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The Secret to Customer Retention

illustration on a man hugging his car
Article Highlights:

  • Make your messages relevant, transparent, authentic, and consistent.
  • Show customers your dealership comes with some added value.

Customer loyalty has been a challenge for the auto industry for years now, and these days, there’s another factor influencing our fickle shoppers—where they can find inventory (not to mention whoever can offer them inventory at the lowest price).

So when your customers enter the market for a new car, what can you do to bring them back to you?

With little control over current inventory levels (or pricing, if you want to maintain profits), you need to look closely at what a modern car buying process feels like from your customers’ perspectives to find the answer. And believe it or not, there is a way to show customers that doing business with your dealership comes with some added value, even if you don’t (currently) have the car they desire in stock.

These seemingly small, yet crucial details can make all the difference in your customers’ eyes.


“I love it when I get emails for products that don’t matter to me!” said no one ever.

The buying process is a series of interactions between you and your customers, and the harsh truth is you only get one real shot at leaving a good impression.

          Who knew that sending one poorly targeted or poorly messaged email blast to the wrong audience could have led to massive unsubscribes, spam notifications, and 1-star Google reviews?

Problem identified: your message went to everyone vs. to a targeted audience. To name a few, your message went out to:

  • All of your lease customers (some of which have over a year left on their current lease)
  • People who have no need, reason, or desire for a new car at the moment (aka the farthest from buyer’s mode a customer can be)
  • All of your sedan owners (and also, that includes some who just traded their sedans for an SUV)

In other words, that message you sent was just not relevant to a significant portion of recipients.

We’ve heard the stories. It happens. But it’s soon to be 2023, and the tools exist for you to succeed in your customer communications. There is no excuse not to be extremely relevant to your customers—and they know it. Focus on the quality of your marketing messages, not the quantity of them. You want customers to read your messages, not mark them as spam or unsubscribe.

Need a place to start? Work on segmenting your audience based on wants, needs, and interests. Consider what they currently own, what they might want to own, what their vehicle’s service intervals are, and what stage of life they may be in. Doing this often means reaching out to less people per message, but it ensures that customers are getting the content they’d most like to see (and what will most likely build to a future sale).


We’ve all seen an image of the stereotypical used car salesman—he’s greedy, pushy, dishonest, and uses way too much hair product.

If this stereotype exists to show us anything, it’s that your customers don’t want to feel duped when making important financial decisions.

Throwing together a whole bunch of buzzwords can get your dealership noticed, but that attention will lead to nothing if your audience doesn’t understand what you are conveying. Look at your marketing materials, and ask yourself if the message you’re conveying is clear and easy to understand, or if it’s vague and leaves room for misinterpretation.

          Stop by for BIG savings! We won’t say any more about what that might mean; you’ll just have to come in and see…

Problem identified: customers are weary of clickbait offers and other vague “opt-in with your contact info first” CTAs. They’re not interested in gimmicks to get a price or a payment or to know if they qualify for an offer. Even worse, let’s say you get them to play along and then provide them with nothing substantial. They’re going to leave with a bad taste in their mouths (one that they’ll often share with others).

Transparency is important across other areas of your dealership as well.

Everyday processes for you (such as completing important documents or qualifying for certain incentives) may not be as widely understood by your customers. Be sure that your staff is able and willing to answer questions and address concerns as necessary.


When your dealership has its own distinct personality, people can’t help but take notice. Adding a human element to your marketing is an easy (and fun) way to stand out from your competitors and to give your customers a better idea of what your dealership stands for.

          We’re nice people; just take our word for it!

Problem identified: you can’t just tell your customers who you are, you have to walk the walk. Show customers who your dealership really is by doing things like:

  • Adding a joke (or maybe even a pun) into your emails or mail pieces
  • Participate in popular social trends by doing a TikTok dance or creating a meme
  • Turn to video content, when possible, instead of using a written form of communication
  • Send an eNewsletter, complete with any interesting articles or local news you’d like to share with your customer base


As consumers, we’ve all been in this situation—you show up for a scheduled appointment, and it’s as if all that information you plugged in upfront was done in vain. You have to repeat all of the information you originally provided, including your personal information, reason for appointment, etc.

          Ugh, don’t be that business. It’s bad enough at the doctor’s office…

Having a clean and updated database can make a HUGE difference when it comes to knowing who your customers are when they walk through your door. If a customer comes to you for service, you want finding their information to be quick, easy, seamless, and exactly where you’d expect it to be in your systems when that customer shows up at your door.

It’s equally important to be consistent when following up with your customers you haven’t seen in a while.

  • When a loyal customer misses a service interval, send them a message to remind them about the importance of regular maintenance.
  • Add a few personal touches (such as mentioning the specific car your records indicate needs servicing or a brief note from their regular service advisor) to make sure that your customers see added benefits to coming back to you.

There’s added value in how you treat your customers that can and will influence customer loyalty to your business—especially in times when inventory plays such a big role in how customers choose what dealership to do business with.

Working to ensure that your messages are relevant, transparent, authentic, and consistent is key to boosting your retention rate. A steady pattern of positive interactions can show your customers that you have something to offer them that they can’t get elsewhere, regardless of current inventory.

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Mollie Swygart is a marketing communications professional at Reynolds and Reynolds. She is an expert on Reynolds’ suite of cutting-edge marketing products, their functionalities, and how they can be utilized to improve dealership success. Mollie received her Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art and English from Marietta College. She also obtained an Associate’s Degree in Marketing from Rhodes State College.

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