Car dealerships are always looking for better ways to keep customers coming back. However, it’s not just great customer service or loyalty rewards that do the trick — their purchasing and service experiences play a crucial role as well.

Customer satisfaction with the car buying journey has been declining for two years in a row as the time spent shopping for a vehicle and at the dealership has increased. Customers are growing increasingly frustrated.

Today’s customers demand a simpler, more transparent process that respects their time and makes the process of buying a car as effortless as possible. They’re growing increasingly frustrated with the slow, tedious, and confusing processes around buying and servicing a car, and that’s having a direct impact on their loyalty.

We’re unfortunately at a point where dealerships that fail to adapt will face a declining reputation, negative reviews, and a lot of lost sales.

If you want to keep customers coming back to your dealership, let alone tell their friends and family about you, you need to make the buying process easier for them.

The 2020 Dealership Service Retention Report

Insights from Nearly 2,000 Dealership Customers

Why an easier buying process increases customer loyalty

Less time at the dealership leads to high customer satisfaction. The research into this issue paints a pretty clear picture:

  • Buyers want to do more online when it comes to buying and financing. Of customers who pre-ordered their last car, 79% were more satisfied than customers buying off the lot.
  • An easier buying process has a direct impact on customer loyalty: a CDK Global study found a direct relationship between the time a consumer spends waiting to get into an F&I office on a busy day and their future loyalty to that dealership.
  • The longer it takes your customer to go through a buying process, the worse their loyalty is, and the less likely they are to recommend your dealership to others (according to the J.D. Power Auto Summit).

In other words, the longer it takes for a customer to get in and out of the dealership, the less likely they are to come back — and odds are, they won’t send any new customers your way. So how can you make it faster and easier for them?

6 ways to make the buying process easier for customers

1. Offer online or virtual purchasing options

Customers are increasingly seeking out online tools that allow them to skip a dealership visit and complete the purchase process from the comfort of their own home.  It also enables customers to easily compare prices and features between different vehicles.

  • Set up a digital retailing option so customers can browse inventory, view vehicle details, and even complete their purchase online.
  • Provide video or chat consultations, where customers can speak with a sales representative or finance expert online to get their questions answered, without having to come onto the lot where they might feel extra pressure

2. Provide clear pricing and financing options 

Customers want transparency and honesty throughout the buying process, and clear pricing can help reduce the anxiety and frustration that can arise when negotiating the terms of a deal.

  • Clearly display prices and financing terms online and in the dealership, so customers can easily compare and choose the option that’s best for them.
  • Be upfront about any additional fees or charges that may apply, so customers don’t feel blindsided by unexpected costs.
  • Provide financing calculators or other tools to help customers estimate their monthly payments and make informed decisions.

3. Train sales staff to provide better, personalized service

Customers appreciate a sales team that is attentive, informative, and patient throughout the buying process. To avoid getting unnecessary complaints, provide personalized service to show that a dealership values their customers and is committed to meeting their unique needs.

  • Offer training sessions or workshops to help sales staff develop better listening and communication skills.
  • Encourage sales staff to ask questions and get to know customers’ needs and preferences, so they can provide more targeted recommendations and options.
  • Provide ongoing coaching and feedback to help sales staff improve their customer service skills over time.
  • Encourage a culture of customer service throughout the dealership, including a customer feedback loop, to empower all staff to provide excellent service and exceed customer expectations.

4. Offer a seamless trade-in process

Trade-ins can be a hassle, but a dealership that offers a smooth, efficient trade-in process can make the experience more pleasant for customers. By making it easy for customers to trade in their old vehicles, dealerships can help customers save time and get a fair deal.

  • Provide an online or in-person appraisal tool, so customers can quickly get an accurate estimate of the value of their trade-in.
  • Use software to automate and simplify the paperwork and administrative tasks involved in the trade-in process.
  • Offer options for customers who want to sell their vehicle outright, such as connecting them with a reputable third-party buyer. This may not have a direct impact on your bottom line, but it’s a small amount of extra effort to make a customer happy.

5. Reduce wait times

Time is one of the most important factors in a customer’s purchasing experience. Dealerships can make the process easier by reducing the amount of time customers spend waiting, whether it’s for a salesperson, to get into the F&I office, or for a vehicle to be serviced. Offering appointments and online scheduling, as well as using virtual technologies to speed up processes, are all ways to reduce wait times.

  • Online scheduling for sales appointments and service appointments allows customers to choose a convenient time to visit and reduces wait times once they arrive.
  • Simplify the F&I process, such as offering clear, easy-to-understand financing and insurance options, or providing customers with pre-approved financing offers that they can take advantage of before coming into the dealership.

6. Offer prepaid maintenance in the service lane

One way to simplify the service experience is to create a prepaid maintenance package specifically tailored to be sold from the service department, giving you more opportunities to sell the benefits and boosting customer satisfaction in the process.

Based on our research:

  • Prepaid plans increase customer loyalty — with our clients, we’ve recorded an 18-24% increase in retention compared to those without prepaid packages.
  • Prepaid plans increase customer satisfaction, due to lower rates and more frequent visits (giving you the chance to catch small problems before they become big ones).
  • Prepaid plans increase overall vehicle sales — customers are twice as likely to purchase a vehicle from you if they’ve received service from you in the past year.

When dealers offer a prepaid package in the service lane, typically 2 out of every 3 oil changes performed will be for customers with prepaid packages.

To learn more about setting up a prepaid maintenance plan specifically for your service lane, check out our prepaid maintenance checklist.

Selling Prepaid Maintenance in the Service Lane?

Prepaid maintenance isn’t just for F&I. Follow this checklist to build a new prepaid maintenance revenue stream in the service drive.

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