You won’t get a second chance to make a good first impression

The relationship between a customer and a dealership’s service department doesn’t begin when the vehicle needs its first oil change. It actually starts as soon as the new vehicle owner agrees to sign on the dotted line.

Many customers only visit the dealership once or twice when they purchase a vehicle — making it difficult for dealerships to develop brand loyalty in the sales process alone. The service center is often where that loyalty is earned, so it’s crucial that your dealership’s sales team sets your service department up to delight your customers again and again.


Customers begin judging their experience as soon as they walk inside

From the moment they’re greeted by the sales team, buyers are evaluating how they’re being treated and whether they feel taken advantage of or if they’re getting a good deal. After all, most consumers have already done some research online, and they know that competition is high in the automotive industry.

If they aren’t happy at any point in the purchasing journey, or if they feel their needs are not being met, they’ll leave. That’s why providing excellent customer service and building trust will help dealerships stand apart from competitors — and it’s an important first step in getting customers to return for service.

You can earn that trust by sharing information like product reviews, buyer’s guides or case studies — resources that help them make informed purchasing decisions.


The sales-to-service handoff is a pivotal moment

Service revenue can have a significant impact on your dealership’s bottom line: NADA reports that while parts and service only made up 12% of dealership revenue in 2020, it can often contribute a substantially higher amount of gross profit than any other departments in a dealership. And as you know, the service department is also critical to retention and repeat sales.

And yet, a recent DealerRater poll found that only 42 percent of the 16,000 car buyers surveyed had been introduced to the service department upon making their purchase. Worse, 25 percent couldn’t remember whether they’d met any service employees.

Aligning the sales and service teams by introducing customers to the service department during the vehicle purchase makes them 1.5 times more likely to return for service and then again to purchase another vehicle, according to a recent Cox Automotive Maintenance and Repair Study. Dealers can improve that figure by making sure the sales-to-service handoff is a positive experience, beginning with a short tour.

A seamless sales-to-service handoff leaves customers feeling more confident – not only about their purchase, but in knowing where to turn when they have questions or need help with their vehicle moving forward. This way, the tone is set for the entire service relationship.

Get it right, and the car owner feels comfortable about trusting the service team down the line. Take up too much of their time, or waste it by not providing value, and the excitement over their new purchase fizzles out quickly.

Use this introduction and tour to begin educating customers about the maintenance schedule for their new purchase, and on the importance of returning on time for service to prolong the vehicle’s life and safety. Explain the advantage of having manufacturer-specific trained technicians onsite. And add more value by scheduling their first maintenance visit when you hand over the car keys, providing information about which repairs the service department offers.


Help customers understand what’s covered in their warranty

Nothing gets a vehicle owner more aggravated than showing up at the dealership’s service department expecting a repair to be covered and then finding out it’s not. That’s why it’s vital to make sure customers understand their coverage when they purchase the car. One way to do this is to walk around the vehicle itself, pointing out what is and is not protected.

Don’t offer an extended warranty as they’re leaving the parking lot. Instead, make this conversation part of the sales process, so clients can absorb what options are available. They’ll feel looked after knowing that every step of their ownership experience is covered.


Offer service-related incentives up front to bring customers back

Remember that great Honda service commercial from 2015 that warned vehicle owners, “Don’t open your hood to strangers”? Customers want to come ‘home’, but sometimes, they need a gentle nudge.

To motivate car owners to come back to your dealership for service, consider making it worth their while. Manufacturer-paid maintenance programs are one effective way to get them to come back. But not all dealerships have this option, and for those that do, the manufacturer doesn’t pay for maintenance forever.

That’s where an incentive program like DriveSure comes in — providing renewable roadside assistance, road hazard tire protection, and rental coverage at no cost to the customer for the length of the recommended service interval. Renewing the perks is simple: the customer just has to come back to the dealership for service or repairs. That means you get one more tool to delight customers every time they return.

Encouraging customers to bring their vehicles ‘home’ for maintenance and repairs starts the day they buy the car and before they pull away from your dealership for the first time, so don’t blow this important touchpoint.

This article was originally posted to

The 2020 Dealership Service Retention Report


Learn why customers choose to return to their dealership for service and why they don’t. Plus, we reveal your biggest opportunities for encouraging customer loyalty.

Join us for a free online event on July 28th!Battling 5 Dealership Service Defection Points with DriveSure