Go-To Resource for Auto Shopper Research
Another highly effective way to build those important positive expectations is to establish your dealership as an authoritative and valuable resource for doing research on a vehicle purchase.
A 2018 study conducted by LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE revealed that 51 percent of people who had purchased vehicles in the past two years spent one to three months researching vehicles before making a purchase; an additional 26 percent of buyers spent more than three months researching.
The following six criteria were reported across all demographics in the study as the most important information in their research:
Top Six Vehicle Attributes for In-Market Auto Shoppers
Price & Affordability
Safety Record & Rating
Brand Reputation & Trustworthiness
Dealership Reputation & Service
While a dealership may not be able to influence numbers one through three on that list, they have some control over number four, brand reputation and trustworthiness, and complete control over number five, dealership reputation and service. However, dealers can use all five factors to develop an effective automotive marketing program. By using the list to understand what questions are being asked and need to be answered for prospects in their research phase, dealerships can gain trust and begin to build a sense of loyalty even from prospects who haven’t yet made a purchase.
How, exactly, does that work? Think about it this way: if every time that prospect searches for your brand of vehicle and a keyword like “reliability,” or “safety,” and their results come up with an original and well-written piece of content on your site, they’re likely to start coming directly to your site for information in the future, skipping over the competition because they have come to understand that your dealership is the best resource to meet their needs. You can take a three-pronged approach to content – each with its own variation on content delivery and approach.
Website Content & Search Engine Optimization
Content that is original and valuable gets preference in search engine results too, so more people are likely to see and click through to it, which, in turn, earns an additional boost in search engine results rankings. Search engine optimization through content can propel your dealership ahead of your competition on the results page and since most users click on the first three results listed on the page, the higher you rank on the page, the better your chances of getting a clickthrough.
Social Media Marketing & Video Advertising
Since some social media posts are now included in search engine results, social media marketing and video advertising content on YouTube also helps your messages appear in front of prospects. A LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE study found that Facebook is the social media site where most prospects prefer to research auto dealers and brands. That gives you a direct chance to interact and build rapport with them, encourage their engagement, direct them to additional outlets featuring your content, and ultimately, give them a stronger reason to visit your dealership in person.
Trusted content is also a core part of the “inform, engage, connect” approach to branded content advertising, which seeks to inform prospects about your business, engage those prospects by speaking directly to their needs or pain points, and connect with them by becoming a trusted resource for their needs. The value for the prospect and for your dealership lies in the content being unique and helpful in answering their questions and concerns, and in having this content published on a trusted online platform – not on your dealership website.
By the time auto shoppers are ready to make a purchasing decision, their mind tells them that they’ve already established a relationship with your dealership; it makes perfect sense, in that case, for the prospect to make their first, and likely only, stop your dealership.
Improve Customer Communication
Both pre-purchase and post-purchase communications with customers and prospects can significantly improve a dealership’s ratings, but one common source of negative CSI ratings is a lack of communication with customers after purchase. This is unfortunate and unnecessary because post-purchase communications like service advocacy and promotions, in-house satisfaction surveys, combined with “we hope we’ve earned the 10” messages and reminders to complete the CSI survey can all be managed extremely effectively through targeted email marketing.
Targeted email marketing delivers a high return on investment (ROI), which is easy to track and evaluate, and offers nearly endless versatility. Obviously, you can use it to stay in contact with current customers, but it can do so much more. By using analytics from your social media and website, you can use targeted emails to follow up with prospects by addressing specific topics you know they’re looking into: it’s all about providing the right information at the right time, and analytics help you do that.
What does a comprehensive automotive marketing program look like? It takes prospects by the hand and walks them through their buyer’s journey, answering questions, addressing concerns, and subtly enticing prospects to stay on the path that leads directly to your door. Compelling branded content and targeted email are two of the most critical elements of an effective automotive marketing program that earns the 10 for your dealership, building brand loyalty and advocacy that can last a lifetime.
Comprehensive Solution for Automotive Digital Marketing
LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE offers dealerships end-to-end support for building an effective marketing strategy, improving CSI ratings, creating compelling branded content and video content, search engine marketing, social media marketing, targeted email campaigns, and everything else you’ll need to see real results. Our overall network reaches 125 million unique consumers monthly, and our experience and insights give us a significant advantage when it comes to putting your messages in front of the right people at the right time.
Contact us to learn more about how LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE can help you realize the best possible returns on your automotive marketing investment while allowing you to focus on what you do best – running your dealership.