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.