When customers drive off in their newly purchased vehicles, there is a sense of joy and accomplishment at dealerships, as well as some high-fives here and there.

But what happens afterward is taking on greater importance. That’s why dealers “need to provide not only a positive pre-purchase experience but also a positive post-purchase experience,” says Matt Murray, director-enterprise sales for Dealer.com.

Fostering customer loyalty is not new. But it has become vital for the auto industry, largely because of the phenomenal growth and use of social media.  

“Does social media have an impact on our business?” Murray asks. Definitely, say the results of a Dealer.com survey of 2,000 people who recently bought a vehicle or were in the market for one.   

Twenty-seven percent said they use Facebook as a direct part of the buying process. That ranges from researching products to reading dealer reviews.

Moreover, many consumers also rely on Facebook, Twitter and other social-media channels for advice and information related to their after-purchase car ownership, Murray says. “Are we arming them with the tools they need to have a positive post-purchase experience?

“For people on Facebook to say they ‘like’ us, we must give them something of value after the purchase,” he says during a WardsAuto webinar entitled “Keep Your Dealership Ahead of the Curve.”

“It’s not necessarily a matter of giving stuff away, but of lowering the cost of ownership,” Murray says.

Dealers can do that by providing Facebook followers and the like exclusive offers; information on cost savings, such as how to attain greater fuel efficiency; and invitations to drives, rallies and special events.

“Adjust the focus from winning new customers to fostering loyal customers who are more likely to return to the dealership,” Murray says.

People who are brand- and dealership-loyal use social media more for online research as car shoppers and owners, according to the study.

“If they like a brand, they tend to have more Facebook friends as well,” Murray says. “It is good for referral business.”

Dealers should readily ask customers to “like” them on Facebook, but often hesitate to do that.

When people surveyed were asked if they ever had been invited to connect to an auto brand or dealership via social media, only 25% said yes. Yet, of those, 82% said they followed through with the request.

“It reminds me of a reluctance a few years ago to ask customers for email addresses, thinking people wouldn’t give those, that it was too personal of a request,” Murray says. “We found out otherwise.”

While social media influences car buyers, it does not take the place of selling a vehicle. That’s where the dealership comes in.

More than 90% of people surveyed say the test drive is the most influential information source. Social media stokes customer service, but “the sale is completed at the dealership,” Murray says. “You don’t want to build up brand equity and then lose it at the sale.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com