In the last few years, technologies like social media, texting and mobile apps have transformed the way dealerships interact with their customers. But we’re not done yet. Not even close. In the next few years, integrated collaboration tools and video will continue to transform the customer experience at auto dealerships. Some forward-thinking dealers are already testing out how to use these cutting-edge technologies to connect with, engage and better service car shoppers. Here’s a primer on how they work:
Remember Instant Messaging (IM)? When it was first introduced around ten years ago, it was highly touted as a replacement to email. It turned out that in the workplace, employees used it more for personal exchanges than for business exchanges, and it was viewed as a distraction and time-waster. For the last few years, IM has been largely relegated to personal interactions on social media platforms.
Today, IM has evolved into a business collaboration tool that has the power to change the way we communicate. When IM applications are integrated with the phone system and computer network, messages can be exchanged across all platforms and devices. In effect, IM is like the missing link that connects every person and every device.
How does this work to improve communications in an auto dealership? As we know, it’s not unusual for salespeople and service staff to spend just a few hours per day at their desk, while the rest of their time is spent interacting with customers. This means they can literally be “incommunicado” for half of the day. When they do sit down at their desks, they may spend half an hour or more listening to voice mails, returning calls and writing emails.
“When IM applications are integrated with the phone system and computer network, messages can be exchanged across all platforms and devices.”
Not only is this an incredibly unproductive use of time, it’s also not good for customer relations. How many customers call your dealership and ask for a particular salesperson or service advisor, only to be transferred to voice mail? Half the time, the customer’s question is a quick one; such as wanting to know if a vehicle is in stock, or wanting to know when they can pick up their car that’s being serviced.
There’s nothing more annoying to a customer than being placed on hold or routed to voice mail when all they have is a very simple question they want answered. Every time this happens there’s a good chance that customer will just hang up and call another dealership. A collaboration tool can greatly reduce incidents of phone and voice mail tag.
Here are two scenarios of how a collaboration tool can help keep employees in communication to take care of customer requests:
A service advisor is in the service drive checking a customer in using a mobile tablet. A window pops up on his tablet relaying a message from the receptionist: ‘Mrs. Jones is on the phone, she wants to know when her Nissan Altima will be ready.’ The service advisor quickly punches in ‘3 pm‘. In this scenario, Mrs. Jones did not have to leave a voice mail and wait for a return call. She got an answer right away (which made her happy), the message did not disrupt the service advisor’s check-in process, and ultimately saved him the time of having to listen to a voice mail and return a call.
A salesperson is out on the lot with a couple who are looking for a SUV. While the couple is inspecting the interior of one model, the salesperson gets an alert from her cell phone and sees a message from the call center: a hot lead is on the phone, wanting to know if they can schedule a test drive for Thursday at 5:30 pm. The salesperson quickly taps in ‘yes‘. The call center confirms the time and with one click the salesperson adds the appointment to her calendar. In this scenario, the salesperson did not have to risk losing a potential customer because she wasn’t available, and the quick interaction on her cell phone did not take her attention away from her current prospects.
Additionally, messages can be instantly turned into phone calls, conference calls or video calls with a single click of a button. Which leads us to our next tech tool that has the power to transform the customer experience in your dealership: video.
Video as a marketing tool is growing in popularity. By now, most dealers are aware of how vehicle inventory and dealership videos can increase engagement and leads. What they may not be aware of, yet, is how video can drastically improve both internal communications and customer communications.
Internally, the most common way to hold virtual meetings are with conference calls and webinars. The problem with these technologies is that it’s too easy for employees to get distracted and not pay attention. This translates to information getting lost or misinterpreted, and a sense of disconnectedness.
Some dealers are successfully using videoconferencing as a replacement for conference calls and webinars. While on a videoconference call, staff must be present in every sense of the word. There’s a big difference between talking to someone on the phone and looking into a person’s eyes. Cameras increase the level of interaction and convey facial expressions and body language, both important factors in effective communications.
Externally, video has the same potential to improve communications with customers. Imagine that a salesperson receives a call from a prospect. The prospect has watched an online video of a vehicle they’re interested in, but has a few questions about specific features. With a single click of a button, the salesperson transfers the call from her desk phone to her cell phone, and while talking to the customer she walks out onto the lot and finds the vehicle. While still on the phone, the salesperson performs a video walkthrough using the phone’s camera. The customer’s questions are not only answered, but they have visual proof and are now really excited about this vehicle. They make an appointment to come in for a test drive.
The same scenario could happen in the service department. Imagine a service advisor who has to make an expensive repair recommendation to a customer. Instead of sending pictures of a worn down part via email along with an explanation, he calls the customer instead. Using his mobile tablet, he zooms in on the part, and with his hand points at the problem area. All the while he’s explaining, in person, the safety hazard this worn part poses and why it needs to be replaced. It’s easy for a customer to say “no” via text or email, but not so much to a live voice and video that is showing them, not telling them, about the problem.
Together, collaboration tools and video have the power to transform the way we communicate both internally and with customers. If you’re looking for technology solutions to help improve your dealership’s customer experience and loyalty, start with the basics: communication.
Author: Erik Nachbahr
Erik Nachbahr founded Helion in 1997 with the goal of bringing strong information technology strategies and leadership to auto dealerships. That vision has guided Helion with a focus on outstanding service and innovative, client centric solutions. Nachbahr believes that a strong information technology strategy centers on improving the efficiency of the business it serves while controlling costs. Nachbahr holds a B.A. from Loyola University Maryland, an A.A. from Baltimore International Culinary College and industry certifications from Microsoft and Cisco. In his current role as president and CEO of Helion, he works as chief information officer for a client base with billions of dollars in annual revenue.