Lin Lei - Chairman, TNS Sinotrust

Monitoring and improving relationships with customers is the very simple solution to that question. Brands and dealers who remain keenly focused on the close ties with customers and who monitor satisfaction levels will have the best chance at retaining valuable customers, improving brand awareness and attracting new buyers.

With increasingly fierce competition in the auto market, automakers are urged to intensify the management and control of dealers. Meanwhile dealers, with their better understanding of service, can’t avoid to constantly re-imagine the needs of demanding consumers. As a result of this competition, the end consumer may feel that the services they enjoy today are markedly better than years ago.

Despite these developments, we are still hearing apathetic consumer feedback: “I am quite satisfied with the dealer, but if you ask me whether I would come again, I would say ‘depends’ or ‘maybe not’”. Our latest survey also indicates that in the past two years the after-sales market is losing customers, with some well-known brands even experiencing a loss rate of 50 percent. This highlights a basic concept: satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal. Satisfaction is of course an important influencer when it comes to loyalty, but not the only one.

Then what else can we do to retain fickle customers?

We believe the answer lies in the constant monitoring and improvement of the relationship between brands, dealers and customers. Close relationships encourage re-purchases, cross-purchases and stronger advocacy, and, in return, bring in sustained and stable revenue. But how do we measure these relationships and the strength of the ties? TNS Sinotrust suggests three key steps:

  1. Firstly, status of the current customer base needs to be assessed, namely whether the relationship is strong or weak. In addition to this, we can identify what percentage is loyal, how many are wavering and which customers are about to be ex-customers. This benchmark allows us to set a target for improvement. Our goal is to convert as many wavering and ’about to be lost’ customers into loyal ones as possible.

  2. Next, we need to find out the sources of customer loss, analyse the reasons behind it and explore the opportunities and methods of retaining customers. Understanding where these customers go once they stop using the business in question is crucial. What competitors are stealing your customers and which one is the biggest threat? Further, by analysing the customers of such competitors, we can interpret which customers are more likely to be won back and which should be abandoned. It is then possible to understand what truly matters to your customers and focus on optimising the experiences they value most in order to draw them back. This can be anything – from service attitude to length of waiting time. In addition, we recommend casting the net wider, in order to understand the broader socio-economic factors that affect consumer choices, from living environment to behavioural characteristics. This helps ensure the offering is finely aligned to the needs of the customer.

  3. Lastly, we need to devise a clear orientation to guide future work. Based on the information we obtain through the deep analysis, coupled with our expertise in the industry, we formulate feasible action plans for businesses. As part of this process, we consider the key factors that influence customer loyalty most as well as what matters most to customers in the current competition profile.

At TNS Sinotrust, we define this research model as TR*M. With it, we can help automakers target their wavering customers, identify the reasons behind these developments, confirm the threats and biggest competitors and then identify the opportunities to win back customers and outline direction and focus of future work.