How much do you really know about your customer’s true experience while he or she is shopping for a car? As a dealership manager, you already read your CSI reports and customer reviews. However, obtaining a broader, authentic understanding of your customer’s journey through the sales process will drive more dollars to your bottom line.

How can you accomplish this deeper dive and learn more about what happens before, during and after a sale, or during and after a service visit? Creating a director of customer engagement and experience position is one alternative.

This would be a key position responsible for collecting and analyzing data, and then leading an effort to optimize the customer life cycle with the end goal of improving customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention. This director would assess all of your dealership’s departments and find ways to make their customer service as seamless as possible. It would be an especially strategic role at stores with multiple brands and that receive reviews on multiple platforms.

Why More Customer Insight Matters

You might think that the data you are already collecting are sufficient to understand your business. After all, if sales are up and your CSI scores have never been higher, it stands to reason that something is going well in the sales process.

However, let’s be honest: Not all CSI scores are created equal. How many sales or service drive visits have been completed with, “If you’re not going to give us 5s on all answers, please give us a call first.” That can feel coercive and unfair to the customer, as if his or her true opinion doesn’t really matter to the dealership. In today’s complex marketing and sales environments, it is important for dealership to understand the nuances of your sales – and, even more importantly, of the sales and service customers you lost. A proper analysis requires collecting as much data as possible.

CSM, an e-magazine for customer service professionals, reports that a typical dissatisfied customer will tell eight to 16 people about the bad experience. Analyzing customer interactions at a macro level to spot trends, and following up with micro-level analysis of specific issues can mean the difference between new or lost sales and satisfied or dissatisfied customers.

The Case For A Separate Position

You might be inclined to let various managers throughout your dealership prepare data and reports to increase your understanding of customers’ experience. In order to obtain a cohesive, honest view of your processes, however, it can be much more effective to let one person lead the effort. Done right, this is a fulltime dealership position that will pay for itself many times over.

A director of customer engagement would work closely with your BDC and Internet department and provide an overall perspective of the dealership. While the BDC and Internet teams will be the voice of the dealership to your customers, the DCE would help fine-tune scripts and follow- up calls. Having the DCE perform analysis would free your BDC to spend more time on direct contact with customers.

Customer experience management (CEM), also known as customer journey management (CJM), is a multi-faceted process that begins with collecting as many data points as possible from sources such as Google, DealerRater, JoinWomenDrivers.com and Edmunds. It is a process that involves competitive analysis, reviews of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and customer reviews on auto and dealership websites and customer surveys. It also involves seeking perspectives from your employees about their interactions with customers. While the DCE wouldn’t interact with customers on a regular basis, there might be specific times when special surveys are created to explore customers’ viewpoints.

What Is, Isn’t Working

Once data points are collected, the analysis begins to understand what is working and what needs re-tuning. Analysis helps identify gaps in the sales, service and marketing processes.

An overview of the responsibilities of the DCE includes:

  • Identify customer satisfaction drivers 
  • Assess sales performance gaps relative to competitors 
  • Create customer satisfaction surveys and interviews 
  • Perform on-site observations 
  • Conduct extensive reviews of social media and Internet reviews 
  • Create action plans to improve performance 
  • Identify metrics for success evaluation

Here are three examples of when data collection and analysis can help you fine-tune your sales processes: 

  1. Understanding demographics: According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, nearly four in 10 women out-earn their husbands. Also, an Autotrader Inc. study reports that 53 percent of millennial car buyers are women. Are you collecting enough information to understand those demographics in detail? How would a deeper understanding help you target these market segments at an optimal level? 
  2. Women’s buying habits: JoinWomenDrivers.com reports that women visit 30 percent more dealerships than men do before buying a vehicle, and 48 percent of women purchase cars by themselves. 
  3. Millennials and technology: A survey by Edmunds, found that 80 percent of millennials use digital strategies to shop for cars, compared with 46 percent of people over age 35. Do you vary your marketing strategies by age group?

Downside, Upside Domino Effects

Now, I’d like to discuss how the lack of data could negatively affect your dealership. If you don’t know the demographics or buying habits of your customers, you may pay a big price when they walk out the door because:

  • If a customer doesn’t buy at your dealership, he or she will buy from your competitor.  That has a compounding loss for your dealership in terms of referrals. 
  • Chances are, a customer with a negative experience will tell people about it. A bad social media review can go viral in a hurry. 
  • When you lose a direct sale or lose a sale due to negative reviews, you also lose the service business of that potential buyer for at least three to six years. 
  • By not using digital marketing targeted to the right age groups, you run the risk of your competitor winning simply based on a better social media or Internet presence. 

The upside is much more interesting. Paying attention to details and correcting the course of your customer journey will result in fewer lost sales. Suppose these changes resulted in a 1 to 2 percent increase in sales. If an average single-store dealership generates $52 million in business, then the increase in sales would more than cover the cost of a customer experience director.

Realizing that sales gain will take time, but the gain will continue to increase as long as course corrections continue. A simple starting goal would be to identify how many lost sales are occurring and eliminate 10 percent of them.

Positive, Recurring Customers

In his article “Customer Journey Management Is The Future Of Customer Experiences” (SmartBlog on Leadership, May 2013), Brian Solis indicates that as customers connect more and more with technology, they become more informed. Being more informed empowers customers, who then become more demanding. This is a double-edged sword, unless your dealership is doing everything possible to proactively move your customers through the customer journey.

Today’s dealership customer journey involves more than the reactive approaches of the past. The days when a dealership is a buyer’s first stop are gone. When a shopper walks in your dealership’s door, he or she may already have read your dealership reviews and done research about desired car features and pricing.

It is up to your sales advisors to ask the right questions to assess where your customer is in the buying lifecycle. The director of customer engagement can create a blueprint or flow chart for assessing the next steps. Collecting the right information can help identify disconnects in the journey that result in lost sales.

The DCE may seem like a “soft” position – one that doesn’t have a direct link to sales or customers. In fact, it would be a key addition to your dealership staff that lets you go beyond CSIs and reviews and attain an in-depth understanding of what does or doesn’t work at your dealership.

In essence, the DCE could provide the “glue” to create a seamless customer journey that doesn’t just happen once, but rather is repeated many times over.

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