Advice: Retool Your Retention

A picture of Valerie Ziebron

We have been gifted with many customers this year. Numerous dealerships are reporting an increase in total customers, with most being first-time buyers and younger shoppers. But how long will they keep RVing?

Historically, many new RV owners do not go on to buy a second unit. Retention is the key to long-term sustained industry growth. The more we are able to make RV ownership understandable, enjoyable and convenient to these new owners, the more likely they are to keep camping for many years to come.

Ideally, an RV dealership should resemble a recycling logo, with customers being proactively and carefully transitioned from sales to service then service to sales and supported throughout their ownership so they return to use all the dealership’s profit centers.

But this retention is not a given and will not automatically happen on its own. Customers experience “pain points” as they navigate their way through buying and owning an RV.

Pain points shift like a moving target, but they can include:

  • Not understanding how to operate the RV with confidence.
  • Believing the dealership was not honest or transparent about the costs or responsibilities of RV ownership, maintenance, storage or insurance.
  • Hearing one thing from sales and something different from service.
  • And so much more…

I spoke with some people who left the RVing lifestyle, and one pain point stood out—the RVing experience was not what they had hoped for or envisioned it would be. Some were hoping to connect with nature, get away from people and unplug. They were disillusioned about camping in a “glorified parking lot with Wi-Fi and families everywhere.” Others were facing the opposite experience and were disappointed not to have the level of amenities they were looking to find when using their luxury coach.

Determining how our new customers want to enjoy their RV and what the ideal RV lifestyle means to them is so important. “Happy Camping” means different things to different people—from remote spots with acres to themselves to llama farms, vineyards or luxury campgrounds with activities and dog parks. Our job is to point them in the right direction, based not only on what we offer in the sales process but also on the experience they want to have with the RV and the best ways to do that.

Losing a few campground bookings is better if doing so means we keep customers returning for service, parts and their next new RV.

Your ability to identify and address the specific pain points that are most impacting your customers is vital to improving their experience. Let’s look at the main elements of retention and some of the keys to taking them to the next level.

Reasons for retention are many, but the big three to bear in mind are:

  • The costs to keep a customer is less than to attract a new one.
  • Repeat buyers typically spend more and do so more easily than new customers.
  • Referrals grow as retention increases.

How much revenue is your business currently earning from repeat customers? I have no doubt your business has room to grow in this capacity.

The numbers for this statistic can be an eye-opener. Many dealers assume their retention is considerably higher than the actual numbers reveal. Two areas that make a tremendous impact on dealerships are sales retention and service retention.

Sales retention: When you sell an RV, how likely will your customer return to use your other profit centers like service, parts, accessories, storage and campground? If your sales process is strong, Amazon will find few footholds with your customers.

Some actions that can improve sales retention are:

  • Promoting service, parts and storage during the sales process.
  • Preselling maintenance packages.
  • Scheduling the first appointment and setting up text reminders.

How do your service workers (not the PDI team) know when you have sold a new unit? Are you connecting customers with the support team in a way that showcases the business’s teamwork and capability to serve them?

Service retention: How often do customers who regularly use service, parts, storage or campgrounds purchase their next RV from you? Many top sales pros will use their CRMs to stay in touch with customers—especially around the typical trade-in times—but your service and parts workers have a front row seat to seeing and hearing when customers are becoming disillusioned with their RVs. Are those employees using this information in a helpful way? Are they communicating what they see and hear to management and other people in your business?

For many retail stores, there is a big opportunity here. If you were to read through customers’ service histories, you would see clues about the issues they had, which accessories they added and more. But your service advisors have “lived” that history with your customers. They have useful information to share, not only about when a customer should consider trading in but also which RVs would best suit their needs and make them happy campers. The value of customer relationship management systems cannot be overstated. Do your employees include notes every time they interact with a customer?

Some actions that can improve service retention are:

  • Include referrals in the service and parts advisors’ job descriptions.
  • Incentivize and recognize service referrals that lead to sales.
  • Use an Approved for Trade-In stamp on customer invoices—some stores in need of quality used inventory are even including an actual trade-in quote on each service invoice to entice customers.

The interdepartmental relationships of your team strongly impact both sales and service retention. The best stores feed each other leads and information that will help both dealerships’ customers and coworkers. If you feel tension here, chances are good your customers do too.

This is one of the biggest areas where pain points take hold and hurt the customer experience. Do not wait for interoffice tension to get better on its own. Address the situation with empathy, and look for win-win solutions and process adjustments that will help everyone.

Customers leave RVing for lots of reasons, but we can prevent many of these issues by facing them head-on and taking action. Remember to ask your employees for solutions. The next great idea will likely come from one of your frontline workers.

This year is unlike anything our industry has seen. It has put a strain on our vendors, our customers and our coworkers. But this year has also provided us with some incredible opportunities to emerge stronger than ever. Focusing our efforts on what we can do to turn new customers into lifelong RVers is up to each of us.


Valerie Ziebron

President of VRZ Consulting

Valerie Ziebron is a leading industry expert and speaker. Through studying and comparing hundreds of dealerships across North America, VRZ specializes in helping dealers maximize resources, specifically their people, processes, space and location. Ziebron has delivered more than 5,000 presentations and has helped more than 1,000 small businesses. Her clients include Chrysler, General Motors, Yamaha Motor Co., Boating Industry Magazine, Shelby American Collection, Eastman Kodak, IPAX and many others.

RV News magazine spread
If you are employed in the RV industry and not a member of the trade media, Subscribe for Free:
  • Daily business news on the RV industry and the companies and people that encompass it
  • Monthly printed and/or digital magazine filled with in-depth articles to increase profit margins
  • Statistics, data and other RV business trade information
Scroll to Top