CommentaryDec 18th, 2017

Don't Neglect the Relationship Part of Your Dealership CRM


Do you remember what your CRM does? If you say it’s for tracking ups, leads, sales, and customers, of course you’re right, but we sometimes forget the meat-and-potatoes purpose for this wonderful technology.

So, my question is: Are you neglecting the “R” in CRM? Some forget that the “R” refers to relationship: building, nurturing, and retaining customers to your brand, your store, and your parts and service departments.

I’m a technology developer and a car dealer, and my stores use a CRM, as many of you do. I know how easy it can be to look at the CRM tool just as a details tracker and an accountability tool — both of which it should be designed to deliver.

But when we take our eye off the lifeblood of a car dealership — our treasury of active customers and prospects — all parties lose. We can’t afford to lose a single customer these days. Another reason a particular CRM may not be right for you is because it’s too much CRM.

For instance, your CRM may have too many “sparkly things,” i.e., too many bells and whistles, that draw users into exploring and using functions and keystrokes that take them further away from the “R” that drives retention.

Citing the research company Forrester, notes that although 84% of firms aspire to improve customers’ experience by using CRM tools, only 20% deliver a good or great customer experience.

“CRM still treats customers as mere line-item sales prospects in a database, rather than as lifelong relationships that businesses must nurture,” notes the online magazine. The right CRM process makes relationship and retention activities easier by instantly providing your employees with essential information to assist the customer, and by simplifying data entry.

A cumbersome tool is an impediment to the process that diminishes the effectiveness of your staff, diverting attention away from the goal of doing business. A good CRM enforces its use by seamlessly partnering with employees every step of the way, capturing essential information to assist in developing enhanced relationships.

It also provides consolidated feedback to your employees from all sources, including your DMS, to keep them apprised of customer activities and service needs. Customer contact through a CRM must be easy to do, or it will never happen.

It has to become a part of your staff’s everyday routine, and not burden them to the point where they can’t deal with everyday business tasks. It is imperative for the CRM to have a high level of automation to execute a matrix of dealer-designed, preordained contact actions specific to individual customers and their status.

Advanced technology makes most of the available, essential CRM tools more affordable, so consider a CRM designed for smaller dealers that is able to help the dealership drive four key outcomes:

  • Relationship/retention;
  • Lead conversion;
  • Declined-service capture; and
  • Continuity marketing.

Let’s consider each.


Every action taken with the CRM should have the goal of relationship and retention behind it, even when updating customer records.

Data integrity is critical. notes that a third of consumer information in a business CRM “is rendered useless due to inaccuracy, outdated, duplicate, or missing data.” The site also points out that 7.6% of contacts are unreachable.

The message: Clean your database. The seeds for repeat car purchases get planted through an effective sales-to-service turnover at delivery, and this infant relationship is nurtured through positive repeat engagements with the dealership.

Use your CRM to:

  • Notify your sales team when their customers have scheduled service visits so they can drop in to say hello.
  • Use system templates (or create them) to greet customers on their birthday, seasonal holidays, and special occasions.
  • Send a handwritten “thank you” note (an example of disruptive thinking).

Lead conversion

These days, conversion begins up funnel.

Is your dealership marketing itself, its aftermarket products, and services where early shoppers might notice them? Are you marketing not just your inventory, but your online tools and other shopper-engagement devices on your website and third-party car-shopping sites?

Every study I’ve read indicates that what customers know about your dealership, they learn on line, especially prices. They had better be able to find those same answers when they visit your physical store.

And small dealerships must be as transparent, fast, and conscientious of the consumer’s time and experience as any larger dealer.

Declined-service capture

CRM-generated coupon mailers or personal phone calls, emails, or texts can bring 12% to 30% of declined-service opportunities back to the dealership.

A phone call has the highest recapture rate. This returning business adds up to several hundred dollars in additional repair order (RO) business per recaptured RO. Without the accountability given to service staff to pursue declined-service customers, these opportunities too often simply fall through the cracks.

This omission is costly waste at any time, but especially in today’s market.

Continuity marketing

Follow up service mailers and promotions with a personal phone call or email. We all know this personal follow-up improves conversion rates. Make sure customers can recall their sales associate’s name.

If the CRM you use features an employee-accountability management function, be sure to use it to monitor follow-up and other CRM uses to ensure greater system utilization and results. Intuitive automation with a minimum of user input is central to the success of a CRM program.

With the right CRM solution, it’s easier for your employees to use the system than not. It does the work of remembering your customers’ details and reminding your employees that specific, personalized follow-up is due, strengthening your relationship with your valuable customers.

Brendan Hurley is dealer principal of Hurley Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram and president of I-4 Automall in DeLand, Florida, and co-founder of Traffic Control, a fully featured CRM, ILM, and EAM (employee activity management) solution for dealerships that sell 50 to 150 vehicles a month. Visit, or contact Brendan at [email protected].

Authored by

Brendan Hurley

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