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We advocate for a customer-centric approach to all aspects of a dealership, but when it comes down to it, we’re experts in the online experience. The following is a practical guide to incorporating customer centricity into each aspect of your online experience.
Dealerships have traditionally had a problem with their customer experience (CX). DrivingSales found that 99 of 100 automotive shoppers begin their purchase journey expecting it to be a “hassle.” This perception was largely based in their own experiences, or that of friends and family, with dealers trying to maintain control of the buying process. In an age where power is increasingly shifting to the consumer’s side, dealerships that try to stick with doing everything their way are turning customers off. In fact, this distaste for dealers goes deep enough that a whopping 61% of shoppers don’t contact the dealership before coming in.
The answer to an industry notorious for poor CX is the adoption of a customer-centric business mindset.
Make your whole online experience about the customer. Think about your online presence from the perspective of the shopper, and form your strategy around that mindset. As we will doubtlessly reiterate throughout this post, online CX isn’t just on your dealership website. Taking customer centricity beyond the confines of your brick and mortar means a making a concerted effort to deliver an exceptional CX across the multiple channels that shoppers navigate.
Now, you may not have a presence on web forums used by car shoppers. After all, there are some channels that are (or should be) shopper-only. But you can’t improve the CX of something you aren’t directly involved with. There are a variety of touchpoints that involve opportunities for engagement with car shoppers, and these should be the focus of improving your CX beyond your lot.
Investment in CX is not an exercise in instant gratification, and in the fast-paced and highly competitive automotive industry, that can be enough of a reason to ignore it. While there is a tidal wave of problems that result from ignoring the global trend towards customer centricity, there are also major benefits to adopting customer centricity.
A 2017 Forrester study found that improving a single point on the CX Index score would generate $873 million for mass market automakers, or about $50 more per customer. That might seem like a relatively small amount, but Digital Dealer estimates that a modest dealership would generate about $291,000 a year from this very moderate CX improvement.
Ready to begin improving your CX off the lot? These are the customer touchpoints to optimize.
Your dealership website is probably the most important online touchpoint to get right. Your website needs to provide the best possible shopping experience to users, whether their intent is to just find your phone number or browse your inventory for hours. Here are some of the most important aspects of good website CX to focus on:
It is 2018, and mobile has vanquished desktop. A whopping (and yet unsurprising) 80% of searches for local dealerships are conducted on mobile. With more than half of all customers now using their mobile devices to conduct vehicle research and shop for cars, accessibility anywhere has become inseparable from good online CX. If your site isn’t equally functional and delightful on mobile, desktop, and every device in between, there’s a good chance that your dealership may be losing sales.
This means that your website needs to be not just responsive, but a truly excellent mobile experience. Mobile-first design ensures that your customers enjoy a shopping or browsing session that isn’t just a stripped-down version of a desktop site, but a complete mobile shopping experience. This in turn, provides the customer centricity that customers are craving.
Customers don’t want to wait too long for information, even if they think it will be useful. We are living in an age where our attention spans have dropped to less than that of a goldfish (by the way, congratulations for making it to this point in the post). It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that your website should be built to assume the maximum impatience in your shoppers. In 2018, customers expect that websites will load within 2-3 seconds, and a website that takes longer than 4 seconds could be in danger of slipping down SERP rankings, losing traffic, or otherwise floundering as customers move on to faster sites.
Pingdom offers some insight on how page load speed effects bounce rate and pageviews. The vast majority of all pageviews occur when pages load less than 6 seconds, and bounce rate begins to increase rapidly after 3 seconds of loading.
You could say that everything in this post falls under the broad purview of convenience, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But while things like accessibility and website speed make it possible to browse your website, convenience makes it pleasurable. Convenience isn’t as easy to measure as website speed, but it is just as important. Convenience does have major tangible elements — website structure, navigation, and design. Just like your physical dealership needs to be well-constructed, so too does your website. The organization of your website, again like your dealership, needs to make sense and fit the type of shopping that real customers do.
Similarly, it needs to be so easy for shoppers to find their way around that they don’t even have to think about it. Website navigation, whether on desktop or mobile, should be intuitive and consistent. Every navigational element should represent your approach to customer centricity, providing exactly the material on its related page. For example, a “Reviews and Testimonials” link that led to a page with a form and instructions for leaving a review or testimonial wouldn’t be wholly inaccurate, but it almost certainly wouldn’t be what the customer wanted when they clicked.
Design should also contribute to the convenience of using your site. Beyond the basics like creating balanced color schemes and customizing elements of your website to make them pop, good design can help draw your shoppers to the right areas on your website faster, more efficiently, and with less disruption or distraction for the user.
These are all major aspects of website creation, but convenience can also be achieved in smaller, though no less beautifully-crafted ways. There are many hundreds of incredibly simple but wonderfully convenient items and services that improve our lives on a daily basis, from coffee pods to online grocery delivery. The same enthusiasm for increasing convenience should be applied to your website. Beyond having a structure that naturally makes sense, navigation to follow it, and design that supports your goals, there is a myriad of ways to help your shoppers go about their business on your site. These can include helpful website techniques like infinite scrolling, online shopping standards like free-text search bars, and even sophisticated machine-learning driven automatic vehicle merchandising.
