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Turn Customer Nights Into Actionable Insights

by Mike Esposito, president and CEO


Customer Nights hosted by auto dealerships have always been around, but recently there seems to be a resurgence in their popularity. Many customer loyalty advocates recommend hosting these events as a way to connect with and show appreciation for customers.


True loyalty is created when your customers:


1) Have a great experience when they visit your dealership

2) Continue having a relationship with your dealership after they leave


The second part of this equation is where many dealerships fail. Sending customers a series of automated emails after they purchase from you does not qualify as building a relationship. This is where Customer Nights come in.


After purchasing a car or after getting a car serviced, select customers are invited back to the dealership to meet with senior management and staff. Typically, some educational aspect is involved; perhaps a tour of the service department, or seminar or workshop of some kind.


Many dealers go all out and offer dinner, drinks, prizes or raffles and even music.


These are all great things to do and fun for the customers. But for all the money spent on Customer Nights, dealers should be asking themselves what, if anything, the dealership is getting out of it!


The primary purpose of a Customer Night is to build relationships with customers and therefore win their loyalty.


And what is at the root of every great relationship? Anyone…anyone?


If you said “listening,” congratulations! What greater way is there to make your customers feel appreciated than to ask them questions and actually listen to their answers? I believe many dealers are overlooking the integration of this important relationship-building process into their Customer Nights.


When I was a general manager of a large dealership, I hosted Customer Nights. But I also went a step further and turned them into focus groups.
I would typically invite around a dozen customers. We’d order pizza, sit around the conference table and I would ask questions about their purchasing or servicing experience at the dealership.


I made it clear before we began that all dealership employees needed to check their egos at the door and no finger pointing was allowed. I also told our customers that nobody would be fired as a result of anything they said. The purpose of the focus group is to identify areas where there is room for improvement.


Before the group met, I’d develop a list of 10 questions or so. What did they like about the process? What didn’t they like about the process? What did they think of the test-drive process? What did they think about our waiting room?


I did a series of these focus groups every few weeks. We tracked all of the suggestions and feedback. If we heard the same thing from three or four different customers, we knew that was an issue we should address.


We ended up getting a lot of great feedback from our customers, especially concerning issues that we had never even thought about. One example was that there wasn’t an obvious designated spot for car shoppers to park their cars. Another example was that many of our customers did not enjoy the test drive experience; not because of the cars or the salespeople, but because of the route we took them on! It wasn’t the most attractive route, so we created a new one.


Sometimes the small things can really make a difference. And our customers were thrilled that we actually listened to them and made changes based on their suggestions.


Another opportunity I believe some dealers are missing during Customer Nights is on the educational front. Some dealers are doing this. They teach the basics of maintenance, such as what needs to be done when, how to check oil levels, how to change a tire, etc.


A while ago, I leased a new vehicle and the only thing I really needed help with was how to operate my radio. You can’t just push a button any more! Today’s infotainment systems have become so complicated that my dashboard looks like a spaceship. My dealer friend and I had a few good laughs as he tried to show me what to do—and then had to recruit someone to show him what to do!


My new car also has a feature that nudges me to the center of the lane if I drift toward the edge. The wheel moves by itself! The first time it happened was a little unsettling. My car also sends me emails telling me how it feels on a daily basis (as if I don’t get enough emails already).


I believe that educating customers about these new technologies, including how to select what emails you’d like to get or not get, would be hugely helpful to customers.


Again, ask your customers what they want to know, or wished they knew, when they purchase a vehicle. Then create and offer those classes for future Customer Nights.


I encourage dealers to add a focus group and educational “how to” sessions to their Customer Nights. The insights gained are valuable for the dealership and will go a long way toward building relationships and loyal customers.

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