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Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s the best way.
That’s how Auto House Tempe has approached its business model. The car dealership, with four locations throughout the Phoenix, Arizona metro area, set out to make the traditionally tedious process of buying a simple, pleasant, and fun car car.
Vice President of Marketing Sarah Barr said, “Auto House is on a mission to change people’s minds about buying cars. Everybody has a horror story about one time they went to a big box dealer, and they were either treated horribly or the car was a different price than they were told or whatever. And that is just not how we roll at Auto House.”
Yelp reviewer Amber P. heard about Auto House through a friend’s recommendation—the coveted word-of-mouth marketing so many businesses want but can’t seem to receive. She was skeptical at first. Could car buying be as easy as her friend said?
According to her 5-star review, it was. “Best car buying experience ever. Couldn’t be happier to find a place where car buying is as it should be. We spent a total of maybe one hour on the site and that’s because we were chatting. Curry did all of our financing and negotiating while we were home enjoying our Sunday. We shopped online, test drove, and he did all the work. I’m amazed at the deal we got. He worked a low percentage with a cool credit union and made the process actually pleasant. We will never buy anywhere else again.”
Auto House found a way to tap into a very established market—full of giant car companies—and make their own unique mark in the industry. They’ve also gathered loyal customers who act as advocates on their behalf, bringing in new customers without Auto House spending a dime in marketing budgets. But that doesn’t mean those referrals weren’t hard-earned.
Sarah knows the business relies on both reviews and repeat customers, so she and team work hard to keep both. “The only way to earn that is to treat people right. And you gotta treat them right the first time, the second time, the third time, from the beginning to the end. That’s what we strive to do. And that’s how we feel that we’re changing people’s minds and perceptions about this industry.”
One of the ways Auto House’s sales team works to change the perceptions of car dealerships is by building lasting relationships with its customers, getting to know them, their needs, their families.
Like many people, Amber fought the idea of buying a minivan, until her trusted car advisor, Curry, convinced her otherwise. He used a technique that would be unheard of at many larger dealerships. He gave her the car to test drive for a full day.
“We’ve got three kids. It’s not the worst thing in the world to think about a minivan. Of course, in my head, I’m not a minivan person. And this was a Saturday morning. We had soccer that afternoon. Curry said, take the car, take it to soccer for your game. That’s what you’re going to be using it for. If you go to the soccer game and this isn’t the best thing ever, bring it back, we’ll look for something different,” she said.
Amber was a soccer mom and used her van like any soccer mom would, which converted her into the minivan person she insisted she wasn’t.
That was their second of now five cars purchased from Auto House, so Amber has certainly established herself as a loyal customer. She attributes her repeat business not just to the ease of purchasing, but to the actual relationship her family has developed with her auto consultant.
“My husband and I will have multiple cars, and like a car, it is a relationship. This is something that people go back to over and over in their lives. And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a trusted advisor. I don’t know why it is any other way,” she said. “This is a financial commitment. I’m putting my trust, my safety, everything. I that I think is paramount to this is that you have a business who takes it seriously and said, this is not a customer. This is a relationship. It’s that feeling. It’s that feeling that it’s personal. We are their customers as much as they’re our car people.”
Building repeat business can also lead to better reviews, as customers build loyalty and trust with your business. For most businesses, reviews are important not just for the information they provide, but for reinforcing the recommendations from word-of-mouth marketing.
“If your neighbor down the street tells you that they had a great experience at Auto House and you should go there because they know you’re looking for a car, your first step is still going to be to look Auto House up on the internet ,” said Sarah. “And if Auto House has a 1-star rating, you’re going to be like, well, is the whole internet off its rocker or is my neighbor off their rocker? Right? Something doesn’t add up here. But if you go online, and there’s 3,000 reviews, and there was an average of four-and-a-half or five stars, now everything makes sense. And that referral has credibility now because the reviews are in place.”
Referrals, good reviews, and loyal customers are absolutely crucial to small business success, now more than ever. As Sarah said, “We no longer as brands get to dictate how clients relate to us. The customer gets to dictate that now. 30 years ago it was totally different. You had TV and radio and the newspaper, and that’s how you advertised. But now it’s so relational. Everything is so highly targeted. When you’re looking at your client base, you have to show up for them where they want you to be.”
Auto House Tempe shares these tips that any small business could apply to build a solid word-of-mouth marketing foundation:
Shake up the market you’re in and be something different. Think of the unique ways your business could differ from your competitors—no idea is too big or too small.
Take care of your customers, and they’ll take care of you. Customers who feel appreciated and valued can lead to additional free word-of-mouth marketing, beyond reviews and referrals.
Relationship building is essential to customer loyalty. You can’t put a price tag on relationships built. Invest the time to genuinely get to know your clients.
Keep up with the ever changing marketing world. Marketing tactics are always evolving, so stay up on the latest trends and customer behaviors.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Amber and Sarah, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviews every Thursday.