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‘Footloose and warranty-free?’ – It’s time to think about aftersales customer retention

‘Footloose and warranty-free?’ – It’s time to think about aftersales customer retention

11th June 2017


By Paul Muers


The safety net of a manufacturer warranty means that, for vehicles less than three years old, any repair work is likely to be conducted by a franchised dealership’s workshop. But what happens when this cover ceases? Worries over perceived increases in costs or a desire to take advantage of new found flexibility can prompt motorists to shop around for alternatives.


For the majority of franchised dealers then, the end-of-warranty period becomes the point where there is heightened pressure to prevent business being lost to independent garages and the rapid-fit sector.


While it’s virtually impossible to ensure that every customer returns to a main dealer post-warranty, there are a few precautionary steps that aftersales departments can take to boost customer loyalty beyond that all important 3 year period:


‘Focus on follow-up’
When it comes to encouraging customer loyalty from motorists whose vehicles are approaching the end of their warranty, effective communication and marketing campaigns take centre stage.  To this effect, dealerships can maximise the potential of their customer databases to ensure regular contact. autoVHC, for example, has a text and email reminder function which uses information within the system to automatically contact customers and remind them that their vehicle is due a service.


As well as helping to strengthen relationships, this kind of contact can also act as a subtle sales tool for amber work that has been previously identified. It enables aftersales departments to send timely reminders for repairs which, though not essential at the time of service, will become more pressing with time. Rather than leaving a customer to experience the inconvenience of a vehicle fault, a quick reminder could ensure that issues are addressed before they become problematic. This goes some way towards boosting customer loyalty, by demonstrating a duty of care and leaving customers satisfied that their vehicles, and personal safety, are being properly taken care of.


‘Seeing is believing’
An extra tip here is to ensure that video and/or photographic evidence is included as part of any follow-up relating to amber work. If recorded at the time of service, images of less urgent repairs can be stored against a customer’s details and re-introduced at a later stage. This level of transparency creates a service that customers can have faith in and is instrumental in building a lasting level of trust capable of ensuring future business once the warranty expires.


While a seemingly minor issue, the method of customer contact is also something to keep in mind. SMS text messaging is by far the most popular method of communication, but it doesn’t suit everybody. Some customers would prefer an email, phone call or even a letter so make sure you take the time to find out customer preferences, to enable a more personalised service.


‘Added incentives’
As with any customer-facing business, the ability to offer some kind of incentive is a proven method of boosting retention. Many franchised dealers now offer discounted service packages for out of warranty vehicles. In such cases, it’s a good idea to integrate the offer with a third party supplier, such as a roadside assistance provider, to offer that extra layer of convenience.


Other ideas to incentivise customers with out-of-warranty vehicles to return to their main dealer for servicing and repairs include: special servicing deals for high-mileage customers, a collection and delivery service (or even mobile servicing) and extended opening hours for improved flexibility and convenience.


For post-warranty work, costs are ultimately the deciding factor for the majority of motorists. With this in mind, the ability to offer interest-free finance for servicing and repairs could play a key role in customer retention. I.e. the option to split payments over a more manageable time frame may dissuade customers from taking their business elsewhere. The avoidance of up-front costs is a huge pull-factor for motorists, and something that is rarely offered by independent garages or fast-fit outlets.


‘Building long-term relationships’
Finally, it’s important to maintain good, long-standing relationships with customers. If the rapport is there from the beginning, then the loyalty is likely to last beyond the warranty period. As revealed in the recent NFDA Consumer Attitude Survey, approachability and trust rank among the key drivers for choosing between franchised dealerships and independent garages, so being able to offer – and keep offering – these values is vital for securing post-warranty business.