There are many who argue that the highest priority for a dealer should be attracting new customers. Indeed, no one can deny the importance of a stream of new prospects. But I would argue that it’s at least as important to retain existing customers. And in order to know the best way to do that, one must answer the question: why do they stop doing business with us?
There’s likely no single easy answer, of course. Customers can disappear for a variety of reasons, ranging from disappointment in a boat or the service to being lured to a better deal offered down the street. That said, however, customers ultimately leave because of the way they’re treated — or not treated — by the dealership.
One obvious mistake every dealer can avoid is failing to consistently “touch” the customer. Keeping that connection is where many dealers can miss the mark. Customers who feel they’re recognized don’t leave. Customers who believe they have an ongoing relationship with their dealer don’t leave. But it’s up to the dealer — not the customer — to make it so.
I remember the prison warden in Paul Newman’s movie, “Cool Hand Luke,” whose big line was: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” He could have been referring to a marine dealer that doesn’t have a plan to build a relationship after the sale.
An interesting first step worth the time would be to look at your customer retention rate by identifying the number of “lapsed” customers, say, during the last three years or so. These would be people who bought a boat but nothing else, including service, since then.
While not practical, if you could survey each lost customer, such an analysis will likely show they didn’t receive the level of communication that would have led them to feel they are in a relationship. It might also reveal they never felt appropriately recognized following their purchase.
The truth is every dealership needs a plan to communicate with customers on a consistent basis. And it’s never been easier than with email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and similar digital capabilities available today. The most successful dealers use email and social media to maintain customer connections.
No matter what form of media is used, it’s the content that’s critical. We’re not about talking email sales pitches here. If you fall into the routine of describing products and features, your customers will likely tune out. In fact, a steady stream of sales stuff can be the fastest way to be “unsubscribed.”
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean being disingenuous, either. Customers will receive — and most will appreciate — informative content that can, for example, alert them to something really new and unique; make their days on the water more enjoyable; suggest ideas for places to go; show things to do with their boats; and offer tips on everything from entertaining non-boating friends to basic maintenance tips that make things perform properly.
Many successful dealers also often hold special events to directly “touch” the customers. These events range from exclusive new product preview parties to a customer group rendezvous; from special hands-on educational clinics on boat handling to fishing seminars and even customer angling derbies. Events exclusively for ladies and kids are also successful.
Has the time come to audit your current customer communications plan to see where it’s good or bad? Is there a viable plan in place at all? If not, it’s overdue.
You can accomplish building a relationship with customers in a number of ways, of course, but the key is that you actually do it.