It’s an ordinary day at the office. A prospective buyer comes into your dealership, hyped up about test driving the latest 4 Series. They seem really keen to get behind the wheel. It’s going to be an easy sale.
The buyer returns from the drive. The salesperson has the paperwork ready to sign. But the buyer has other ideas. They kindly thank you for your time and say they will be back another day. You never see them again. And you have no clue why.
Automotive dealers and automotive consumers are disconnected. In recent years, consumers have changed beyond recognition and continue to change. By 2025, more than 45 percent of car buyers will be millennials.
It’s time for dealerships to reconnect. This means really getting to know their future customers—what they like, what they don’t, and what they expect.
Having a deep understanding of the consumer is not only crucial for avoiding scenarios that leave you completely baffled. It’s key to accomplishing business goals, for example, creating a customer experience that drives loyalty, or ramping up car sales.
Plus, experts predict that only the customer-focused automotive retailers will survive in an industry set to change radically.
We’d like to help you get to know the next generation of car buyers and help you start off your customer experience in the right gear. (So many car pun possibilities—we couldn’t resist.)
Here’s how to understand
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There’s a ton of information and stats on automotive consumers out there. But you don’t need to know every fact and figure; you just need to grasp the common trends. These are some of the big ones to know about.
Talking about the rise of online shopping is becoming a cliché. But only recently has the trend caught on in the auto industry, and, boy, is it making up for lost time. For example, Google research tells us that one in ten people buy cars online compared to 1% in 2018. We expect this number to continue growing as 63% of buyers would consider buying a car online in future.
The new generation of consumers is using the digital space to do traditionally offline tasks like research and comparison, book appointments, and schedule service. As an example, in-market car buyers spend more than three times the time online than with the dealership. Dealers shouldn’t try to curb these new habits. Rather they must facilitate them by digitizing the customer journey and connecting with customers on a human level.
Access to all this free online information is turning the once uninformed consumer into a product expert. Consumers are more informed than ever about prices, models, and more, by the time they reach the dealership. Dealers need to adapt by giving consumers the right level of information the way they want to receive it.
The next generation doesn’t like hanging around—even minutes—for a BDC agent to call. They’re used to instant satisfactory responses online, and this is no different when buying a car. Consumers naturally converse with their social circles and businesses via their cell phones. They expect instantaneous back and forth conversations that answer their questions so they can get on with finding the right car.
We define the customer journey as all the stops consumers make to get to a particular destination with your company. We’re talking about the entire experience from searching for a car to purchase and post-purchase.
You can’t improve customer experience until you look at the current customer experience through the consumer’s eyes. Mapping out the journey step by step helps you pinpoint what is working, what isn’t, and any gaps.
Customer journeys are commonly split into stages including consideration, purchase, post-purchase and re-engagement. This can make organizing the many touch-points easier, but don’t let silos contribute to an inconsistent customer experience.
Automotive consumers and their customer journey has moved much faster than the industry can to accommodate it.
Once upon a time, it was as simple as A to B. You wanted a car, you would drop into a dealership, take a look around and speak to the salespeople, do a test-drive, sign the papers, and drive away. You needed repairs, an MOT, or an upgrade, you’d simply head back to your trusted local dealer.
But the dealership-customer relationship has gotten a lot more complex. Rather than a straight line, it spans a web of hundreds of different online and offline contact points, or touch-points. As technology continues to evolve and consumers use more channels to find information and communicate with businesses, the journey will only become more complex.
Brand touch-points chart. Source: neilpatel.com
For example, consumers looking for a vehicle no longer rely on one dealership. They visit a combination of third-party websites like vehicle comparison and review websites, OEM websites, and dealership websites and sales floors. And this includes your current customers, who have easy access to competitors online.
Once consumers become customers, they expect dealerships to continue nurturing the relationship by following up, providing quality service, and continuing to give quick and relevant answers to their questions.
We’ve talked about general automotive consumer trends. They paint a clear picture of what’s happening across the industry and can help business managers understand, at a high level, whether or not they’re on the right track for the future.
But to create great customer experiences, you must deeply understand the people that interact with your business—those interested in your offering, and those already loyal customers. This will help you adapt your customer experience to their reality and expectations. Essentially, that’s what customer-centricity is all about.
You can make a start getting to know your customers by answering these questions.
Dealerships are sitting on a mine of customer data—but it’s separated by silos. Every department holds valuable information about customer interactions for a particular stage of the customer journey.
We advise dealership managers to speak to teams across their organization to bring together existing data on the many instances customers-business interaction occurs. Specifically, create an extensive list of all the possible contact points between consumers and the dealership from the moment they enter the market.
It’s crucial to get a handle on what potential buyers and your customers make of the current end-to-end experience with your dealership.
This step will help you, on one hand, spot areas that keep consumers hooked and, on the other, diagnose the root cause of any current issues along the customer journey. You can finally start to understand why potential buyers drop off before purchase, or why seemingly satisfied customers choose to buy their next car from a competitor. This is insightful stuff and you need to know it to fix it.
Go back to your customer journey map. Speak to your team and analyze customer engagement data to pinpoint the stages that drive positive action, like making a purchase, or negative action, like losing a buyer or customer to a competitor.
But there’s another way to understand customer behaviour: asking customers for feedback. Businesses often shy away from the direct approach, but this is the single biggest way to get to the bottom of what’s working for prospective buyers and customers—and what ain’t.