There are some things you know to be true, even if you don’t always have to see them in action.
Two truisms we often hear repeated are the importance of being flexible and customer-centric in fast-paced ever-evolving marketplaces. Articles and so-called experts from every industry speak to this idea of adaptability, especially in the auto retail business.
And in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, customer-centric adaptability has become more than just a truism for all automotive businesses.
“Data,” Miltsch explained, “and a dealership’s ability to act on it, are key to survival. Dealers need to be able to act at the speed of the customer and the speed of the market.”
While the conversation was focused on used vehicle acquisition strategies, Eric drove home a point that is even more important now than ever before.
“Dealers that are still just relying on old-school methodology and hand-powered types of solutions,” he said, “they’re not going to be able to keep up with the dealers that are adopting mobile and online technologies.
How Quickly Things Can Change
It’s only been a few short months since that conversation, and priorities have certainly changed since, but the message remains the same.
Retailers who were resisting change before, now have no choice but to adapt or die.
Many agree that the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis will forever change the way we buy and sell automobiles. Retailers who were already blazing the trail with the shopping process and adapting to consumers in a customer-centric way now have a significant leg up on those who procrastinated these ideas.
Core areas where customer-centric flexibility are now even more important include:
- Website Tools and User Experience
- Social Media Experience
- CRM Follow Up
- Video Communications
- Vehicle Pickup and Delivery Options
- Exceeding Customer Expectations
Outdated “Showroom” Thinking Put to the Test
A global pandemic is not the ideal way to illustrate a point but, we don’t often get to choose how important lessons are learned. There’s no doubt recent events will fundamentally change how businesses operate when it comes to the customer experience.
The question now is, how many businesses will be able to learn and adapt, and how many will quite literally be left in the dust.
The Web has been around now for 25 years. And up until now, the goal for most dealers has been to get the customer into the showroom. But with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis forcing everybody into quarantine, the goal post has been moved.
And chances are, it’s not going back to where it was.
Here is John Robertson from ShipYourCarNow.com sharing a story about a conversation with the Internet Sales Manager and Social Media Coordinator of a large speciality Truck dealership questioning why they would need a car shipping/transport service when their goal is to get the customer into the showroom.
To John’s point, dismissing the idea of offering to ship your vehicles to customers because YOUR goal is to have the customers in the showroom is precisely why Carvana has been able to gain the market share they have in such a short time period.
This past January on the Mobility Tech & Connectivity Show during my conversation with Lyamen Savy, Founder & CEO of 321 Ignition, an emerging mobile-first auto retail website provider, my guest was explaining why and how Millennial and Gen-Z auto shoppers are forcing dealers to evolve their thinking and adapt to their online shopping comfort zones and preferences.
“Millennial and Gen-Z consumers,” Savy explains at 16:31 in this video, “are the most skeptical generations in history. They grew up with the Internet – the most powerful research tool in the world. They like to do their own research.”
Lyamen’s point in that clip was that more informed shoppers spend more money. And that Millennial and Gen-Z shoppers prefer to educate themselves online using digital resources. Her philosophy is that the more information you make available to your customers on your mobile-first website, the more likely they are to do business with you and spend more money with you – because they trust you.
While making her point, she too shared a story of a dealer telling her that HIS goal is to get the customer into the showroom.
Online Shopping Tools Suddenly Matter That Much More
In an article by George Polgar on the 321 Ignition blog titled, Coronavirus: Why Online Tools Matter, Polgar points out the impact that the novel Coronavirus is going to have on automotive supply chains. But this is only one aspect of the industry being affected.
From a practical standpoint, Polgar writes, the fear of human-to-human contact spread of the virus makes the automobile showroom a target-rich environment for spreading the contagion.
Aside from liberal use of high priced sanitizing liquids, not touching your face, “social distancing” and sneezing into your elbow, there’s not much else you can do to combat the spread on the sales floor.
However, the boredom, frustration and lack of productivity of enduring light customer showroom traffic is not the only option.
Effective digital marketing will help savvy dealers power through the crisis.
In his article, Polgar references Author Doug Stephens as stating,
“This health crisis will be like adding jet fuel to an already exploding segment of retail. Amazon and a handful of others will be the beneficiaries of a windfall.”
In the current digital marketing era, the retail process never stops because of a medical crisis or interrupted operating hours or any other unforeseen circumstance. A car dealership with the right digital tools and capabilities can keep the pipeline of customers flowing at times like this.
Here is Doug Slotkin, an Advisor to the Board of 321 Ignition on the aforementioned panel explaining at 7:26 in this video, “The grocery business will be changed forever because of the Coronavirus pandemic. People are going to get more used to buying their groceries online and having them delivered.”
Carvana, Slotkin points out, the automotive disruptor of disruptors is not immune to this paradigm shift either. They have a huge amount of debt, relatively little cash, and unlike the traditional brick and mortar dealership, Carvana does not have a parts and service business.
And fixed ops, as we have come to see, is playing a vital role in the survival of car dealerships right now.
In March, during a fixed ops panel discussion, Lumena Litts, Founder & CEO of QB Business Solutions, a company that assists dealers with their vehicle warranty reimbursement process with automakers, was sharing how OEM personnel, like many of us, are also working from their homes.
“They too [OEM workers] are being forced to adapt and find new ways to conduct their day-to-day business operations,” she says, “and support their dealers with things such as electronic documents, storage, sharing, and video conferencing as well.”
Adapting to the Paradigm Shift
As we enter into the second full month of a global shutdown, one where the difference between being classified as an essential or non-essential business could mean life or death for many dealerships, one thing is clear – the need to adapt is critical.
And I think it goes without saying, that this applies not only to car dealers, but to a majority of small businesses.