While a dealership’s bottom line might be measured in how many sales it makes, the factors that go into those sales are full of vital data points that can bring in more sales and repeat business. Customers might even pay more if they know they are getting what they want in a satisfying way rather than being shuttled through a sale like cattle through a chute. This is the essence of customer experience, which is a factor of sales that should never be overlooked.
Customer experience is the customer’s subjective impressions of a dealership, and can only be controlled by the dealer in one way. That way is to ensure your dealership is focused on making the process of buying a vehicle as gratifying as possible from start to finish, keeping in mind that a sale starts well before the customer comes to the showroom. That many dealers are now doing business entirely online only makes it more imperative to make your dealership appealing.
The Customer Journey
A sale actually begins when the customer decides to buy. Most customers research, compare, and shop around many times before choosing a vehicle. There are a lot of considerations each customer takes into account when shopping for a car, because each customer is an individual with needs to fulfill. Part of the customer journey is engaging with different dealerships, but a dealer that doesn’t recognize what stage of the journey the customer is in can lose potential sales.
Creating a positive customer experience means addressing all parts of the customer journey. A customer who’s had a good experience with a dealership will likely return even if they didn’t buy the first time. They may also refer others even if they didn’t buy because your dealership just didn’t fulfill their individual needs, but may fill the needs of friends, family, or acquaintances.
The customer journey also does not end just because a customer bought somewhere else. There is analysis into why they didn’t buy and the possibility of retaining their business for future purchases. Many families have more than one vehicle and a good customer experience can draw them to your dealership for their second vehicle, even if they bought the first one elsewhere.
Improving Customer Experience
Every department of your dealership should be focused on customer experience to some degree, even those that aren’t front-facing. There are numerous strategies to achieve this, and consultants who can help collect and analyze data. Customer experience is so vital to improving sales that these consulting firms make a profession of helping dealerships and other businesses improve it.
Many of these methods have themes that overlap, and can be applied without hiring a consultant. While a consultant can be very beneficial to your dealership, here are some strategies you can implement today.
Commit to Customer Engagement
All departments of your dealership should be in the mindset of communicating with potential customers, whether they deal with them directly or not. Making this top-down commitment to your customers prepares employees at all levels to think from the perspective of a customer. Customer engagement starts at your website, flyers, and other advertising, which is an invitation for the customer to reach out to you. Each customer that isn’t responded to in some way is a lead lost.
Customers are less likely to buy from a dealership they don’t believe in. Being transparent from the beginning about all aspects of the deal reassures customers that your dealership won’t have any unexpected surprises for them when it comes time to close. Customers don’t want to feel outwitted or swindled, and buying a car is a big decision that makes many feel vulnerable. By establishing a rapport with your lead base, you can prove to them that they can trust you.
Communication Never Ends
Reaching out to customers doesn’t start when they walk into the dealership or end when the sale is closed. Dealerships that communicate with customers on a regular basis maintain the trust they built during the sale, so when deals, upgrades, recalls, and other potential repeat business becomes available, it reinforces that relationship. What is the cost of not communicating? Is it an acceptable loss? If your goal is to generate sales leads, that is a heavy price to pay for not doing a little follow-up work.
Every step of the process should be as simple as possible for buyers. If your website is too complex or your loan application reads like stereo instructions, this may turn buyers off. Efficiencies can also be sought out between dealerships if you have more than one location, and between employees. The easier things are for the customer, the better the experience.
Customers are going to have a lot of questions, and if the sales personnel on your floor can’t answer them, that can be frustrating for potential buyers. Keeping up with new trends is continuing education when it comes to car dealerships because so much of the industry is developing new products and services as both options or standard inclusions. Customers also often do research before they come into the showroom, so floor personnel who aren’t updated will be caught off-guard, when they’re supposed to be the experts.
Share Data Internally
Whether your dealership is spread over multiple locations or concentrated into one showroom, all personnel should have access to customer experience data. This includes feedback from marketing, but also figures such as personal demographics or geo-specific information, such as what type of vehicles buyers will look for seasonally. Having this data available at all levels of the sale can help your departments communicate with customers more effectively.
Analyze Predictive Data
Much of the data you collect about customers can help forecast what they may do in the future. People have patterns that they often follow when it comes to making many purchases, especially large ones. By analyzing the data you’ve collected over the course of your relationship with a particular customer, you can make an informed prediction about your future relationship. The more the customer’s relationship to the dealership deepens, the more predictive data you collect.
Personalize the Experience
Customers like to feel like they are special, and each customer has unique needs. When touches are applied that cater to them as individuals, it helps build rapport and trust with your dealership. All the information you’ve been given from the data you’ve collected should be enough to tell you what personal touches will be relevant to get a sale, even if the customer doesn’t realize at first that they wanted to buy. Knowing what the customer wants puts your dealership in a position to fulfill their needs.
Monitor Customer Experience
Establishing a relationship is a continuous process, and that is just as true for a dealership-customer relationship as it is for any other. Continuously monitoring your customer relationships helps strengthen them long-term, as well as provides predictive data and shows trends when things change. A dealership practicing good customer experience methods should never stop monitoring their interactions with individuals to find areas for improvement.
This era of technology makes it tempting to rely on software and AI to communicate with leads in order to cut costs. Many people find it very frustrating to navigate through telephone menus or talk to a bot with limited answers. Part of building a relationship means making person-to-person contact. Customers don’t build trust with automation, they build trust with other people. Having employees available to perform customer service tasks is an investment in building a positive customer experience.
Don’t Neglect Your Back Offices
Customer experience should be considered by all employees at the dealership, even if they don’t interact directly with the customers. Everything from the advertising to the vehicle’s maintenance to the positioning of the paper mats with your dealer’s logo are part of customer experience. One way to ensure other departments consider this metric is to have regular meetings with the team members that do speak with customers directly.
While some of the methods of collecting this information are most useful when applied periodically, your overall effort should be consistent and always send the message that the dealership is listening. Consistency indicates reliability, which is one of the most effective indicators of trust and therefore an effective way to build it.
The Cornerstone of Your Sales
There is no single trick to build a better customer experience because each dealership has individual needs just as customers do. The vital takeaway is to recognize the importance of customer experience and work toward improving how your dealership interacts with customers as individuals. Every customer will form their own impression of your dealership. It’s up to you to make that impression a good one.