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May 06, 2001 18:56:17
Thar's Gold in Them Email Addresses
Capturing and Updating Customer Email Addresses Can help a Dealership Strike it Rich

Michael Moskowitz

“Mining for customers.” That's a very popular phrase many dealers use today when talking about marketing techniques used to bring more customers into the dealership for service and sales. “Mining for customers” -- we use the phrase all the time at when telling dealers about our e-marketing products to boost customer retention and increase profits.

As easy as it sounds, though, contacting customers electronically can be a daunting task if you don't know exactly how to do it, especially if you don't have a system to effectively capture and update customer e-mail addresses. Without correct email addresses, your email marketing efforts are doomed. Without correct email addresses, you're a miner without a pick and shovel.

Again, I can't emphasize enough the importance of gathering and updating email addresses. Receiving customers' individual email address is like them giving you their direct phone number. Obtaining a customer's email address means you're able too take ownership of that customer, anchor him or her to your dealership and have the keys to exclusively promote dealerships sales, service and parts business. In short, boosting the bottom line with an email campaign begins with email addresses. Obvious: yes. Vital: most definitely.

And email marketing is the way for dealers to go. Where direct-mail campaigns normally yield less then a 1 percent to 2 percent response rate, we typically see our targeted email proportions generating a 5 percent to 15 percent and higher response rate. Today's customers – your customers – respond to email.

For dealers, the unique value of email is the ability to quickly send sales and marketing promotions without a 2- to 3-week lead-time. This immediately generates customer responses and drives traffic into your web site and dealership, generating sales and service revenues often the very next day.

For example, Mickey Pong, Santa Margarita Ford, ran a single email promotion to offer a special buy on van conversions. Pong sold five in a few days; he typically sells one a month. Mike Greenway, Toyota of Richardson, ran a targeted oil change email promotion to 97 of his best customers, which generated two sales the very next day and a total of 15 sales in 2 weeks. The oil change promotion also generated more than $1,400 in upsold service business!

These two cases of email marketing campaigns in action demonstrate its power. But neither would have been as successful if the dealer didn't capture and update their email addresses. Before you strike gold, you need to know where to look.

Not surprisingly, though, collecting customer email addresses is like digging for gold -- a very difficult task and one that is getting harder. First, customers are increasingly becoming more cautious about who they give their email address too. In many cases, customers believe giving out their email addresses is akin to divulging personal information such as their tax return or social security number. Customers want and need to know what their email address is going to be used for. This can get dicey for dealers and could alienate them from the customer.

Dealers don't have to call in the Marines, but help is available from several sources. For example, we've developed more than a dozen strategies for helping dealers collect customer email addresses. The key is to select those strategies that match the dealership's internal business processes and not reinvent a system just to collect email addresses. Another element, which is more important, is to give customers something in return for their email address that they benefit from.

This is where something such as the MyCarPage personal vehicle web page or another customer retention system becomes a critical component in collecting the customer's email address. It allows dealers to offer their customers something beneficial – and free – in exchange for their email address. Now the dealers have a direct link to customers through their email addresses, and customers have a free gift or service that not only helps them, but also points them back to the dealership for service work, etc.

Customer relationship management at its finest...and most profitable. But you need the email addresses for it to work. Again, not the simplest of chores. For most dealers, it is difficult because it requires some changes to the current processes. Dealers should be collecting email address at all the dealership touch points, sales, F&I, in the service drive and at the cashier's window. Reach them up where they are. And keep reaching.

The most successful dealers collect email addresses in three areas: as mentioned, in-their dealership at all the customer touch points, and also off their web site and using their existing direct mail or customer follow-up processes. In many cases, customer email addresses are hidden in the existing information collected by dealer -- you just need to know where to look. Also, you need to create the right incentives to motivate your staff to follow through and ask the customers for their emails. Have a contest, offer prizes, do whatever it takes to get them to ask for the addresses.

Once you get the addresses, have a system to store and update them. Sadly, even today, some dealer management systems have no fields to enter customer email addresses. Ouch! All I can say is come on down and join the e-revolution. If your customers have email – and most of them do – set up a system or field where these profitable nuggets, i.e., their email addresses, can be entered, found, updated and used.

That's used, not abused. Remember, too many emails to your customers will turn them off. Use the email addresses wisely. Treat them like gold, because they are.

Once you have the email address, you must keep it updated. Like their work or home addresses, customers do change their email addresses as well. About the only good thing about an outdated email address is that it bounces back to you immediately, instead of direct mail where it could take several weeks and trips around the globe to discover it's wrong. Email is cheaper too. Much cheaper.

The point here is that customer email addresses need to be updated and kept current. Dealers need to constantly research if their customers' info is correct and should update it when it changes, immediately. You just need the right tools.

Mining for customers may be easy to say, but as all dealers know, it's a difficult process. However, by collecting customer emails addresses, dealers have a new tool to strike it rich through email promotions. Just don't wait until the vein is tapped out.

About the Author: Michael Moskowitz is the president and founder of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Interval, Inc. (dba which specializes in the development of Internet-based Customer Relationship Management tools that build long-term relationships between consumers and their dealers. and its services, MyCarPage™, Prospector™ and the Customer Value Matrix™, allows dealers to take ownership of their customers, quickly build an email marketing database and effectively generate significant incremental revenue.





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