LAS VEGAS – Sit back, relax and enjoy the dealership. The Weins dealership group isn’t quite saying that to customers, but it is doing its own take on something else from the airline industry: the boarding pass.

The Weins version resembles what fliers get. But instead of flight information, the dealership’s boarding pass contains “everything a customer needs to keep an appointment,” says e-commerce manager Robert Karbaum.

Weins sends the e-passes to people who schedule showroom appointments through a call center. “It is designed for mobile devices, it’s interactive and it’s fun,” says Karbaum.

The boarding pass is no dud of an idea. It’s clever enough to win top prize in a best-idea contest at this year’s DrivingSales Executive Summit here.

Karbaum cites nearly a 70% increase in kept appointments across the 7-franchise metro Toronto dealership group since the program began in March. Weins plans to expand the idea to the service department.

The boarding passes contain click icons to call the dealership, get directions and add online-calendar entries.

An email function gets a lot of use. “We receive many emails through the boarding passes,” Karbaum says. “Customers use it to reschedule. Better they do that than not show up and leave a salesperson sitting there.”

Airlines build customer obligation with boarding passes, Karbaum tells WardsAuto. “We try to do the same thing. Building obligation increases your appointment-show ratio.”

Call-center phone operators who slate appointments tell customers what the boarding pass is and to expect to receive one. Explaining that is important, because otherwise, an emailed pass could get lost in the shuffle or end up in a junk-mail file, Karbaum says.

He has created a website, www.appointmentboardingpass.com, containing free instructions and a template for interested dealerships.

He receives $3,000 for the entry judged as the best of five presented at the contest sponsored by Cobalt, an online marketer. “I’m surprised I won, because a lot of the other presenters were fantastic,” he says.

Runners-up and their ideas:

  • Zak Freed, e-commerce director at McCombs Automotive, wins $2,000 for an online initiative that encourages people to sell their cars to the San Antonio-based dealership group.
    It is a way for the group to replenish its used-car inventory. “The goal is to find the right vehicle, the right person and the right process that can cut a check fast, if a title is free and clear,” he says. “We buy about 25% of the cars from people we talk to. Usually, a price-difference issue prevents the consummation of a sale.”
  • Earning $1,000 for her “Picture-Perfect Reputation Management” presentation is Megan Barto, marketing director for Ciocca Honda. The Florida store spent $650 on electronic picture frames. Those are loaded with screen shots of positive customer reviews and photos of smiling buyers with newly purchased cars.
    The picture frames are put on salespeople’s desks so seated shoppers can see the images that change at 10-second intervals. “Everything about selling cars involves a strategy,” Barto says. “This one is cheap, quick and easy. It’s better than having copies of Car and Driver on a desk.”
  • Mark Brady, chief technology and marketing officer at Fisher Honda-Kia in Boulder, CO, collects $1,000 for an effort that involves shifting to all-digital advertising and measuring the return on investment and leads-to-converted-sales ratios through data analysis.
    It is important to look at actionable leads,” he says, adding that the tracking also evaluates email campaign results and holds third-party lead providers more accountable.
  • Another $1,000 winner is Jason Stum, digital marketing manager for the LaFontaine Automotive Group in metro Detroit, for a presentation called “How To Visualize Big Data in the Dealership.”
    The initiative exports spreadsheet customer information and converts it into graphics, maps and other easier-to-understand visuals.
    “We have (customer-relationship management computer systems) loaded with big data waiting to be analyzed,” he says. “This allows us to make smarter marketing decisions.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com