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Customer Experience Study Identifies Expectation Gap Between Dealers and Consumers

We at DrivingSales recently concluded a very thorough customer experience research study revealing clear indicators that trust and transparency are paramount for sales growth and future success in automotive retail. The DrivingSales Consumer Experience Study is based on a 16 month-long ethnographic and quantitative research initiative with over 1,300 shopper and buyers. 

This unique type of research study looks at the rational and emotional factors that cause modern automotive shoppers to connect, or disconnect, with automotive dealers in the buying process. The ethnographic element of this research provides substatial validity to the study as it has not been done in the automotive retail research space while studying customer experience. 

Driven by experiences customers have become acustomed to in other retail sectors, the study uncovers large consumer expectations changes that are eye-opening for automotive retailers. It's clear from the research findings that a fundamental change in the consumer experience is required if dealerships expect to remain competitive over the next 5-10 years. 

Here's a few key findings from the hundreds of insights collected include:

  • 99 of 100 automotive shoppers begin their purchase journey expecting it to be a “hassle” driven in large part by their experience, and that of friends/family, with retailers seeking to control the buying process to the retailer’s objectives
  • Shoppers are exposed to dozens of conflicting influences making them wary and distrustful, driving them to seek what they perceive as objective information from trusted sources – primarily trusted friends and family and independent third party sites
  • Shoppers are keeping dealers and sales people at a proverbial arms length until late in the purchase process. When they’re ready to interact, 61% initiate contact by walking into the dealership without prior contact
  • This distrust puts the consumer on a hair trigger as they engage with the dealer, 50% will walk out of a dealership if the dealer requires a test drive before providing a price, 43% if personal information is required
  • 56% of shoppers said they would buy more often if the dealership process was not so difficult - the impact of this retail aversion was quantified at a potential increase in sales volume of 24%

“Yesterday’s formula for automotive retail success is deterring consumers and suppressing sales volume. Our research shows the key to sales success today is building trust through an open and transparent customer experience at every stage of their buying process,” said Jared Hamilton, Founder & CEO of DrivingSales. “Our findings are a clarion call for change in how cars are retailed and provide practical guidance to retailers and manufacturers on how to bridge this customer expectation gap and advance the industry.”

We will be releasing more of the DrivingSales Consumer Experience Study in the coming months. 

Evan Brown
Really interested to see this study Mike. Does the study dive into consumers online experiences as well? I find the the "61% initiate contact by walking into the dealership without prior contact" a very interesting figure. Over the past two years it seems we've focused heavily on the interaction with consumers when they submit a lead and this study is showing that 61% won't submit a lead? Is this because our BDC follow ups and internet processes are annoying the consumer? What deciding factors are urging the 61% to initiate contact with the dealer? More and more organizations are focusing on CX, it's time we as an auto industry start to buy in.
Craig Waikem
The 61% is spot on. We can account our BDC has touched (which handles internet leads and phone calls) about 30-40% of our business any given month. Like the study reveals, 60% of customers walk in with no prior communication. This study tells me not to focus so much on how we can get more to communicate with us before they visit but need to worry about once they get here and we maybe doing successful advertising and marketing driving traffic without them communicating with us prior. The last 2 bullet points nail it! Impressive Driving Sales! Wish I was there for the live presentation.
Shannon Hammons
Makes us really rethink about all of our interactions with our customers.
Jason Stum
Good stuff Mike, looking forward to seeing some more results. I think the message is coming across loud and clear - consumer experience is what separates one dealership from another. Not Lowest Price. Not Largest Selection. Not Free Coffee & WiFi. Simply an experience that exceeds customer expectations. Identifying the problem however, is the easy part. Coming up with and implementing the solution? Therein lies the challenge.
Mike Jeffs
@Jason You're absolutely right. Implementing the solution will be challenging. @Evan The research showed many people did not trust the information on dealerships' websites and didn't want to be "bugged" by a sales person by submitting their information on a lead. Trust was the main theme that continued to come up throughout the 16 months and major pain point of the customer experience throughout the car purchasing process.

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