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Russ Chandler

Russ Chandler Product Marketing Manager

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Car Dealer Reputations Suck: Are You Setting Different Expectations?

As much as we don’t want to admit it, the automotive industry has always held a very different reputation compared to other industries — and it isn’t a particularly great one. Although there are a TON of fantastic dealerships out there (yours included) who yearn to provide the best customer experience possible, many consumers are left with a bad taste in their mouths from a time when dealerships were perceived as seedy, deceptive places where dealers would hornswoggle you out of your last dollar.

 

Type in “car salesman” or “used car salesman" into Google and some of first images to pop up are stereotypical caricatures — short, balding, mustached men wearing plaid suit jackets that clash with tight fitting khakis that don’t match. A few of the pictures might include one of these guys with a cigar in their mouth.

 

Sadly, despite the fact that these pictures are NOT an accurate depiction of how car dealerships operate and how car dealers actually act, you’d be surprised by the number of consumers out there who still believe the aforementioned stereotypes. It’s a total bummer, but it is what it is… and the only thing dealerships can do to combat these stereotypes  is go above and beyond consumer expectations in any way possible.

 

When it comes to crafting a marketing strategy, it’s best to assume that your customers already have it in their heads that your dealership is full of the seediest, money-grubbing dealers in the world. Even though this might not be the case, the point here is that you REALLY want folks who you believe don’t trust you to sincerely trust you. This means going out of your way to please those skeptical consumers to the best of your ability, and providing them with time, resources and incentives that keep them satisfied.

 

One of the major ways your dealership can go above and beyond is by providing an exceptional website experience to its consumers. Last year, I wrote a whole article discussing the ways consumers judge your dealership based on how well they’re able to navigate your website. Everything from maneuvering through sections to of your dealership website to engaging with interactive experiences can have a major impact on how consumers ultimately view your dealership.

 

Obviously, the reason for this is because the first interactions consumers even have with your dealership is through your website. Folks who are still conducting research won’t typically waltz into your dealership — but they will attempt to look up inventory and get other useful information prior to their visit.

 

While it’s important to make sure the navigation on your website is solid and that the interactive experiences of your website are connected and useful, it’s arguably more important to ensure that you’re being open, honest and aren’t taking advantage of consumers in any way. If you want to change how your dealership (and dealerships, in general) is perceived by the general public, you need to create a sound website experience that earns their trust and understanding.

 

Honesty is one of the most crucial characteristics your dealership should focus on when creating this type of experience. There’s little to no doubt that there are experiences on your website that allow for the collection of consumer information. One of the primary reasons for having a website is to capture leads, after all.

 

Unfortunately, many consumers view lead capture as problematic because they feel like they’re going to be bombarded with communications like emails, texts and phone calls. If it isn’t the bombardment of communications that’s bothersome, it’s the relinquishing and use of their personal information that bothers them.

 

Either way, your best bet (as a dealership) is to be completely upfront about why this information is being collected. And no, you don’t necessarily have to say “we’re going to follow-up with you in a few days.” All you need to be is transparent. For example: If many of your consumers fear that you’re selling their information, tell them that you aren’t with a note at the bottom of an interactive experience.

 

Another thing your dealership can do is provide options for how and when a consumer wants to be contacted — because, let’s be real, they know why they’re supplying their information to you. Even if they’re being incentivized with a trade appraisal, assessment results or a large discount, the reason they’re submitting their information is so the dealership collects a lead. I can tell you from experience that consumers don’t necessarily mind providing their information to dealerships. What they don’t like is not having control over when and how they’re being contacted.

 

A simple dropdown or comment box indicating contact method and time preferences in a trade appraisal or assessment tool can be just the thing your dealership needs to gain consumer trust. Not only will the consumer appreciate that your dealership is listening to them, but it allows the consumer to have control over their shopping journey. They can continue to research your website (among other websites) without being persuaded into a purchase.

 

Even if the majority of dealerships in the U.S. never rid themselves of their often untrue sleazy, hornswoggling reputation, your dealership website can break the mold. Considering so many of the consumers visiting your website are still in the research phase, you can leave a genuine, lasting impression on them by catering to their needs as well as their concerns at the very beginning of their shopping journey.

 

Your dealership doesn’t have to uphold the strained reputation that was bestowed upon them by consumers for decades. If your dealership goes above and beyond consumer expectations, your reputation will improve for years to come — and therefore, it’ll be easier for to capture more leads and retain more loyal customers.

 

Tori Zinger

Very valuable insight, Russ; thank you for sharing this. It really is up to us today to continue working hard to change the reputation created by the old-school auto industry.

Russ Chandler

Thanks Tori! I'm excited to see how the hard work of all the great dealers today, change the expectations of consumer tomorrow. 

Tori Zinger

I am, too! I think it's going to continue to be a challenge, but the type of people who are in this industry are certainly not ones to back down from a challenge.

Great tip on providing a drop down menu for preferred method of contact. So many people would rather email with you but we call them, or vice versa. Thank you!! 

Russ Chandler

Glad you found something you can use Scott! Another, more aggressive idea would be to have some type of a notification for new website visitors, educating them on what type of experience they can have on your site. Something along the lines of telling them all the amazing shopping tools available, arrange your deal online before coming in and setting better expectations for what its like to work with a sales rep.

I think right now, its still going to take something this direct to convince a website visitor your dealership is truly going to provide a better experience. 

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