The benefits of dealer-provided maintenance are undeniable. We know this, so why then can it often feel like a herculean task to get customers to return to our dealership after their vehicle purchase?

After buying a car, 72% of customers are opting for third-party mechanics.

Source: Cox Automotive

If you could just get them back to the service lane one time — for their initial service appointment — you could prove your superiority, establish a service relationship, and make them a loyal lifetime customer.

Based on our experience, and the strategies proven effective by many fixed ops departments, here are a few tips to help you get customers back for their first service appointment.

Make it Part of the Delivery Process

A thoughtful and coordinated sales-to-service handoff is key, and can really improve your odds of getting customers to return for not just their first service appointment — but all subsequent maintenance and service needs. After the deal is inked, take advantage of the inevitable downtime while the vehicle is being prepped, detailed, etc., and give your customer a warm service department welcome.

Give them a service department tour.

The last thing customers want is an uncoordinated and disjointed service and sales relationship. Your variable and fixed operations are a connected experience, and a great way to help ensure customers make the connection is to show them how all parts of your dealership coalesce into a single entity. A simple tour of the service department to see the techs in action will put them at ease and set the stage for personalized, quality care moving forward.

Provide new customers a behind-the-scenes look at the true value offered by “certified technicians” who have specific vehicle experience.

Show them how nice and clean it is. Introduce them to the service manager. Highlight the things that differentiate your service department from the competition. By creating a clear link between where they bought their vehicle and where they will service their vehicle, customers will be far more likely to see your service department as the obvious, if not only, choice to return for their first appointment.

Set their first service appointment.

We know what you’re thinking. “No one knows their schedule a week from now, let alone in 6 months.” While true, it certainly doesn’t hurt to implement a best practice of helping your customer schedule their first follow-up appointment before they roll off the lot. It may be your last chance for a face-to-face before their first scheduled maintenance is due, and it’s simply more effective getting an affirmative response in person rather than counting on less personal follow-ups and reminders.

Don’t be pushy, and make it clear that it’s just a tentative placeholder depending on their driving habits. It’s rare that they won’t put something on the books before they leave if asked, and is an efficient way to make the customer more comfortable returning for service, increasing your chances of earning their business moving forward.


Deploy a Multi-Channel Marketing Campaign

Even if you get commitment on the first service visit as part of the purchase delivery process, every fixed ops director knows an appointment is a no show until they’re back in the service bay. So follow-up marketing and service reminders are critical in securing that first visit.

When done correctly, an omni-channel marketing campaign will keep your service department top of mind with new customers, and there are several tactical examples to prove it.

Begin an omni-channel marketing campaign about 60-90 days ahead of the customer’s first scheduled appointment.

Through multiple touchpoints, remind your customers that they are due for service, and stress the benefits and value they’ll receive when they choose you over a local mechanic or mass merchandiser.

Start with a simple direct mail postcard that might include coupons applicable to their first service requirements. Then keep your service department atop their inbox with a series of emails (don’t overdo it, just a couple leading up to their first appointment). You may even consider mobile alerts and text messages if you have the capabilities. A recent DriveSure study showed that consumers are more than open to receiving texts from their dealership.

Use video to underscore your value

As part of your email marketing, consider including short videos from your service manager. This adds a personal touch, and can also stress all the points that make your service department better and more knowledgeable. Many consumers don’t know the difference between conventional, synthetic, and high-mileage oil changes — educate them with video marketing to set yourself apart. You might even consider including a personalized manager’s offer or promo code to incentivize the first visit.


Offer Incentives

Speaking of incentives, they can be another enticing way to book that first appointment. It can be costly to your bottom line to offer discounts for repeat service, and incentives are an easy way for your service department to add more value to the customer without relying on undercutting discounts.

For example, dealerships that offer DriveSure (our product) with new and used car sales have seen significant increases in the number of customers who return for that first service visit. DriveSure gives vehicle owners a suite of benefits at no extra cost to them, including dealer-loyal roadside assistance, road-hazard tire protection, and more, that are valid for a set period such as 180 days. To renew those benefits when they expire (or before), customers must return to the dealership for their scheduled maintenance – increasing the chances of their vehicle running smoothly and giving them peace of mind in case it doesn’t.

Other incentives you could offer include things like:

  • VIP card they can use to get a 10% discount on accessories
  • Loyalty programs
  • Pickup and delivery service
  • Free car wash with every oil change

To learn more about how your dealer service department can start off as (and remain) the go-to provider for maintenance and repairs, schedule a free consultation with a DriveSure expert today.

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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.