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I came across an excellent blog article recently that discussed the different forms of loyalty that exist in the car business. In this article, the author described three levels of customer loyalty: Brand loyalty, dealership loyalty and salesperson loyalty. He described these three different types of loyalty as follows:
Brand loyalty: The focus here is on customer loyalty to a specific vehicle brand. Manufacturers’ entire marketing efforts are designed to retain current owners and convince owners of competing brands to switch. They use many different ways to build this loyalty including quality comparisons, performance, safety, comfort and practicality. This is important for brand market share but also just as important in assisting franchises by driving customer interest and traffic.
Dealership loyalty: Loyalty to a dealership is built through providing an excellent customer experience, treating customer right and being consistent in efforts to recognize and reward frequent and repeat customers.
Salesperson loyalty: Salespeople that stay at a specific dealership for any length of time have the ability to develop relationships with customers that can last a lifetime. They can even get to the point where they no longer have to assist new customers as their referral and repeat business keeps them busy with a constant, steady flow of business.
These are all valid and excellent points. The author of the aforementioned blog placed these different types of loyalty in order as sort of a funnel from the top down. I believe that it’s important for dealerships to recognize the importance of all of these areas but to also realize that, from a business point of view, there is a definite hierarchy that management must recognize in order to create a loyalty strategy that maximizes success.
This is the order I believe accomplishes this best.
Dealership loyalty: By far the most important type of loyalty to a dealership must be loyalty to that dealership. This is the only type of loyalty that a dealership can directly influence. Dealerships must build a base of loyal customers, and then service those loyal customers in order to survive. The less customer retention a dealership has, the more focused on customer acquisition they must be. A solid and growing base of loyal customers will assist dealerships in growth and make customer acquisition less important. If your dealership has a 30 percent defection rate, it will always need to replace that 30 percent with new customers, just to maintain the status quo. Decreasing defection through customer retention allows a dealership to grow. Dealerships will only accomplish this through providing an excellent customer experience in all departments. They can also reinforce and reward repeat customers through rewards programs and recognition.
Salesperson loyalty: Dealerships can assist in this effort by building employee loyalty. Providing a great work environment, with basics such as training to help increase the salesperson’s abilities, along with a company philosophy that reinforces positive attitudes and behavior, can decrease your employee turnover and increase longevity of employment. This allows relationships to be built and serves to reinforce to the dealership’s customer that your dealership is a great place to do business with. Ultimately, however, dealerships cannot control an employee. Turnover does happen, and the last thing any dealership wants is to lose customers because they are more loyal to a salesperson than to the dealership. Too often salespeople take their customers with them which is why dealerships need to focus on retaining their staff.
Brand loyalty: Manufacturers focus almost entirely on brand loyalty and conquest. A dealership’s sales revenue is dependent on both new and used car sales. Most dealerships carry multiple brands in their used car inventory and would be more than happy to sell a customer a pre-owned vehicle of a competing brand. Not only is brand loyalty affected in this manner but a recent study by ADP showed that 63 percent of online shoppers began their research with the intent of purchasing a specific brand. Only 20 percent of those shoppers actually ended up purchasing that brand. While a dealership can certainly reinforce brand loyalty through new car sales and leasing retention, this is where they have the least influence.
The bottom line is that every dealership must focus on loyalty at all levels, but just as in all facets of business, focus must be prioritized to maximize efficiency. Place the order of importance on items where you have the most influence at the top, to those that you have the least at the bottom. By doing so, a dealership can maximize its efforts in creating a loyal customer base that will sustain the dealer and assist in its growth.