Customer Experience in Automotive: The Dealer Handoff Experience

In my last blog I exam­ined some of the stick­ing points I encoun­tered dur­ing the research por­tion of my car-buy­ing expe­ri­ence. Prob­lems I faced when try­ing to con­fig­ure a car on sev­er­al dif­fer­ent web­sites gave me a bet­ter under­stand­ing of how car com­pa­nies could improve this phase of the expe­ri­ence. The blog also out­lined some of the poten­tial ben­e­fits car com­pa­nies could real­ize by employ­ing some of the tac­tics and tech­niques of mod­ern-day dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing that are designed to engage the cus­tomer, cre­at­ing a bet­ter over­all expe­ri­ence for them.

The Deal­er Handoff

The next step in my car-buy­ing jour­ney was the all-impor­tant test dri­ve. This is where the con­sumer is tran­si­tioned out of the auto-com­pa­ny con­trolled world of adver­tis­ing and into the “real” world, where things are not always as sun­ny, fast, and beau­ti­ful as the com­mer­cials make them out to be.

My expe­ri­ence was that the deal­er was remark­ably unaware of the steps I had already tak­en to get this far. When I arrived at the deal­er­ship, the car I had request­ed was avail­able to be dri­ven, but the deal­er didn’t know if I had con­fig­ured the car, what my cri­te­ria were in buy­ing a car, or why I had cho­sen the make, mod­el, and options that I had. This infor­ma­tion could eas­i­ly be tran­si­tioned from the con­fig­u­ra­tor site to the deal­er, pro­vid­ing me with a much more pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence when I arrived.

An under­stand­ing of my inter­est in buy­ing the car could help the deal­er answer ques­tions, pro­vide insight, and oth­er­wise act as more of an advi­sor to me in my jour­ney as opposed to some­one sim­ply look­ing to make a sale. I was required to fill out my infor­ma­tion again pri­or to test dri­ving the car—also infor­ma­tion that could be eas­i­ly trans­ferred from the con­fig­u­ra­tor to the dealer—increasing the feel­ing of dis­con­nect between the two phas­es. I should be able to just show up, have the deal­er know who I am, and try out my car.

Return­ing to the Dealer

After my test dri­ve was com­plete I returned to the deal­er­ship, where I found lit­tle to no draw into the sales process at all. I locat­ed an employ­ee to let them know I was back. He asked whether I was pur­chas­ing the car for cor­po­rate or for pri­vate pur­pos­es. I respond­ed that this was a pri­vate pur­chase and was prompt­ly told that I was speak­ing to the wrong per­son … and that was it.

I was not real­ly direct­ed to the area or peo­ple I should be talk­ing to, and was left to my own devices to fig­ure it out. This is not the way some­one who is about to make the sec­ond largest invest­ment of his life wants to be treat­ed. I find it iron­ic that when I go to get my mobile checked out at the Apple store I am treat­ed orders of mag­ni­tude more impor­tant­ly then when I’m about to make an invest­ment in the tens of thou­sands of euros.

After talk­ing to a sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive and leav­ing the deal­er­ship, with­out a new car, I was again amazed by the dealer’s com­plete lack of fol­low-up. I felt like I went into a black hole with regards to fol­low-on mar­ket­ing, calls, or any oth­er com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It was up to me to con­tact the com­pa­ny again if I decid­ed I was still inter­est­ed in the car. I was lit­er­al­ly back at step one in the entire process.

This to me is the area where the deal­er­ship real­ly needs to increase their use of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing tech­niques. The fact that I active­ly sought out a spe­cif­ic car brand, went through the entire process of con­fig­ur­ing the car online, and then took time out of my sched­ule to trav­el to the deal­er­ship to test dri­ve the car means that I am prob­a­bly a pret­ty good prospect for this busi­ness to do some fol­low-on marketing.

Now, this fol­low-on may not even need to come from the dealer—it should in fact come from the auto brand itself. This would require the brand to find out from the deal­er on how my test dri­ve went, what ques­tions I had, and any oth­er rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion that indi­cat­ed my inter­est in the car. Dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing already has the abil­i­ty to do this; it sim­ply requires buy-in from both the brand and the deal­er to close the loop with one anoth­er after my test drive.

A lot can be done to improve the hor­i­zon­tal expe­ri­ence between research­ing and test dri­ving a car. Cur­rent­ly these are dis­con­nect­ed expe­ri­ences, which left me feel­ing unsure of what car I want­ed to buy, or whether I even want­ed to buy one at all. The indus­try will need to bet­ter man­age these two phas­es to cre­ate a dif­fer­en­tia­tor expe­ri­ence for the cus­tomer that will improve brand per­cep­tion and loy­al­ty. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for the retail­ers, if they can­not cre­ate this expe­ri­ence on their own, the auto mak­ers will pro­vide it, ren­der­ing the car lot sales­per­son a thing of the past.