Bill Collins Ford near Louisville, Ky., is using cell phones to connect with service and parts customers.
The dealership uses cell phone text messages, along with e-mail, direct mail and phone calls, to market special service offers about once a month.
But Dave Martin, chief technology officer of Collins Auto Group, says cell phone text messages are quickly becoming its most effective delivery mechanism to drive customer traffic to the dealership's service and parts department.
"This is becoming our extreme high-performance channel," Martin says.
Martin says the dealership, which sells about 250 to 300 new vehicles per month, has about 2,500 cell phone numbers it uses to promote service specials.
The dealership saw the potential for using text messages last May, when Ford dealers in the Louisville and Cincinnati region offered a free oil change to viewers of a local TV commercial. Customers used cell phones to send a "free oil" text message to a number displayed in the commercial.
The region budgeted for 2,000 free oil changes that month. Response was so good that the promotion reached the goal in two weeks.
Bringing additional customers into the dealership allows technicians to perform vehicle maintenance checks and find opportunities for more work.
About 14 percent of the respondents were conquests -- customers who owned a non-Ford vehicle, according to Martin.
Collins Auto Group also has about 50,000 e-mail addresses it uses to deliver promotions to customers. It collects the information at every point of contact in the store -- service and parts, new-car sales and used-car sales.
Customers are asked to provide their cell phone number and e-mail address. They are then asked by the dealership employee walking the customer through the service whether they would like to be notified of any recalls and special offers in the service and parts department.
After collecting telephone numbers and e-mail addresses -- along with the customer's preferred method of contact -- the dealership is able to use its database to perform more targeted marketing.
The key, Martin says, is the marketing database created by combining e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers with customer vehicle information.
For example, the dealership can send a text message to a customer offering an extended warranty when the vehicle's factory warranty is close to expiring.
"A lot of dealers think they can't sell any more cars right now," Martin says. "But they do think they can put more vehicles through service."