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Automotive Service Management Newsletter
Vol 1, No 5, May 2007

Some Ideas to Enhance the
Marketing of Your Service Department

Over the past ten years, one of the most important jobs a service manager has is to create and maintain a competitive marketing plan for the service department. Due to improvements in vehicle quality during the mid-90's, the average service department has seen a reduction in the number of warranty, if a dealership, and regular repairs by as much as 30-40 percent.

Since these repairs took most of their shop capacity, many service departments did not aggressively go after the regular maintenance business, which allowed quick lube and quick service chain shops to take over that business. Over the last few years, it has been reported that for every consumer dollar spent in a repair facility on regular maintenance items, another three to four dollars is spent in the chain shops where they have carved their niche since the 1960's for inexpensive, quick services.

Another issue is that most vehicles made since 1998 don't need as many basic service maintenance items per service interval or the service intervals are getting longer with less maintenance items required. This is due to manufacturers lowering the overall cost of ownership by using synthetic fluids and improved coolant for extended drain intervals mixed with better vehicle design and materials.

The good news is that customers are keeping their vehicles longer. The longer a customer owns his vehicle, the more brakes, tires, transmission services and similar services plus minor and major repairs will be needed to take care of that vehicle. The better you are at providing these basic services, the more likely your service department will have an opportunity to provide the more costly services

For successful marketing of your business, multi-media marketing is the key. Each type of these has their own purpose, but they all have one common factor, they are presenting services and prices to attract business:
  • Direct Mailer
  • Newspaper, especially neighborhood newspapers
  • Mystery Shopper - Phone Inquiry
  • Mystery Shopper - Service Visit
  • Radio/TV
  • Internet Website
  • Internet Direct Email
  • Post the Benefits of Your Service Department around the Service Facility
  • Display testimonials Around the Service Facility and in Ads
  • Word of Mouth Advertising
In this newsletter, we are going to look at some of these marketing tools which will hopefully give you some ideas about how to improve your overall marketing plan.

Learn about Your Competitors and What They are Marketing

For a successful, ongoing marketing program, the first step is to choose a group of products that can be used regularly to attract a variety of customers. However, choosing the right products can be a challenge because it is based on market demand. So how do we understand market demand? We can create it, match what is already out there, or both.

Let's start by having you learn about your competition and how they are attracting your customers. Too many times service departments only worry about competition within a few miles of their store. Your competition is located anywhere your customers go to have their vehicle serviced.

One quick way to learn about a company's marketing in your area is to check the Internet using search engines like Google.com or YellowPages.com. For instance, in YellowPages.com use the search terms "Automobile Repairing & Service" and "Automobile Oil & Lubrication Services" with your zip code. You will learn how many companies are advertising in your area and who they are. You will notice a lot of companies that may not be that close but are advertising in your zip code area. You can easily check their websites for analysis. Keep in mind that you can also advertise on Yellowpages.com.

You need to learn about services, pricing and hours open. If you are a mystery shopper taking a vehicle into the competitor's place of business, notice any service menu signage or brochures with service details and pricing. If they have any flyers with specials of the month, bring those back for review, too. When reviewing any ads through direct mail, email, radio/TV, or newspaper, document the service details and prices. Visit their website to see if they have an active service marketing program offering discount coupons, how often they change the coupons and if they have an email program to keep customers updated for current coupon specials.

Another issue concerning the competition is learning about any unique services or benefits offered for doing business with them that you can match or improve. This could include such items as price matching or coupon matching, free wireless Internet access, kid's play room, complimentary vehicle inspection, vacuuming the interior of the vehicle, topping off certain fluids, a car wash, coffee and donuts, just to name a few.

Building Market Share through Consistent Multi-Media Advertising

The best lesson I ever learned about building market share through advertising is what I call "Name, Slogan and Logo Recognition." It started with the first ad in a magazine or newspaper over a hundred years ago and continued to spread with the development of other media, like radio, television and the Internet.

It works like this: for example, if I asked any of you to describe Nike's logo, every one of you would say it is the "Nike Swoosh." Who uses the "Golden Arches" in its advertisements as a logo and slogan, McDonalds? Or if I say the slogan, "Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz . . . ," many of you who are old enough would remember the Alka Seltzer commercials on television. Each of these three companies has a logo, slogan and the name of their company or product presented in their advertisements.

