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Dos & Don’ts of Customer Experience in the Dealership Service Drive

As customer loyalty falls to historic lows, providing an excellent customer experience at your dealership is more important than ever. Loyal customers are  rare in today’s market. According to research from IHS Markit, now S&P Global Mobility, brand loyalty fell to a six-year low in 2021.

A good customer experience can be one of the most valuable automotive customer retention strategies. From building long-term relationships with customers to driving revenue through repair orders and service-to-sales opportunities, the service drive offers incredible value to building dealership loyalty. In fact, Mastermind data finds customers who service at the dealership are 2.5x more likely to purchase their next vehicle at that same dealer.

To fuel dealership customer retention and build loyalty, dealers need to ensure they’re offering an excellent customer experience in the service drive. This is especially true as customers rank their service experience as the No. 2 factor in influencing automotive brand loyalty after their sales experience.

Customer Experience Do’s

The dealership service drive has been growing increasingly important to both dealers and customers in recent years – especially amid ongoing inventory shortages. 

While the specific game plan at each dealership will look a bit different, to improve the customer experience in the dealership service department, it’s important dealers:

 Do Communicate between Dealership Departments

To capitalize on growing opportunities, dealers need to ensure their teams aren’t working in silos, fostering effective communication between service and sales.

Staying in constant, personalized, contact with these customers also dramatically improves the customer’s likelihood of purchasing. This requires dealers to improve the communication between dealership departments. 

●  Dedicate qualified personnel – like someone in the BDC – to the sales-to-service process. This person is responsible for executing service drive programs and keeping customers from falling through the cracks.

●  Communicate to your team the realities of the market. For example, how customers are keeping their cars longer and OEMs are offering fewer incentives.

●  Focus your service conquest marketing to your local community with proximity and convenience messages proactively defending against competitor’s conquest efforts.

Do Use Data to Understand Customer Buying Behaviors

While customer loyalty is often fueled by the service drive, not every service customer will be familiar with your dealership, especially as more buyers relocate. According to an industry study, 20% more Americans moved in 2021 compared to 2022, with an estimated 56% of households moving in the year.

As their customer portfolio changes, it’s increasingly important dealers use data to understand customer buying behaviors to build loyalty with both their service loyalty and service-not-sold audiences.

●  Use dealership marketing technology to mine your upcoming service appointments for the customers that represent sales and acquisition opportunities including buy-backs and trades. 

●  Check for any vehicle recalls, OEM incentive offers and other dealer-specific sales opportunities customers are likely to be interested in based on their buyer and vehicle profile.

●  Review every customer’s service and purchase history to identify patterns and purchase trajectories to engage customers before their appointment.

●  Train your service writers on how to use buyer insights to engage customers who have major repair orders, expired warranties or excessive mileage to support sales efforts.

Download the Whitepaper:
Dealership Cheat Sheet: 5-Steps to Marketing with Low or No Inventory

Do Proactively Engage Customers Across Channels

Ensuring your dealership communications are consistent online and in-person is key to improving the dealership customer experience and fueling future vehicle sales. According to a recent survey of auto buyers, 40% of consumers say they didn’t contact the dealership in their research process because the dealer didn’t include special offers in their marketing messaging.

Proactively engage customers across channels including your dealership’s digital retail environment. Deliver personalized communications at every stage of the customer journey and through every channel.

●  Leverage advanced marketing tools to map in-need customers to customers in the service drive.

●  Engage customers regularly and ahead of their scheduled appointment.

●  Leave a personalized note behind for customers who don’t end up trading that day.

Customer Experience Dont’s

Dealers can’t control every factor that influences their dealership’s customer experience – the last few years are testament to that. However, its critical dealers continue to adapt to changing consumer preferences by taking advantage of the incredible wealth of information they have at their disposal.

Don’t Pester Your Customers

When communicating with sales and service customers, it’s important to build goodwill with customers by delivering personalized, informational and consistent messaging that demonstrates why they should trust your dealership.

Remember: When it comes to their dealership service experience, respect is at the top of every customer’s mind. Every customer communication should build upon the previous touchpoint, including details related to common concerns like service delays or order status updates.

●  Don’t leverage “spray-and-pray” marketing strategies, delivering non-specific messaging to your entire customer base.

●  Don’t use deliver marketing messages that are vague, out-of-date or otherwise don’t offer any value to your customers. 

●  Don’t repeat the same info customers have heard before. Ensure your service staff is equipped with key customer insights to build on previous conversations.

2. Don’t Promise Things You Cannot Deliver

When speaking with service-to-sales and loyalty customers, sales and BDC teams need to be prepared to speak confidently. Topics to be prepared for include: current availability and incentives including providing regular updates. This requires sales and service teams to stay up-to-date on both the vehicles in your inventory and any inbound deliveries.

●  Don’t leverage “bait-and-switch” offers or advertising.

●  Don’t over promise when it comes to topics like delivery dates and repairs.  However, you should provide regular updates to offer customers a sense of transparency.

●  Don’t wait for customers to re-enter the market. Engage customers before they re-enter the buying cycle to map prospects to your dealership’s inbound deliveries.

●  Don’t work only in silos. Ensure sales and service on the same page and are working toward the same goals together for your customers.

3. Don’t Assume Loyalty Based on the Past

Dealers need to proactively promote customer loyalty to defend against competitor’s conquest efforts. This is made possible by identifying and engaging prospective buyers preparing to return to the market in the coming months.

As many dealers look to “do more with less,” the service drive offers dealers a natural opportunity to nurture customer loyalty, grow revenue from repair orders and drive future sales within their upcoming service appointments.  

●  Don’t skip opportunities to regularly engage customers throughout the customer’s ownership cycle – the retention cycle starts as soon as the sale is finalized.

●  Don’t skip confirmation notifications or follow up calls no matter how well  a sale or service appointment went.

●  Don’t forget to incentivize customer loyalty with programs like special service offers, referral bonuses or other exclusive benefits to boost customer retention.

Download the Whitepaper:
Path to Proactively Preventing Lease Buybacks


While every dealership will take a slightly different approach, ultimately delivering an excellent auto dealership customer experience in the service drive – or showroom – comes down to staying ahead of buyers’ needs.

How can dealers improve customer experience?

●  Ensure dealership departments are regularly communicating

●  Use data to understand customer buying behaviors and tailor messaging

●  Consistently and proactively engage customers across channels with personalized messaging 

While customer loyalty is diminishing amid inventory challenges, there are still plenty of opportunities available for dealers.  Even  with no or low inventory dealers can deliver an exceptional customer experience tailored to each buyer. Dealers who take a similar approach leveraging Mastermind report increased retention up to 15%.

Interested in learning how Mastermind can help your dealership increase retention and drive future sales? Contact us for a free demo.