The J.D. Power Automotive Internet Roundtable held October 12, 2011 in Las Vegas hosted a panel discussion on the topic of “How Dealers Can Build Trust Online to Increase Online Sales.” Judging by the attendance, this topic is worthy of further discussion. The foundation for building trust online must form from the culture of delivering customer satisfaction that is embedded in every department and permeates all contact, beginning with the dealership website. Instinctively, dealerships might think the reputation of only the sales department might be pertinent to a new- or used-car shopper, but trust must be established throughout the dealership, especially the service department, since recent surveys show 91% of customers will read service reviews while shopping for a new car. Only then can this trust be translated online.
Now this statement seems rather inclusive, but the reason behind it is that customer opinion is not only formed by their experience during the sale, but before, during and after. Customer opinion is shared on various dealer and general rating sites, which could be seen by potential customers. It would be unfortunate for any resource, from the dealer principal to the receptionist, to be the cause that eliminates any prospective customer from considering a vehicle from your lot. A poor online experience or visit to a dealership can result in a negative review. In conclusion, every team member must adhere to the ‘golden rule’ and the dealership must achieve complete buy-in. It’s not a Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) for the sake of surveys; it’s CSI because this is the way you should do things every day.
Let’s take a step back. It’s widely agreed that roughly 80% of car shoppers begin their vehicle search online by visiting many dealer websites. In fact, Kelley Blue Book’s Market Intelligence 2011 Q1 Online Shopper Study indicates that compared to 2010, customers are spending more time overall researching their next vehicle prior to purchase, thus spending more time online preparing for the purchase and less time visiting dealerships. The customer will be more educated about the dealership, make and model of their vehicle choice, without the benefit of the salesperson influence, prior to deciding how they will move forward. With this in mind, it is critical that dealer websites serve as a more informative tool for the car buyer. Customers also reported the average number of dealer websites visited when researching a car was 10. Since the average car shopper is visiting numerous sites, it is imperative that dealer websites resonate with the site visitor or the car buyer will not remember that dealership when it is time to make a purchase.
With less customers submitting purchase requests than ever and 43% of customers saying they will obtain detailed vehicle information and vehicle pricing before proceeding to a dealership, it is important that dealer sites provide necessary tools to stand out to increase the chances that a customer will visit that dealership.
Here are a couple simple, yet underutilized website features that stand out to dealer customers:
1. Video, video, video
Video has quickly become Internet users’ preferred method of gaining and processing information. On the home page include a short introductory video hosted by the general manger or a dealer to welcome and thank the site visitor. Briefly explain and point out the location of important resources on the site such as direct line to Internet sales, chat feature, email contact, trade-in value tools, vehicle configurator and inventory information. Establish a consultative relationship early by explaining the tools in the customer’s interest, so that each site visitor has the access to make a comfortable, educated decision. In addition, make it known to all site visitors that dealer personnel will be of assistance when the customer is ready to personally engage.
2. “About us” page
This is probably one of the most underutilized pages on most dealership websites. Check the dealer’s “About Us” page on your current site. Is it blank? Does it say “Coming Soon” or “Under Construction?” If so, this page is doing more harm than good. Restructure the page by including more than the static photo of each team member. It is more effective to include a short video of each department member. Tell customers in each video how long each member has worked at the dealership, any certifications and community affiliations, such as a partnership with Boy Scouts, Little League and even fundraising activities. The take-away message is a human connection and for dealer teams to relate to customers by establishing common ground.
There are many easy modifications that can continually refine dealer online presentation, helping it make the connection that turns shoppers into buyers at dealerships.