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It’s time to mystery shop your dealership’s online car buying process

For dealers, the online car buying process is a fast-moving game. Trends and customer preferences are constantly changing.

While you may use mystery shopping to assess your dealership’s in-person sales, do you take the same measures for online car buying? Failing to do so could be costing you business.

Keep reading as we walk you through how to mystery shop your online operations and customer service. These tips can provide guidelines if you’re hiring an outside service or are recruiting among family and friends.

First impressions count: online chats set the tone

When prospective customers visit your dealership’s website, their interaction with your brand starts. It’s no different from when they first step into the showroom. So, those first impressions made by the online chat team and sales staff set the tone for the entire buying experience. Ensuring these encounters are positive and engaging is the first responsibility of mystery shopping.

What to look for…

At a minimum, your “chat squad” should make customers feel welcome and valued. Even if they’re just communicating by text, there are still opportunities to be friendly and approachable. Build on this by ensuring your team is knowledgeable about what your dealership sells, including how to respond to inventory questions.

Reducing response time: minimize waiting periods

Like it or not, people expect instant gratification, especially when online. Long waiting times are a turnoff and an invitation to shop elsewhere. So, being able to connect with a prospect immediately sends a clear message that your dealership is customer focused. And while your business isn’t likely to open 24/7, having coverage during off-hours (especially in the late evenings) can easily yield results.

What to look for…

Get a timer out to see how long it takes for an online shopper to receive an initial greeting from a live person (chatbots don’t count). See how the response times vary by time of day and day of the week. While speed is critical, quality matters, too. These customer inquiries should be handled in a friendly and helpful manner.

Streamlining appointments: the value of effective scheduling

All the efforts to be responsive to online inquiries will fall flat if setting an appointment isn’t equally as smooth. Car shoppers appreciate a hassle-free process for arranging a consultation or test drive.

What to look for…

Get a handle on what’s involved in setting up an appointment. Identify how many steps are required and how long it takes. Is the effort straightforward and user-friendly, or are there too many hurdles? How quickly is a confirmation message sent? See what happens when you throw a monkey wrench into the process by requesting a service appointment.

Website usability matters: the need for easy access to essential information

Your dealership’s online car buying process is only as good as your website. Customers visit to get model information, check out the inventory, check prices, explore financing, and other essential activities.

What to look for…

Determine the usability of your dealership’s website. Is it intuitive and easy to navigate? Is vital information easy to access or buried in obscure menus? How well does the search function work? Looking at website traffic reports can help you learn about visitor behavior, including the time spent on popular pages and the last page visited.

Embracing online shopping trends: the importance of aligning sales efforts with customer preferences

For dealers, the online car buying process is a fast-moving game. Trends and customer preferences are constantly changing. Successful car retailers have to be agile to remain competitive. It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of virtual test drives and home deliveries was far-fetched.

What to look for…

Take an inventory of what your website offers and what it’s lacking. Can a customer complete the transaction 100% online, or are there a few steps that are still old-school? See what the competition offers, and don’t hesitate to look at other industries for inspiration. ChatGPT and other AI platforms are revolutionizing the web experience. Can this and other technologies take your website to the next level of meeting customer preferences?

Personalized customer treatment: fostering engagement and satisfaction

Personalization separates all retailers, including dealerships; it’s a smart way to promote engagement and create happy customers. Your mystery shopping efforts should identify how much online customer service and the website reflects this.

What to look for…

Individualized customer attention begins with asking questions. Online staff can quickly learn about a prospect’s needs and preferences and direct them accordingly. In addition, website inventory search tools should be as detailed as possible. For example, quickly locating a car with specific features can turn a looker into a buyer.

Consistency drives success: uniform customer experiences build trust and loyalty

When it comes to car buying, no one likes surprises. A consistent experience throughout the online shopping process fosters trust, which leads to sales. Much of this goes back to the other aspects of your mystery shopping adventure.

What to look for…

Check that each step of the online car buying process is consistent. This includes ensuring the website design and navigation are uniform across all pages. Movements between functions should be seamless and feel very integrated. In addition, interaction with each staff member should be equally engaging and friendly. Just because there may be a hand-off doesn’t mean there should be a change in attitude.

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David Goldberg
David Goldberg
David Goldberg is a contributing writer and reporter for CBT News. He brings a unique combination of dealership experience, a lifelong love of automobiles, and a journalism background to his writing for CBT News. He has a BA in journalism from The George Washington University.

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