Today’s customers know everything before they walk in your door. Here’s how you can grab, and hold onto, their attention.
Everyone knows that traditional vehicle shopping has been radically altered by the Internet, and yet many dealers aren’t reacting nearly as well as they could to this massive change. It’s no longer just about making the sale, but proactively reaching out to customers, getting them into your store, keeping them on your radar, and then having them recommend you to others.
“Shoppers who make it to your lot are yours to lose,” says Madison Gross, Senior Director of Consumer Insights at CarGurus. But even getting them that far in takes effort. According to CarGurus, two-thirds of all auto shopping takes place on a mobile device, as does 70% of all searches for MSRP or list prices.
Your customer is coming in prepared. In a 2018 survey, CarGurus found that 82% of recent buyers knew they wanted new, used, or CPO even before they started looking, and only 9% changed their minds during the shopping process. Additionaly, 46% knew what make they wanted, 42% knew the make and model, and 32% knew the dealership they’d visit. And they’re not waiting around: from start to finish, the shopping and purchasing process took only 5.1 weeks.
It’s all on the phone
Where are they looking? Some 60% of shoppers use the manufacturer’s website, while 47% use dealer sites—but a whopping 94% use social media. As Gross puts it, “You don’t get to choose the communication channels; customers do.”
Even when they’re inside the dealership building, 60% of customers still research vehicles on their phones, with most of them checking the price, the stock, and information on the dealership. Some 68% of shoppers always look at a dealer’s reviews before contacting the store, while 25% said the dealership’s reputation and reviews are the most important factors to consider when purchasing a vehicle.
That’s echoed by Kizer & Bender of St. Charles, Illinois. Partners Georganne Bender and Rich Kizer are consumer anthropologists who study consumer behaviour.
“We call it ZMOT, for Zero Moment of Truth,” Bender says. “Customers check you out online first, they go to your website, they go to Yelp, to your social media pages. They go every place and they read about you before they come in. There’s a preplanned perception before you walk in. A lot of that perception is what you’ve created on your website, but what the customer reads on Yelp, Facebook, and other places is how engaged they will be.”
Controlling reaction to your dealership
It’s vital to practice “reputation management,” Bender adds. Google your business frequently and do a deep dive, going deeper than the first couple of pages to see what’s being said about you. You should set up a Yelp business page, which can include your hours, important information, and photographs. “If you don’t set it up, people can still review you and you won’t know it,” she says.
Although you can’t control what people say, you can direct how you react to it. Thanking people for giving you a good review keeps them engaged. “If it’s not nice, say, ‘I’m sorry that happened. That’s not how we operate. Please send me a direct message and I will be happy to talk about your experience,’” Kizer notes. “You do not want to get into an argument on social media with a customer because you will never win, and you will never look good.”
Making that first impression
When people come to your dealership, their first impression is everything. Every building has a decompression zone, Kizer explains. “It’s the first five to ten feet inside the front door. In that zone, people aren’t thinking about anything other than getting inside. If there is signage or brochures, they’ll walk by without seeing it. It’s like going to Disneyland; you don’t see anything else inside the gates, because you’re only looking at the castle.
“If your salespeople stand around huddled like sharks waiting for the next fish through the door, that’s how (customers) feel. Give them time to breathe and look around, and then start a conversation that has nothing to do with cars. Let them have that experience, because it helps build relationships.”
Little things will make a difference, such as large, comfortable chairs. Have a basket of reading glasses on hand for those who’ve forgotten theirs. “We had one company put its name on the glasses. The owner said he had to stop because people were stealing them, but then he went into Denny’s and saw four people wearing them and it was like a walking billboard.”
Following up regularly is also essential, because it can drive good reviews as well as repeat business. Bender adds she drives a “Licata” and has for 15 years—it’s the name of her salesman. “I bought a new car from a dealership every three years, but when he went to another brand he kept in touch with me, sent me email blasts, sent me cards. The humanizing keeps us coming back. If dealers want to reach customers, they have to stay in front of them, personalized from the dealership.”