ST. LOUIS — According to a new study by Maritz Research, the automotive industry is missing an opportunity to build long-term customer relationships, with one in five customers never hearing from their dealer immediately after their purchase. The study also found that 75 percent of in-market customers were never contacted by dealers who already know them.

“It’s clear that dealers who focus on a single sale miss the bigger picture of the customer journey,” said Chris Travell, vice president of strategic consulting for the Automotive Research Group at Maritz Research. “People will buy numerous vehicles in their lifetime, so staying in touch with them throughout the ownership of their current vehicle — not just after making the sale — will put a dealer in the right place at the right time to assist customers with their next purchase.”

The Automotive Customer Journey Study polled more than 4,200 car buyers on what they think, feel, want and need when it comes to purchasing a new vehicle, as well as what they need to hear as owners throughout their journey.

The following are the study’s key findings:

Dealers aren’t thinking beyond the sale: After dealerships closed the deal on a new vehicle, one in five people said they were not contacted right after the purchase. “We never heard from the dealer after the sale; no service offers, no purchase follow-ups, nothing,” said one respondent. “Everyone always calls right after you buy a new vehicle when there should not be any problems. No one ever calls 12 to 36 months later asking if everything is alright.”

More customers are in the market than you’d think: One year after purchasing a new vehicle, 40 percent of customers are already thinking about their next purchase, even if it is a few years away. “A purchase anniversary follow-up … would have been a big plus. Maybe we are ready for a new [car] and perhaps a call would help us decide,” said one consumer.

Dealers should communicate more, as long as it’s relevant: One in five vehicle owners received too little communication. The study also found the longer someone went without contact, the more dissatisfied they became and the less likely they were to buy again from the same dealership. “Too little contact may mean the dealer doesn’t care about [my] satisfaction … more personalized customer service would help promote loyalty for the product and dealership.”

Dealers need to use the information they have: Seventy-five percent of customers were never contacted by their dealer or manufacturer when they were actively looking or thinking of buying a new vehicle, despite the dealer knowing when the lease was up or the finance term was over. “I would like someone to contact me closer to the end of my lease to discuss options for a new lease and prices,” one respondent said.

Communication changes over time: Customers expect to hear from the brand and dealership throughout the ownership of their vehicle. The desired communication changes over time, whether they’ve owned the vehicle six months or six years. “I wanted them to contact me, just to see if I had any complaints, problems or input,” a respondent said.

More and more, prospective buyers go online to research potential purchases and read reviews of others’ experiences. Some avoid dealerships altogether. Because of this, the customer is more prepared than ever and expects the relationship with a dealer to provide them value.

The good news is consumers want a stronger relationship with their selling dealer, with 62 percent of those not contacted after their vehicle purchase indicating that they would have liked to receive some form of communication.

“This increase in communication doesn’t mean more direct mail,” Travell noted. “Customers want information that’s helpful to them depending on where they are in their ownership lifecycle. It’s about the right type of communication at the appropriate time.”

To help turn a lonely customer journey into one with more support and contact, Maritz Research has developed a new solution — Maritz Connect — that leverages existing customer relationship management (CRM) data and helps bridge the gap between customers’ attitudes and behaviors. Slated to be released before the end of 2013, Maritz Connect will enable companies to understand what their customers want, need, think and feel in order to have an ongoing, two-way conversation.