Everything about the auto-buying experience has shifted in the past six months. More and more of the buying and shopping process has moved online. And, while these rapid changes have been spurred by social distancing, COVID-19, and government safety regulations, as one expert puts it, “…frankly, this was a path we were already headed on.” Senior Director of Performance Management for VinSolutions, Mark Vickery, notes that while the current situation is changing—even as quickly as every three weeks—dealers simply must learn the new rules of customer engagement to meet the needs of today’s environment.
Rule Number 1: Focus on Experience
When it comes to digital sales, or digital retailing, experience is key. According to a recent study1 , two out of three consumers rank “experience” higher than “price” in their car-buying decision-making process. Shoppers even stated that they’d pay more, not less if it meant they could avoid a bad buying experience. That’s huge! If building a positive experience isn’t high on your list of priorities, it may just cost you two-thirds of online shoppers. Start by conducting an audit of your online, digital experience. Take honest feedback to heart and with the intention of making improvements.
Rule Number 2: Be Flexible
Car shopping is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Just ask your most experienced salespeople. So, then, why would the online experience be any different? More than likely, the path people take to discover their next car—even as it leads to your dealership—is complex. Some people may want to complete as much of the buying process online as possible, while others want as much of the traditional experience as they can get. Mark Vickery’s advice? “Don’t assume.” Be willing to be flexible and wait for people to let you know how they want to interact.
Rule Number 3: Don’t Trust Your Gut
When it comes to digital retailing, trust data for the details. Unfortunately, for most of us, we’re used to making decisions (see also: false assumptions) based on our intuition. Nearly 40% of organizations lean on gut-feelings to make business decisions, rather than data, according to research.2 Instead, lean on your technology to drive your decisions. According to Dealertrack DMS VP of Operations, Mandi Fang, “Knowing what you need to measure, now, to get to the heart of the matter fast helps dealers unlock operational opportunities and capture insights.” She stresses that leaning on your DMS for details, data, and insights is key to becoming a profitable dealership.
Rule Number 4: Remain Human
Finally, in the midst of ramping up our technology, moving our interactions into the virtual space, and leaning into the data, don’t forget about connecting with people on the human level. As Mark Vickery states in his recent recorded webinar, “Reading the lead isn;t a new concept.” Salespeople in dealerships are masters at human connection, reading body language, and building relationships that last. Now that more and more of the process of buying a car has moved to a virtual space, “…it’s more important than ever so that we can decide what to do next,” he states. Identifying what you do (and do not know) about online shoppers, then building a custom and tailored response is key. Personalize your communications and remember that the virtual car-buying experience may feel new to you as well as your buyers. So, be patient and educational to help guide them through the process.
As the rules of engagement have changed in the first part of this year, keep in mind they are always evolving. The automotive industry’s ability to pivot and remain resilient is one of its greatest strengths.
1Cox Automotive study Reimagining the Automotive Consumer Experience
2 BARC Institute, 2014 Information Culture Study.