Not long ago salespeople used index cards and rolodexes to manage relationships and follow up with customers and prospects. Then technology evolved beyond those inefficient ways, offering digitized customer transactions.
However, this same technology has hindered further evolution of customer relations as today’s salespeople now simply rely on CRM systems to record customer transactions and to follow-up months, or even years, after the sale. While originally intended to increase efficiency and enhance customer relations, this lack of personalization and automation has in fact had the opposite effect. As a result we are seeing the death of customer interaction.
Most CRMs send out mass emails using templates which consumers can see for what they are: non-personalized and inauthentic automated responses. In many cases, customers receive the same (or similar) templates from multiple dealerships when they attempt to gather information in their car buying process. While the spirit of these processes may be good, not being in sync with the customer’s specific requests, and using a general ‘spray and pray’ strategy, just turns the customer off.
They just don’t respond!
They know that a human didn’t send it. If the dealership itself can’t take the time to interact with them on a personal level, why should they interact back? When was the last time you got call or text back with a specific answer to your question?
The effectiveness of communication with today’s customers is rapidly declining. Dealers continue to send out those automated templates in an attempt to fish for new business, or bring old business back to life through data mining. Even the most highly segmented and targeted campaigns are seeing reduced effectiveness.
Dealers with BDCs are seeing more rejection from outbound unsolicited calls. In many cases voicemails aren’t even listened to by the consumer. Why? Because people no longer want to receive these types of communications. Our society as a whole is completely inundated with marketing messages. Consumers also have busy lives with less time than ever to listen or pay attention to unwanted attempts at communication.
With that being said, there are times when consumers do need to solve a problem or transact with a business. When they do, they prefer an automated approach for simple requests that automatically escalate to a human for more complex questions. Our society as a whole has moved from a human-assisted society to self-service. Consumers are used to going online and handling pretty much whatever they need, whenever they need it –whether that’s during business hours or at midnight. Convenience is the key factor in customer experience.
The easy way to discover what consumers want is to look at consumer behavior and the companies that do an excellent job catering to their needs and wants.
For example, why do consumers flock to Amazon, Apple and Zappos? The answer is simple: Because these companies make it easy to accomplish what they need. They have mastered the art of customer interaction. And, if there is a hiccup along the path to purchase, it is easy to get assistance in the most convenient way for the consumer, be it via phone, e-mail, chat, or text.
Don’t want to hold for a customer service agent when reaching out to Amazon? You don’t have to. They’ll call you when it’s your turn. Chat operators are more than basic information gatherers. They are empowered to solve problems quickly and to the customer’s complete satisfaction. Not only are Amazon’s consumers loyal to them, they’re even willing to pay for the opportunity to have an enhanced customer experience, which is proven by the popularity of the Amazon Prime program. In fact, more than 50 percent of Amazon’s shoppers are Amazon Prime members. Considering the volume of business Amazon handles, that in itself is an amazing statistic. Who could have ever imagined that customers would pay a yearly fee to shop at a store?
The car industry has experienced immense change over the past decade or so. However, despite the fact that technology has rapidly become more affordable and available, for some dealers there seems to be a disconnection between how consumers wish to interact with the dealership and how they are currently allowed to do so. Thus communication is often highly unsuccessful.
Incoming calls go unanswered, or employees who do answer aren’t empowered to provide or are unaware of the information the consumer seeks. The website widgets proliferating dealer websites are often provided by multiple vendors and aren’t always integrated with each other. Information gets lost and is not relayed from one system to the other, providing a poor experience and adding friction to the process, resulting in frustrated customers and many that abandon any attempt at doing business with the dealership.
Even with all of this technology at our disposal, in many cases, it is not being used in ways that align with consumer expectations. For example, imagine contacting Amazon via chat only to have them collect your name and contact information with a promise to get back to you—then nothing. The same poor experience is often present in dealerships. With this level of service the customer quickly goes elsewhere. Today they have no patience as technology has trained them in immediacy – they want it and they want it NOW!
Adding to the problem is that vehicles are built with better technology, are more reliable and need service far less frequently. It wasn’t that long ago that service customers were required to visit every 3,000 miles or so for an oil change. Many cars nowadays have a recommended 7,500-mile service interval. And this interval is only going to increase.
Tesla can already perform software updates remotely and even fix some mechanical issues through simple updates that don’t require a customer to visit a service center at all. The same technology will undoubtedly be commonplace amongst all manufacturers as cars increasingly become connected and software dependent. What this means is that customer experience and retention will become that much more important as the interval between service drive visits increases.
So, what is the solution? Is it an improved customer experience with luxurious new facilities that include movie theaters, nail and hair salons, and Starbucks? While these things are novel and may be appreciated, they aren’t necessarily the key to capturing and keeping a customer. While consumers do want a nice place to do business, the main thing they want is to be able to conduct that business on their terms. They want you to make that customer interaction easy for them.
You can’t have a relationship with a customer is you can’t interact with them. And you can’t interact with them if you aren’t allowing them to interact with you through the method they desire and on their schedule.
The retail automotive industry is routinely described as being five years behind the rest of the retail world in terms of adapting to the constant shift in consumer behavior. If you shorten this lag time, focus on what consumers want today and adopt practices that industry-leading retail businesses currently provide to their customers, you will find that your customers are more receptive to your messages, are more willing to interact with you, and will do so more often. After all, all dealerships are retailers. The result is increased business, customer retention and, ultimately, brand loyalty.
That’s why CRM as we know it is dead and the age of customer interaction management has begun. Join in and win.
Author: Ujj Nath
Ujj Nath is the Founder and CEO of myKaarma (www.mykaarma.com), the cloud-based conversational commerce software that’s revolutionizing the auto service industry. He has 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur and automotive industry executive. In 1990, prior to myKaarma, Ujj founded Syncata, a major provider of business consulting and systems integration services. In 2004 he successfully negotiated the sale of the company to ProQuest Business Solutions (NYSE: PQE), which was subsequently acquired by Snap-On Tools (NYSE:SNA). At Snap-On, Ujj was Vice President of Global Accounts and headed the Professional Services Organization for Snap-on Business Solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.