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Gaining customer loyalty is no longer simple

If it was ever easy to cultivate customer loyalty, it’s no longer so, thanks to the Internet. Customers can now routinely research products, features, prices and competitors. Loyalty can be fleeting, customers unreliable and erratic. How, then, can dealers garner customer loyalty?

Andrew Deen, a prolific author and consultant on business startups, recently tackled the subject with several tips. After all, loyal customers are not only important for continuing sales, but they can also recommend that others choose your dealership and brand over any competitor’s. Here, then, are five tips worthy of consideration for dealerships:

Define loyalty: It starts here and really depends on the type of business. If you’re selling laundry detergent, for example, customer loyalty likely means the customer buys a new box every month or so. But marine dealers aren’t selling soap flakes. The customer won’t buy another new boat for several years. Still, they could be loyal service, accessory, storage and marina customers, and they could certainly be urging their friends to come to you. So it’s important to first define what you believe your loyal customer should look like and how you see them responding to your dealership.

Keep customer focus: There’s no disagreement that good customer service is the foundation for building a loyal customer base. It’s the difference between loyalty and one-time customers, emphasizes Deen. Foremost, customers want to be secure in the knowledge that they’ll be taken care of when something goes wrong with the boat, its equipment or some service. The right response can save, even enhance, a dealer/customer relationship.

Depending on the situation, being known for fast responses, replacements, refunds and complementary products or services can give a dealership a huge competitive advantage. Accordingly, the entire dealership team should be empowered to make things right when something goes wrong. Customers so treated will become vocal advocates.

Show gratitude: It takes more than just a thank you email or note, albeit that’s a good start. Building up loyalty takes time. So it calls for a concerted, ongoing effort. It’s one and done for dealers and manufacturers who may offer good promotional deals to first-time buyers, but don’t follow with a focused plan to retain those customers. No one is suggesting you give a discount every time the customers walk through the door. On the other hand, a strategy of personalized offers based on learning things about the customer and family, their past purchasing history, special interests, birthday rewards and other occasional incentives can help keep customers engaged with your dealership.

Always tout your USP: “What distinguishes you from your competitors?” asks Deen. “Your unique selling proposition (USP) is the key to long-term success and customer loyalty.” Far too many businesses today are in a race to the bottom, each trying to offer a lower price than their competitors. Don’t get into the race. To avoid it, you must offer customers something truly special that makes you stand out, justifies a higher price and inspires customer loyalty. Haven’t really ever defined your USP? Take some time now to research what positive things your customers would most often cite about your dealership. Asking will discover what factors are the most important to your most loyal customers. Craft your USP around that.

Never give up quality: If the quality of your service or the boats and products you represent drops, even loyal customers can be driven away. It’s a fact that in deciding to give you their business, they will have selected you with a certain expectation of quality. If they later see that somehow their expectations are no longer being met, their opinion of your dealership will plummet, leaving no way you can re-establish loyalty. So maintaining the quality of your products and services is crucial, even if it means you eventually have to start charging more.

Quality interactions with every customer should be top-of-mind for every member of the dealership team, all the time.

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