LOS ANGELES – Regular service-department customers offer double value to dealerships.

One, they boost store profits, says Jennee Julius, an advertising and incentive manager for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

Two, 86% of people who regularly take their cars to a particular dealership for service work eventually repurchase a vehicle from that store.

That’s why the auto maker has created the Toyota Owner Communication Program. It is a marketing initiative intended to keep in touch with customers “using the right channel at the right time with the right message, and deliver compelling offers,” Julius says.

She calls it a customer-centric initiative offering relevant information such as service reminders, specials and discount offers that foster customer loyalty. Messages are personalized and vehicle-specific. Customers choose their preferred channel of communication.

It’s important to stay in touch, but Toyota tries not to overdo it, Julius says here at the Automotive Customer Centricity Summit hosted by Thought Leadership Summits.

In the past, the auto maker was “overcommunicating with customers or helping our dealers overcommunicate, Julius says.

Indiscriminately churning out email blasts doesn’t make it, says Glenn Kashima, parts and service director at Tustin Toyota in Tustin, CA.

“We got rid of extraneous messages,” he says. “That way, I don’t get calls from customers saying, ‘I just had my car serviced there, why are you sending me a service reminder?’”

The program is careful to avoid that, but determined to contact customers throughout the ownership of their vehicles. “We follow all the way through the cycle,” Julius says.

Customers who respond to service reminders, book appointments and keep them go to the top of the list and are contacted more often, she says. “We determine the best customers from the ones who won’t come in at all.”

Kashima adds, “We need to stay in front of the customer, letting them know they are due for service, especially if they missed a scheduled maintenance visit.”

The program systematically tracks customer response rates and generates reports on who did and didn’t keep appointments. Kashima reviews that information weekly for his dealership.

“You need a dealer organization that believes in parts and service,” he says.

About half of Toyota’s 1,200 dealers are part of the program, Julius says. “A lot of dealers who opt out have business relationships with other (customer-relationship management) vendors or are dealers who are very good marketers and can do it on their own.

“On the other hand, we have dealers who are very busy. This program helps them come up to speed.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com