Word of mouth marketing is estimated to account for approximately $6 trillion in annual consumer spending. Cultivating consumer recommendations and customer advocates can result in 5x more sales for your dealership than paid advertising.

Don’t discount the positive effect that your customers can have on bringing in new sales for your dealership. Consider implementing the tips discussed in this article on how customer advocates can help expand the reach of your dealership.

How to Create a Great Customer Experience

Using customer advocates can play a vital role in increasing sales. However, before you start implementing a customer advocate program at your dealership, you need to figure out how to create a great customer experience.

If you aren’t providing excellent service, you will have trouble getting any of your customers to become advocates for you. Create a more enjoyable customer experience at every customer interaction… starting online all the way until they arrive at your dealership by taking the following steps:

  • Design a User-Friendly Website – Google research shows that 40% of consumers watch a video about a vehicle before visiting a dealership. Creating a great customer experience starts with providing a superior user experience (UX) on your website and online ads to draw customers to your dealership. Keep current inventory listings, show accurate pricing, showcase comprehensive vehicle performance features, and provide comparison guides.
  • Improve the Initial Sales Experience – No customer wants to invest hours of their time at a dealership during the vehicle purchasing process. Approximately 56% of car shoppers still walk into a dealership for their first contact with a dealership. Make the initial sales experience easy and streamlined. Make sure you hire quality salespeople to meet the demand of customers visiting your dealership. Deliver a sales experience that satisfies and creates a great start to an extended customer lifecycle. 
  • Create a Superior Waiting Room Experience – Whether a customer is walking onto your lot for the first time or bringing in their vehicle for routine service, make the waiting room experience positive. Provide beverages and snacks. Offer free, fast, reliable WiFi, and comfortable seating.
  • Cultivate Trust in Your Dealership – Make sure to educate your salespeople on all of the vehicles you sell. Cultivate confidence in your dealership by showing consumers that everyone working at your dealership – from the receptionist to the salespeople to mechanics in the service department – know their stuff. Provide educational resources about your vehicles that will instill confidence in customers.
  • Offer Great Incentives – Let your customers know how valuable they are to you. Offer them great incentives like a free first oil change, rebates, dealer rewards, finance incentives, and other discounts. The right incentives can improve customer loyalty and help open the door for dealer advocates.

How to Use Customer Advocates Effectively

Getting repeat traffic to your website or blog and increasing the number of people that visit your dealership lot is excellent. However, if that online and foot traffic is not growing your vehicle sales, you’re not expanding the reach of your dealership. 

Use customer advocates effectively by implementing the following action steps:

1. Plan Your Advocate Strategy

You need to have a specific plan in place, or using customers for word of mouth marketing won’t work. Sure, you’ll still get positive reviews online and generate more traffic through customer referrals. However, if you want to optimize the potential of working with customer advocates, you need to implement a specific strategy. 

Answer the following questions:

  • What goals do you have with this customer advocate program?
  • What Key Performance Indicators (KPI) will you implement?
  • Do you have a concrete way to measure the ROI on this program?
  • What evaluation process will you implement to ensure viability?

2. Implement a Customer Advocate Program

Invesp research has found that 88% of consumers rely on word of mouth marketing from a trusted friend or family member. Implement a customer advocate program that expands the reach of your dealership by bringing in new customers more likely to complete a vehicle purchase.

Think about the following benefits of implementing a customer advocate program:

  • Customer Loyalty – Reward customers participating in this program with added incentives when they refer new customers. When you reward customers for simply sharing how much they loved your dealership, this further cements the growth of their lifecycle with you.
  • Repeat Business – Customers participating in your advocate program are more likely to purchase another vehicle from your dealership in the future. That means you’re getting repeat business from them, as they “work” for you to bring in new customers.
  • Solid Foundation – The professional relationship you have with the referred customer will be on a solid foundation since someone in their circle of trust referred – and highly recommended them. It also makes the sales process easier for your salespeople because trust is at the center.