It is a brilliant, yet simple, plan that has been around as long as there has been advertising media. The idea is to have a customer see the "Name, Slogan and Logo" so often in different types of media that when they go to the store to make a purchase they are unconsciously influenced to consider that product first because of "Name, Slogan and Logo Recognition."

Your service department needs to create a short slogan of less that seven or eight words that will become the welcoming and/or closing message in all of your ads. You can have a lot of fun with this by having a shop meeting and letting your staff assist you with choosing a slogan that everyone will be proud to use.

Once you have all your elements for creating consistent "Name, Slogan and Logo Recognition," you will want to put the elements into a consistent format that will look the same whether it is on business cards, direct mailers, television, billboards or the Internet. Every time a customer sees any of those mediums, it will reinforce the "Name, Slogan and Logo Recognition" in their minds and the more comfortable they will feel using your service department for their vehicle needs.

The last issue of consistency is having a plan that takes advantage of multi-media advertising. This is the most powerful advertising plan any company can use. An example of properly using multi-media advertising is by sending a direct mail piece through the regular mail and having a print ad in a local newspaper. The service department's website should have a "Specials on Ad" section reflecting the same specials on the direct mail piece. The direct mail piece and print ad should refer to the service department's website. Then each service advisor would contact customers via email to let them know about the arriving direct mail piece, the print ad and website specials.

Over time, your customers will learn that they can go on the website at any time to see and print out the latest specials for their service needs. The direct mail piece and print ads would be for new customers or customers who are not Internet friendly.

Neighborhood newspapers, and weekly publications like Greensheet and used car sales publications like Auto Trader, can be wonderful, cost effective resources for small ads. People can see your information about current specials and learn about the specials your service department always has available via the Internet.

Be sure to keep copies of your current coupons from mailers and newspapers available in the service write-up area for service advisors to use with customers who may not get your mailers or may have forgotten to bring theirs in. I also suggest that they be allowed to honor coupons that are out-of-date as well as allow customers to use coupons from other service facilities. These keep the customers using your service facility and promote good will.

Cable TV advertising can be affordable because you can get a package deal on several channels that attract folks to old TV shows, car and motorcycle shows, outdoor shows as well as any other type of information channels that people may enjoy watching. You never know where you will pick up new customers.

The bottom line is to cross reference your advertising using multimedia resources. The more visible your service department is to people, the more likely they will try it. The more they try it, the better your chance of being able to take advantage of our next advertising resource . . .

Word of Mouth Advertising

One area we have not mentioned yet is "Word of Mouth Advertising." It is probably the most powerful form of marketing in the world because information about a sales or service experience is presented by an "Unpaid Salesperson," someone who has nothing to win or lose by how they talk about your company. An "Unpaid Salesperson" will tell up to 5 people about a positive service experience and up to 20 people when they have been treated poorly.

Remember our goal must be to make sure the services we offer are provided properly and with a good attitude by our staff, so those customers, our "Unpaid Salespeople," will bring in more customers via word of mouth. Once you have built your customer base with your marketing it will grow even faster through word of mouth advertising as each of those customers tell others what a great place your service department is for auto service needs.

Testimonials are a part of "Word of Mouth Advertising" that helps new customers build trust with your service facility. Use quotes from letters and CSI surveys from customers that will help promote repair quality, customer convenience, good will and competitive pricing as a few examples of things that customer like to see supported by a service facility. Post these around the service department and customer waiting area but make sure they are currect, at least within the last 12 months. Testimonials can lose their impact if they are more than a year old.

In today's competitive automotive services industry, a good marketing plan is an absolute must. What you accomplish today through marketing is building for a profitable future with a loyal customer base. Marketing is not a onetime hit. Once you start, it must become a consistent, monthly way of doing business if you are going to be competitive and continue to build your customer base.

Hopefully you will find some of these ideas helpful and you can easily research and experiment with these to find the best matches for your service department.

Copyright, 2007, J. Daniel Emmanuel


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