The lesson here: do not ignore the power of being the most convenient. Forbes calls convenience the ultimate customer service and CX weapon. We would agree.
While your website is doubtlessly the most immediate priority for a customer centricity overhaul, there are multiple online touchpoints that can benefit from a customer-centric approach. One of the best places to begin is with email.
Email is a powerful sales tool. Research found that receiving an email from the dealership was the number one action that convinced prospects to visit the showroom. A full 59% of all motorists stated that it was the dealer’s email that got them to travel to the lot. Revitalizing your email by focusing on the customer experience means getting to better capitalize on this valuable resource.
So what does customer centricity bring to email?
First and foremost, a customer-centric dealership will make certain their emails are formatted for mobile. It is estimated that 65% of all emails are now opened on a mobile device, and improperly formatting an email means running the risk of turning off customers. In fact, when emails don’t render correctly on mobile, 42% of consumers will just delete them without a second glance.
It is also a customer centricity best practice (and common courtesy, really) to respond to every lead.
While we’re at it, we should mention that a quick response time is equally important. Responding to every lead is all well and good, but it can’t take you three weeks to follow up on a question. 95% of car shoppers expect a response to requests within 24 hours. At the very least, we would recommend trying to be within that 24 hour window. However, equally important is that you don’t respond with a push towards a sale in the first 10 minutes as studies have shown that this leaves a sour impression with customers.
Finally, an excellent email CX depends upon the way that you respond to the email. The best responses, like all things customer-centric, offer value to the user. In one study, it was found that in the emails sent be a dealership, 63.8% did not quote a price of any kind, 56.2% did not address availability of the desired vehicle, and 87% did not provide any information as to the value of the brand or the vehicle the customer indicated e interest in. That is a frankly disappointing lack of information and demonstrates a reluctance to be a provider of information and a partner on the shopping journey. Adopting customer centricity across your off-the-lot touchpoints will necessitate that dealers change how they respond to emails, and begin being real sources of useful, actionable information.
While not an online touchpoint in and of itself the phone lead is still an important part of your overall off-the-lot CX, many phone calls are generated when shoppers look up your number on your website, Google My Business page, or social media account. As such, it shouldn’t be overlooked when considering customer centricity beyond your lot.
Research has found that though 57% of incoming calls to dealerships are true prospects, the average dealerships about 41% of incoming sales-lead calls (half of whom will switch now brands) and converts an average of just 7% into showroom visitors. Again, the culprit for poor phone call performance is poor CX. The top offending actions, specifically, were rudeness (not shocking), the phone handler’s lack of inventory knowledge, no alternative vehicle offered, no appointment was set, the caller was asked to call back, or there wasn’t a salesperson available.
Most of the problems with phone calls are caused by dealership staff not prioritizing the customers needs and helping them hunt down the information they want. Again, incorporating a customer centric philosophy into all your off-the-lot touchpoints, including phone calls, helps solve these chronic missed opportunities.
Social media offers a level of direct engagement with shoppers that is only outdone by your physical dealership itself. As such, social media is uniquely equipped to provide shoppers with a better customer experience by offering useful information, monitoring sentiment, and regularly responding to reviews.
In all aspects of social media, the first and foremost goal should always be to offer value. Each social media post, no matter how small, is content, and all content should be both useful and relevant to your shoppers. We wouldn’t go on about how to make your own ice cream in the middle of this post because it isn’t relevant (even if it is delicious). This doesn’t mean all social media platforms should be used the same way. A key to good customer experience with your social media is using each platform appropriately and strategically. Facebook, for example, is excellent for getting people talking. Ask questions and encourage engagement. Instagram, on the other hand, is a great way to showcase your inventory is all its visual glory, but might not be the best for long conversations.
All social media can be used to understand how your shoppers are feeling. Pay attention to the needs, desires, and concerns of shoppers, and you can begin to tailor your online customer experience to fit your shoppers. That’s customer centricity.
Finally, use social media to manage your reputation. This doesn’t mean just occasionally going through and deleting bad reviews where you can. A fully customer-centric social media strategy also means responding to both positive and negative reviews, actually solving complaints, and developing processes for cultivating good reviews in the future.
In all CX, on or off the lot, emotion rules. In fact, research by the Journal of Consumer Research has found that more than 50% of an experience is based on an emotion. With all other considerations to take into account in an experience, half of that is still based entirely on what we are feeling.
From CTA copy to website design to the photos on your VDP, there are many ways to engage the emotions of your shoppers. All are worth it.
A Harvard Business Review study found that emotionally engaged customers are at least three times more likely to recommend your dealership, three times more likely to be a repeat customer, less likely to leave your business or even shop your competitors (44% rarely or never did), and less sensitive to price.
Sadly this single blog post can’t capture every aspect of CX across all touchpoints and channels. That way madness lies. But we have covered the basics you need when setting out to be a dealership that takes customer centricity past brick and mortar. Improving your CX, while awesome for your shoppers, can help increase your overall sales, boost your reputation, and future-proof your dealership in a tumultuous time for the automotive industry.