3. Connect with Individual Advocates

Your customer advocate program will include the same benefits and set of rules for all individuals. Just remember to see each advocate as an individual with specific needs and lifestyle. Consider some of the ways to get to know individual advocates better:

  • Onboarding – Make the initial onboarding process simple and fun. Schedule a phone call or in-person meeting with the new advocate to review the program and get to know them. Find out what drew them to your dealership and why they decided to purchase a vehicle from you. Ask them how their sales experience was and find out if there were any issues with the sales team or service department.

Since they have agreed to become a customer advocate, it’s unlikely that they’ve experienced any significant issues with your dealership. However, asking them shows that you care about their experience and the experience of any future customers they might refer to you.

  • Profile Cards – Create customer advocate profile cards detailing various factors like demographics, interests, background, vehicle purchase history, and any other relevant information that can help your marketing team better connect with them.

Depending on your current marketing strategy and technology capabilities, you can opt for cardstock profile cards or online profile cards through tools like Microsoft Office 365 or Square Up.

  • Testimonials – Interview all participants in the advocate program to identify any powerful testimonies that can be used for marketing purposes and compiled into case studies. These testimonials can be highly effective in your marketing strategy since the customers are sharing their personal experiences with your dealership and why others should purchase there.

4. Offer a Great Reward System

Sure, these advocates love your dealership brand and want to share their personal experiences with you. If you offer a reward system, you can increase the profitability of your advocate program. Better rewards will incentivize customers.

Tesla created a referral program that offered advocates a $1,000 discount on a vehicle purchase for both the advocate and the referred customer (always make sure you check your local State laws regarding referral programs and incentives). If that advocate referred ten new customers, they had the opportunity to purchase a limited Founder Series of the Tesla Model X that was not currently available to the public. The first advocate that referred ten customers got that Model X for free. 

Your dealership may not be able to offer such a lucrative reward system to your customer advocates. But don’t let that discourage you from getting started. 

Find out what will work best with your dealership and offer advocates rewards that will continue to cultivate their brand loyalty and incentivize them to bring in more customers.

5. Cultivate a Community Culture

Developing a community culture is an integral factor in fostering growth in your customer advocate program. You don’t want to onboard customers to this program and have them lose interest because they don’t hear from you or your marketing team.

These advocates will be more likely to appreciate interacting with your other advocates than with your marketing team. Cultivate a community culture by implementing the following:

  • Facebook – Start a private Facebook group that is only visible to other customer advocates and the admin team. Make the group fun and interactive. Have the administrator of the group encourage interaction among members. Use the group as a streamlined way to share administrative news from the dealership, while also cultivating bonds with your advocate group.
  • Twitter Chats – Host a Twitter Chat with your advocates and educate them on topics like the top five newly released vehicles, or the importance of regular oil changes and tire rotations for their cars. These chats won’t be private for members only like the Facebook group. However, that can work in your favor. Others can see the conversation, which provides free promotion.
  • In-Person – Host events at your dealership or other locations like a hotel or restaurant to encourage interaction among your advocates. Provide food since everyone loves a free meal. Host a guest speaker such as an executive from the auto manufacturer to educate advocates on new vehicle debuts.

6. Always Focus on the Advocate

Remember to focus on the customer advocate and not your dealership. That may seem counter-intuitive to your goals of getting more customers. However, if you focus too much on your dealership, and not enough on how the program will benefit the advocates, you’ll risk losing them as a valuable marketing tool.

  • Treat them like the invaluable goldmine that they are.
  • Give them a reason to continue advocating for the dealership.
  • Never force them into promoting your vehicles and brand.

When you treat these advocates right, they’ll reciprocate. Your customer advocates are smart. They’ll see this as an opportunity to share about your dealership and get valuable incentives. 

However, most of them will participate because they genuinely value your dealership and have had a great customer experience. Optimize that experience, and you may get an advocate for life.

Start Using Customer Advocates for Expanded Reach

Expand the reach of your dealership by implementing a customer advocate program. Make sure you are delivering excellent service throughout all touchpoints with your dealership, so you are cultivating positive relationships with customers. 

That will help you to find customer advocates who are motivated to improve your word of mouth marketing. Let the J&L Marketing team help you integrate some of these customer advocate tips for expanded reach.