When the Internet first began to play a role in car buying, many dealers were concerned they would lose influence over their customers and become simply a pick-up location for new vehicle purchases – or worse. But while the dealership’s role has evolved thanks to modern technologies, those same changes are giving dealers more opportunities than ever before to become proactive rather than reactive in their relationship with their customers.
Many of the same core technologies that allow almost 90 percent of American consumers to research cars online before visiting a dealership also power predictive marketing solutions that can put dealers in the position to reach consumers with personalized and targeted communications at the time when they’re in the market for a new vehicle. Critically, this can happen even if the customer doesn’t realize that yet.
These predictive marketing solutions are an entry point to a comprehensive customer experience (often referred to as “CX”) model that draws customers in, learns as much as they can about them and then uses those insights to build a lasting, long-term relationship with them.
Forrester defines CX as how customers perceive their interactions with your company. For a customer to have a positive experience, Forrester says, you need to make it useful, usable and enjoyable.
Here, it’s worth considering the difference between “useful” and “usable” and how that applies to the dealership experience.
A useful experience is one that provides value to the customer. Almost 90 percent of consumers use the Internet to shop for cars, but less than a third of them show up at a dealership knowing which vehicle they’re going to buy. A useful experience is one where they’re given the information and insight they need and the hands-on product interactions they want, so they have everything they need to make a decision. For today’s shoppers, this means moving away from the sales pitch where you’re telling them what they already know from their research, and more toward a consultative “product expert” model where you’re determining where you can contribute to their understanding.
This changes from customer to customer. Baby boomers and Gen Xers may be more likely to arrive with questions to ask, but younger customers tend to want a quick path to a test drive. Either rushing or slowing down a customer’s preferred speed can harm their perception of their experience with you.
Where usefulness is about the value you provide your customers, usability is about how easy it is to do business with your dealership. This starts with your website. Most web traffic is mobile, and your site should be designed with this in mind – and continues throughout the entire CX process. Does your sales team know who your customers are and what they want before they show up? Is their car ready for a test drive when they get there? Is there a place for the kids to play while the adults talk? Are your employees trained, prepared and able to give your customers a personalized experience?
Everybody wants to feel special, and customers want to feel valued. This shows up in research on how they interact with companies: According to Marketo, more than 78% of consumers will only engage with offers if they have been personalized based on their prior engagements with you. More than half of customers are more likely to buy from you when they’re recognized by name.
Your customers will enjoy the car buying process more when you use predictive marketing to treat them as individuals with specific needs you can meet and expectations you can match. This commitment to CX then forms the basis of an ongoing relationship marketing function that crosses sales, service and finance to build lasting positive relationships with customers.
Done right, predictive marketing gets customers in the door, empowers you to personalize their experience and forms the basis for a profitable, long-term relationship. The alternative is a model of low-closing percentage digital sales teams, price-shopping walk-ins and “spray and pray” marketing campaigns. When you plan for the future of your dealership, you can either decide that you’re going to know what your customer wants and needs – maybe even before they do – or you can continue hoping for the best when someone walks in the door.
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