Ally All Ears Podcast | building customer loyalty during challenging times

Amy Sudik, senior director of marketing for Ally discuss methods of encouraging repeat business for sales and service offers, including ways dealers might employ targeted digital ads as part of their communications with customers.


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Jackie Charniga: Hi, everyone. This is Jackie Charniga with Automotive News and welcome to the All Ears podcast. This podcast is sponsored by Ally Financial and is produced by the Automotive News Content Studio. In each episode, we delve into topics important to executives in automotive retailing. We tap Ally’s leaders to offer actionable solutions for dealers and others to successfully navigate transformational changes in the industry. Today, we catch up with Amy Sudik, senior director of marketing for Ally. We discuss methods of encouraging repeat business for sales and service offers, including ways dealers might employ targeted digital ads as part of their communications with customers. Hi, Amy. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Amy Sudik: Hi, Jackie.

JC: Let’s get started. Some car shoppers may consider switching brands because they want or need a vehicle and their usual brand, or their preferred model isn’t available because of supply issues. But we all know it’s more profitable to keep an existing customer than to find a new customer. How important is it to keep communicating with your customer base even if you’re not selling vehicles?

AS: I think staying top of mind is critical to sustaining customer loyalty and engagement with your brand, especially in this current environment. It’s not just about creating a singular point in time sale that’s purely transactional. It’s really about creating meaningful connections that live on throughout a customer’s ownership lifecycle. It’s important to note that communication is a two way street, and this means establishing an ongoing dialog, whether it be a quick phone call to check in or sending them relevant content about the industry, your dealership, upcoming vehicles and more. Your customers’ needs and wants often change over time, so it’s important to stay connected in order to learn about their evolving needs. Given recent issues with vehicle inventory, customers are more uncertain than ever about their next move. This is your chance to showcase your expertise. If a customer expresses a desire to obtain a specific vehicle, I would stay in contact with them about the status of getting that car, even if there are delays. If there are similar options which are more readily available, this is also your chance to promote those vehicles. Really showcasing your industry expertise, being that customer’s ally and keeping that relationship outside of just buying a car is really critical to sustaining that loyalty. These communications can come from the dealership as a whole, but ideally your dealer should be working to solidify that personal connection. For instance, I’ve seen dealers make notes about their clients to help them remember those personal interactions, details about that customer, even a simple thing as a birthday. They use that information to help stay connected. When and if the customer needs another vehicle, a repair, etc., they remember that dealer connection and will choose your dealership first versus going to a competitor down the road.

JC: Some good advice. What role might loyalty programs, service offers or after the sale of F&I initiatives play in keeping customers at your dealership?

AS: Dealer loyalty is different than brand loyalty and even salesperson loyalty. While customer acquisition is important, it’s far less costly and resource intensive to retain a customer. Service is the single best method of retention just based on the frequency by which you can interact with that individual. Those who get their vehicles regularly serviced at your dealership are eighty-six times more likely to buy from you again. That’s a pretty compelling stat. Creating loyalty rewards programs that benefit the customer by both frequencies, so thinking about the number of transactions, product depth, type of transactions and new customer referrals really foster more permanent stickiness because they’re multidimensional and they provide a variety of ways for the consumer to benefit. Ideally, the program would enable the consumer to redeem the reward only at your dealership versus a simple gift card, which creates a disconnect with regard to that loyalty correlation. Vehicles service contracts are purchased at the point of sale, which means there’s still a great opportunity to sell post-purchase F&I products. And we now know cars are on the road for an average of 12.2 years, which means vehicle protection is more important than ever, especially given our current inflationary environment. As long as your customer is still within their manufacturer’s warranty, there’s plenty of opportunity to tap into your database to capitalize on that sale. Even if you’re not actively selling cars, F&I products offer real value to your customers and your dealership alike and that opens up additional opportunities to then service that customer who’s keeping their car, so F&I and servicing are very intertwined. In one simple everlasting premise, never underestimate word of mouth. While it’s via social media or just talking with a friend or family member, your customers are your advocates, so getting them to share their positive experiences with you is invaluable.

JC: And that’s reminding the customers of the benefits of their F&I products?

AS: Yes, I think that’s also a really good point. Not only just focusing on post vehicle sale, vehicle service contracts or F&I opportunities, but I do think that’s a really good point to leverage your database, identify customers who purchased an F&I product, remind them of that benefit, and remind them that they’re covered. Remind them that when and if a repair is needed, that they can come to your dealership, and you will take care of them. I think that’s a really good point.

JC: How might dealers use targeted, personalized digital ads to communicate effectively with their customers?

AS: Prior to COVID, online shopping was becoming more prevalent. But COVID has definitely accelerated a dealer’s need to be digitally savvy. To stand out amongst the noise in this now very crowded space, dealer messaging has to be relevant and exceedingly personalized so it’s clear you’re talking to that customer on an individual level. Ninety-five percent of customers shop online for their vehicle before going into the dealership. It’s important to start that conversation with them before they get on to your lot. And these customers are much more informed. They’ve done their research. They’re going to ask questions that are more granular. A dealer has to be ready to have that conversation versus focusing more on a general awareness play. Being able to mine and leverage data by a strong CRM system is critical to execute against this initiative. Pushing call stack data into your CRM allows you to optimize campaigns. Setting up triggered campaigns allows dealers to message customers quickly and efficiently, as there is little to no manual work involved once the campaign is created. For instance, consider linking your CRM platform to your vehicle inventory in order to retarget customers that show interest in a certain vehicle online. Subsequent online ads and trigger emails can also be deployed to that person in order to reinforce your message. If we think back to several years ago, where we were cognizant of sort of that creepy factor, where we didn’t want it to be known how much we really understood about their customer, I think we’ve come a long way and customers actually expect much more personalized messaging. They understand the power of data. They understand that we have access to it. I think it’s okay to get that personalized. Dealers may also want to purchase intel from third parties that contain life stage data. This is pretty important. Graduating college, getting a new job, getting married, having a child and retirement are key indicators of upcoming behavioral shifts. And we’ve seen a material increase in campaign performance at Ally by leveraging those events.

JC: Because of supply chain issues, some customers have not been able to find the vehicle that they’re looking for on dealer lots. What advice would you give to a dealership that’s working with a customer that is unable to get the desired vehicle?

AS: Forty-one percent of auto brand loyalists felt completely decided before beginning their research. How can a dealer switch up this conversation to potentially move them into another vehicle that’s available? Getting them in for a test drive is definitely a great way for them to experience something different. Ninety percent of consumers will also consider another brand, so there is that solid opportunity to influence their decision making process if you get the right car in front of them. If a desired vehicle isn’t available, it goes back to everything we discussed around leveraging F&I offering, servicing loyalty rewards, and maintaining an ongoing dialog with your customer.

JC: That’s it for this episode of the All Ears podcast. A big thank you to Amy for providing those insights on behalf of Ally and the Automotive News Content Studio. Thanks for listening.

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