The car business can be a great way to make a living. But, for every car you sell or service, there’s a customer on the other end making everything possible. So, it’s troubling to learn that less than 1 percent of customers enjoy the car-buying experience. That puts your business on par with an audit from the IRS or a trip to the dentist in the minds of consumers.
As the Sr. VP of DMS and Fixed Operations for Cox Automotive, helping dealers improve the car-buying process is my top priority. And, no matter how well you think you’re doing in this area, there’s always room for improvement. Here are three ways you can improve the car-buying experience for your customers.
- Increased Focus on Digital Sales
In recent years, there has been an evolution in automotive retail. Gone are the days of haggling with pushy salespeople and kicking tires at the dealership. Today’s customers are savvy, well-informed, and prefer to do their research online instead of at the dealership. They value a car-buying experience that is transparent, predictable, streamlined, and efficient. While this core change in consumer behavior has thrown a wrench in the workings of many dealerships, it presents a real opportunity for those willing to align with consumers’ needs.
Customers have shifted their focus to buying cars online, and dealerships must be willing to cater to this change in behavior. This shift doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon in-store operations, but it does mean you should be willing to adapt. Make sure your website is equipped to handle increased customer traffic with tools that help consumers compare options, calculate finance payments, and even chat with a sales rep. And, speaking of sales reps, give them opportunities to sell cars online by interacting with customers via your website. The modern salesperson acts more like a call center rep than anything else. If your customers can complete every part of the car-buying experience online, and show up at the dealership just to pick up their purchase, you’ll sell more cars and have happier customers.
- More Effective In-Store Shopping
Customers will no longer tolerate a crummy-looking lot and showroom, filled with people that pester and an experience that annoys. They demand a premium car-buying experience. Consider, for example, the Apple model for customer service. If a customer has a question, needs a repair, or wants to buy a phone, she makes an appointment for a specific time to meet with a specific person. She visits a high-tech, inviting environment for a few minutes, and walks away with increased brand loyalty. This is what consumers have come to expect in a car-buying experience as well.
Give your dealership a facelift akin to an upscale hotel lobby with amenities, shops, and a concierge assigned to a single person who escorts the customer through the experience. While this premium approach costs more and heavily relies on talented, trained salespeople, it provides a superior customer experience that will attract attention.
- More Pleasant Sales Experience
Despite the challenges to current retail models, results from extensive Cox Automotive research reveal that there are several best practices that should apply to every dealership. And, as it relates to consumers, your frontline salespeople can do more to offer your customers a pleasant car-buying experience.
Well-trained sales employees can streamline the car-buying process to minimize handoffs—even conducting the entire transaction on the sales floor rather than in the back office. This serves to improve transparency and build trust between the salesperson and buyer. It means implementing paperless credit applications, minimizing negotiation, and inputting customer information digitally through apps and tablets (and using up-to-date technology, in general). Creating a sales culture within the dealership that caters to the customer will go a long way toward winning back your customers’ appreciation and loyalty.
Bottom line, the customer deserves an excellent car-buying experience. With an increased focus on the digital side of sales, the in-store experience, and a more pleasant sales process, customer appreciation will increase and so will the sales. It might take a little time for perceptions to come around, but with a little effort on the part of dealers, buying a car can once again be a sought-after, enjoyable experience.
About the Author
Author: Paul Whitworth
Paul Whitworth is the Senior Vice President of DMS and Fixed Operations at Cox Automotive.