Customers like to be rewarded and the more you reward them, the more loyal they become.

One of the OEMs has an new loyalty program in which their dealers will soon need to decide whether or not to sign up for it. I commend the OEM for recognizing how important it is to design this program for their dealers. Their reason for starting it was to “incentivize customers to spend more money, more frequently.”

A friend of mine asked me to look at the program and compare it to the dealer-owned program he is currently using. Here’s how they stack up.

How easy is it to join?
OEM: Every customer is not automatically enrolled. They have to sign up and join the program.

Dealer Owned: Every customer (new and used) is enrolled in the program as soon as they buy a car or come in for a service visit.

Is there a cost to the program?
OEM: Yes, some dealers will pay $1,000 a year, and all will pay 2 percent of every repair order of a member. This money will be used toward the rewards points and the OEM will match at 1 percent. After five years the points will expire, and the dealer will not participate in the reserve.

Dealer Owned: The dealer decides how much he wants his points to be worth, and how much he wants to spend to administer the program. The two biggest differences seem to be the money for the points reserved stays in house and all of the reserve belongs to the dealer.

How do members earn points?
OEM: Customers can earn points in a variety of ways. Enrollment, CPO purchase, vehicle purchase, customer pay service and the in-vehicle safety and security service, to name a few. They earn a different voucher for each component.

Dealer Owned: The dealer designs how he wants the points to be used, when he wants them to expire and how to combine them to be the most effective.

How do members redeem points?
OEM: The member has to download a voucher, which has an expiration date on it, bring it to the service drive, present it to the service writer, who then looks it up and redeems it. This voucher then needs to be submitted to the OEM for redemption before it expires. If it expires, the dealer has to pay for the points again.

Dealer Owned: The customer comes in, redeems his points on his app in front of the service writer.

Can I customize the program?
OEM: No, dealer-specific enhancements are not available at launch.

Dealer Owned: Yes, the rewards program can be tied into your digital marketing and your app with the intent to drive customer behavior. You can also enhance the program by adding other features like prepaid maintenance or bundling products to the rewards card.

Is Training Offered?
OEM: Training will be available only on a special website.

Dealer Owned: In-house monthly training for all service and sales staff.

So, as I see the breakdown, there are benefits to both. The good thing is the customer will win in the end no matter which program you use.

One word of caution, if you decide to go with a factory program, since the dealer does not participate in the reserve, you might want to ask an administrator to keep track of the points you are giving out to your customers. The breakdown is two to one, dealer cost versus the OEM. You need to make sure your customers are redeeming at least 66 percent of their points or you will be losing some serious money.

In the pilot program, only 20-some percent of the points were redeemed. Another benefit of having an independent administrator overlooking your program is, unlike a dealer-owned program, every dealer in town will have the same rewards program. You can greatly enhance your branding opportunity by not only tracking point usage but also adding other features to your factory rewards card to separate you from the pack. The cost to administer this is a fraction of what the benefits will be.

Creating loyalty to your business is not always easy. As you can see, there are a variety of ways to accomplish it. One person wants to have their own branding message and control over that message. The other person wants a more traditional footprint in their marketplace. The important thing is, we are now building our business on repeat customers who appreciate our service.

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Jack Garrity

Vice President Sales BIO

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