As newspaper ads and other forms of traditional marketing lose their grip, dealers are trying to connect with customers through clinics that explain complicated gadgets and other vehicle features.
Some luxury dealers have used the technique for years. Now dealers of mass-market brands are picking it up.
"The more comfortable [customers] are with the products we sell them, the more apt they are to come back and buy a product from us again," says Kim Winkler, new-car sales manager at Dan Pfeiffer Lincoln-Mercury in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Since January, Pfeiffer's staff has been staying late on the second Wednesday of every other month to hold a customer clinic to explain Lincoln Mercury's navigation system and Sync, Ford Motor Co.'s in-car communications and entertainment system.
The first clinic drew only four people.
"I thought, 'This isn't going to work,' " Winkler recalls.
But gradually, more customers came, up to a dozen or more at each clinic.