Car dealerships have long been the major information hub for car buyers, along with car journals. These times are long gone, although both information channels still play an important role. The foremost driver of this change is digitalization, which is about to change the customer journey of car buyers and owners dramatically.
Car Buyer Customer Journey Becomes More Diverse
Today, customers do not need to visit a dealership to get advice or an overview of new models or the dealer’s stock. Nevertheless, the dealer still is the major place to get a testdrive and to order build-to-order cars. Also, negotiations and trade-ins are best performed on-site at the dealer.
Several new brands are thinking of changing this traditional model, simply because they do not have a dealer network. They are looking at providing the pre-sales customer experience through different means.
Whatever the approach is, traditional model or direct sales model, the pre-sales customer journey of a car buyer will have many more touchpoints.
Information Power Shifts Towards Customer
Today, customers are better informed than a decade ago. They can research models and options, tests and experience reports on the internet. They may very well understand the advantages and the usage of connected car offers, often better than the salesperson at the dealer. The information power has shifted from the dealer to the customer. It may well be, that the customer knows more than the dealer, as the customer is also researching competitive offers and can benefit from the wealth of information on the internet.
Hence, to create a superior customer experience at the dealership is becoming more demanding. Sales staff must be very well informed, also about the competition. There should be plenty of showroom models and also many models for testdrives. To make a customer feel well at the dealership, interior design standards must be uplifted and various amenities must be offered.
The following chart (survey from Globis Consulting, 1.000 German respondants, 08 / 2018) shows the sources of inspiration for new car models – a very early but very important stage of the customer journey. It shows dealers ranking at 5th place as a source of inspiration.
Digital Contact Channels Prevail
Before, if at all, a customer visits the dealer, he or she likely will contact the dealer in some form or the other through a digital channel. Car portals, the OEM’s website or direct communication option on the dealer website are main entry points. Customer may want to mail, call, use WhatsApp or a chat function or an online-diary to contact the dealer. Some may want to post on or communicate through the dealer’s Facebook site.
The contact channels offered are a choice the dealer or the OEM takes. For sure, at the moment there is no majority of customer that demand contact via WhatsApp. But the more channels one offers, the more business one may get.
Whatever channels are offered, they all must be handled professionally and consistent, independent of the channel. This is a big challenge, as communication is becoming more frequent but less binding. The status of execution can be checked through mystery checks using the respective communication channel.
The same holds true for communication during the sales process. A customer who visited the dealer still has communication needs and the sales staff should actively seek communication with the “lead” to get it closed.
Keeping in Touch During Ownership
During the ownership phase, the dealer and the OEM should want to stay in touch with the car owner. This is not just because both have an interest to provide service and to be ready when the car is replaced. It is also because satisfied car owners are the best testimonial and sales multiplier out there. Keeping in touch is a matter of means and organization. “Means” are the way, the customers are contacted. This requires legal prerequisites (data protection regulation) as well as a professional organization. In many instances, this opportunity simply is missed. For example, research on sales relevant customer contacts before the end of leasing periods consistently shows, that contacting existing customer is not executed well.
In-car-applications are a big chance to improve this part of the customer experience, but not yet fully utilized. One reason, certainly, is the incentive of the dealer to keep its customer data inhouse and not to share it with the OEM.