How to Lose Customers Without Even Trying

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The boys of summer are gone, but baseball’s “3 strikes and you’re out” rule can easily be applied to any boat dealership that fails to make sure their customers don’t cut you off their lineup card.

Every boater was always someone’s customer. And, as long as they stay in the sport, they’ll be someone’s customer — but if you’re not paying attention, they will likely someone else’s.

So contends Henry DeVries, founder of Indie Books International and popular speaker. In a recent piece in Forbes on business leadership, DeVries emphasizes every business should strive to keep their customers, as the cost of acquiring a replacement is reportedly be five times higher. Therefore, keeping, selling and servicing existing customers spells higher profits.

DeVries specifically cites the recommendations of customer service expert Kate Zabriskie, president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She specializes in helping businesses develop good customer service programs and offers a myriad of training resources to a help a dealership team “live up to what’s promised.”

According to Zabriskie, most often the loss of customers can be traced to a few mistakes that should have easily been avoided if there was a focus on customer retention. She offers a few eye-openers worth considering.

For example, although a customer may have been with you for some time, assuming they won’t be drawn away by the flashy offerings of another suitor is like placing your faith in a faux security policy. If another dealership claims they can do it better or cheaper or faster or has the hottest new models, your customer could easily disappear. You probably won’t even recognize it in a timely manner.

To defend against this, Zabriskie recommends a policy of regularly checking in with your customers. While there are many ways to do it, an effort or opportunity to get face-to-face is the greatest. But any contact — phone call, email, handwritten note, postcard — can get it done.

“The purpose isn’t to sell, “Zabriskie says. “Rather, it’s to say thank you, ask questions, and, more important, to listen. As the adage states: you have two ears and one mouth for a reason,” she adds.

In every dealership, the sales team (and possibly the service managers) may have some down time. It’s the perfect time to make contacts and check in with those existing customers.

Zabriskie also cautions against the “feast or famine model.” She cites as an illustration a real estate agent who sold a customer a house five years ago and gets in touch for the first time since the closing after learning the customer might be moving. “He calls, he texts, he emails, and it’s too late — the client has signed on with an agent she met at her book club,” says Zabriskie.

So, what do you do? Create a contact schedule that makes sense for a boat dealership. You don’t want to be a pest. But you don’t want to be passed over the next time someone is thinking about moving up, adding a hot new accessory, or needs service. Just because they bought from you once, or used your service department in the past, do not assume they even know all the services, products or other programs your dealership offers.

Your periodic contact with them keeps you top-of-mind as the contact to call for knowledgeable information.

As our industry continues to navigate through this pandemic for hell, with no absolute end in sight; with our major winter in-person boat shows cancelled or turning to digital formats; and with very mixed predictions about the overall economic outlook for 2021, there has simply never been a more compelling time for a dealer to maintain connection with existing customers.  

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