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Jan. 22, 2007 – How to avoid the ‘silent syndrome’ from shoppers

January 22, 2007
Filed under Features

One of the companies involved in the Turning Technology Into Sales and Profits series is recommending ways for an Alabama dealership to avoid the “silent customer syndrome.”
That condition occurs “when the customer feels ignored by the dealer and becomes dissatisfied,” said Larry Koch, founder of Tousley Motorsports in Minnesota and consultant to the year-long series focusing on S&W, a family owned Jasper, Ala., dealership. “But instead of complaining about it, they just find another dealer. By the time you realize they’re unhappy, it’s too late. They’re gone and it’s very hard to get them back.”
One way to avoid the silent customer syndrome is to maintain contact by giving them unique offers, special promotions and exciting new products.
“That’s what we’d like to see (S&W owner Jim Jr. Wilson) do — keep a steady flow of communication going with his customers and prospects,” Koch said, “and build on the goodwill he has created over the last 40 years.”
One approach that ARI, one of the companies involved in the series, has found successful is open houses.
“The highest direct mail response rates that we’ve ever recorded among powersports customers nationwide, is an open house offer,” said Nancy Krajcir-Bennett, ARI’s direct mail manager. “It’s not untypical to send out 1,000 mailers announcing a dealer open house and generate a 30 to 40 percent attendance rate.”
Krajcir-Bennett noted that Friday night open houses produce the best attendance.
“We think Jim Jr. should have an open house at least every three months, with OEM guest speakers and special customer offers,” she said. “It’s basic. But again, it works.”
Another possible antidote to silent customer syndrome is with special offers communicated via direct mailers or a dealership’s Web site.
S&W’s spring season starts in February when Smith Lake opens. And with Alabama’s warmer climate, motorcyclists are getting ready to get their bikes out of storage. ARI officials are suggesting to S&W that they use ARI’s MailSmart program to send out preseason special mailers, featuring tune-up discounts, boat and motorcycle accessories discounts and tie-ins.
Such customer promotions can fail if dealers overlook seemingly little things. Here are keys to remember for such promotions:

  • Leverage your direct mail and Web site for maximum results. Most dealers don’t update their Web site for years — a big missed opportunity. As Wilson has said, many of his customers go to his dealership’s Web site, which uses ARI’s WebsiteSmart, to review products and accessories before they step on his showroom floor. For every special offer, promotion or direct mailer sent to customers, make sure your Web site reflects those offers or promotions and elaborates on them.
  • Make sure your offer is compelling and has a sense of urgency. Many believe a “10 percent discount” on parts or accessories will draw customers. To test an offer’s value, a dealer should ask, “What would I do if I received this offer?” If the answer is “nothing,” then it is time to change the offer. Compare that to an offer such as “Come on in and take a chance to win a free $200 Bell Helmet.” The difference between the two — the latter is more compelling and is likely to draw more traffic. In addition to the offer, the mailer needs to have a deadline no more than 45 days out. If the offer lasts longer, the customer will put off coming in until the very end, and in many cases, misplaces the card altogether.
  • Make your mailing stand out. Your offer won’t be read if it gets lost among all of the other mail your customer receives each day. Consider using oversized (6×9) cards with high-quality graphics, printed in full color and on glossy stock.
  • Create strong internal communications. A frequent problem at dealerships is dealers running promotions, which includes sending out thousands of mailers to customers, and then not telling their staffs about the special offers. Customers then come in and ask for an advertised special offer or promotion and get a blank look in return. Besides alerting staff to the promotions, also ask them to collect the postcards so you can easily track the success of the direct-mail program.
    “The vast majority of powersports dealers are often good communicators in person,” Koch said. “They’re great at ‘belly-to-belly’ relationship and rapport-building.
    “But many times, they just are not good communication managers. That means they don’t know how to communicate with their customers using marketing tools, like a Web site or direct mail.
    “And they don’t know how to manage their own people to properly communicate to customers. These are skills that can be acquired or bought. Without them, the dealer owner is limiting his growth and profit prospects.” psb

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