Customer Retention: Us Versus Them

Wrote by: Dave Redinger, he is a retired mechanic with over 45 years experience. He now works as a consultant and legal advisor on mechanical matters (automotiveexpert.ca), offering advice to garage owners and lawyers. Dave hosts “Dave’s Corner Garage,” currently heard on AM 740 and Sirius XM broadcasting to 27.5 million subscribers. (Photo: General Motors)

Independent shops have to be able to compete with the major manufacturers, their dealers, and their customer retention strategies.

I recently purchased a new car (well, slightly used but it was new to me). A Cadillac to be precise.

General Motors’ customer retention system started the minute I fired up the engine. A disembodied voice came on with a message reminding me that the vehicle was equipped with 4G Internet service and that I should avail myself of its features and could do so by calling OnStar. The Message went on to describe how to reach OnStar and, since it’s a Canadian model, the broadcast was repeated in French.

Okay. That’s pretty cool! As it turns out, these gals repeat the message every time you flick on the ignition. Not so cool. Annoying is a better word. Now how do I turn the darned thing off? Nothing in the owner’s manual tells me how.

So being a technician, I was inclined to simply locate and pull the fuse that is powering OnStar. But it just so happens that the same fuse that powers the message also powers the microphone to the handsfree phone. Bad Idea. Score one for the product planners.

Since GM had the upper hand here I called OnStar, and explained I had a cell phone with Internet service and didn’t need 4G in the car. “Sure, no problem,” they said. “Just register with us and we’ll shut the message off.”

Three days later, I’m back. “We’re really sorry the ‘system’ did not recognize your request,” they said. “Just register and we can turn the message off. Better still, why not try our service? We’ll let you use it for free for the next three months.”

They got me

Well… free is always good. So we now have 4G in the car. GM has my contact info and I’m trying OnStar. Slick, to say the least. The car, still under warranty, had to be registered with GM identifying me as the new owner. Surprisingly, this experience was absolutely painless. They had on file the service records, described the remaining warranties, and recommended the local dealers in my area. Wow, that wasn’t what I had expected. But wait, there’s more.

The car had developed a flaw in the seat. After 20 minutes or so of driving, the seat foam collapsed and lost its support. I was pessimistic as I headed off to the dealership to see if they could help. Again, I was surprised. They agreed to replace the cushion without a hassle. Plus they informed me that the car was eligible for free oil changes, tire rotations and inspections, free shuttle service and a free loaner if the car was to be kept longer. In short, they had my car on the lift for the price of the oil and filter. Smart, when you factor in the costs of getting a customer in the front door of your shop.

How can we compete?

Get the message? These guys are serious when it comes to customer retention. I’m in the system and I’m theirs to lose. Wow! How do we, as independents, compete? Do they really have the upper hand?

Granted, this is a relatively new car, backed by the factory. But the point here is they understood the importance of turning me into a new customer. More importantly, GM has a system in place, designed to make that task easy. Truth is, it’s not just GM—it’s every manufacturer out there. They all realize how important customer retention is.

The battle for consumers in the car industry will be fought on the Web. Just don’t forget that it’s all about the people—your employees, leadership and your customers.

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