Most dealership service departments realize the importance of marketing to their customers. The question is do they "push" the products or services to their customers or do they create a "demand" (need) and subsequently have the customers ask for it. Both approaches should be utilized to maximize effectiveness and profitability.

"Product Push" is when the service advisor/technician recommends the replacement or repairing of needed items on a customer's car.

This is clearly the most common way of informing the customer what is needed for his/her automobile. Let's explore for a moment the more uncommon methods of marketing and promoting back-end products/services.

Demand pull, for instance, creates a need (demand) in the customer's eyes and consequently prompts the consumer to ask (demand) for a particular product.

Years ago when the aluminum industry wanted to get more soda pop manufacturers to use aluminum instead of tin they established a demand-pull approach to have the consumer demand their pop in aluminum cans. This advertising approach was not targeted at Coke or Pepsi, but instead at the consumer.

Aluminum companies instilled the benefits of their product, which included lighter weight, and improved recycle and thermal properties. Nowadays, all we see are aluminum cans, this approach paid off - in spades.

How can today's service departments implement a demand-pull approach to their wares? They could implement a consistent monthly or quarterly customer car care clinic. Some dealerships call them new-customer nights. The benefits to putting these public relations gatherings together are many.

It is a great way to educate customers about the inner workings of their vehicles. Such as, the importance of regular maintenance, or what is/isn't covered by warranty, or why dealerships treat every new car to a pre-delivery inspection?

Customers want to be educated about their cars' inner workings. After all, not every customer knows that accessories put on through the dealer will still be covered by the manufacturer's three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty.

The important aspect is getting to know your customers on a more personal basis. Having two to three hours with your newest customers should create a more personal touch with the consumer when they come in for maintenance or repair work.

Berni Mcquade at Honda West in Calgary has been a Honda Q award winner for five of the last six years. His "Know Your Honda Nights" are perhaps one reason for this. He feels that the success of the orientation nights are due to three things: consistency (having it at a regular time and place), commitment (the entire staff promotes it), and content (it's not too technical, yet educational enough to hold interest).

The other way of creating a demand pull service approach is by implementing a maintenance reminder program. Much has been discussed in the past couple of years about maintenance reminder programs. Sure, they have been tremendous tools in reminding and keeping the customer coming in for regular maintenance. How about the reminders for fuel induction service, lube oil filter and tire rotation?

Demand-pull marketing and product push have a place in service department marketing. After all people don't always want to be sold something. They do, however, want to buy for themselves. Dealerships, in time, will find demand pull is a great way of selling without selling.

Dave Skrobot is a service consultant based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.