An Encounter With the Other 50 Percent

by Adam Rapp

A few weeks ago, a startling statistic was brought to our attention during the Dealer News Today podcast. According to Cox Software Executive Tracy Fred, approximately fifty percent of dealers are still heading in the wrong direction. Rather than adapting to the clear new way of life brought about by the pandemic, these dealerships are planning a return to former business practices. Fred warns that such a move will have irreversible consequences on your dealership. Bottom line, if your dealership is not adopting a strong digital presence and implementing strategies based on consumer trends, you are headed for disaster.

Initially, I had difficulty understanding how any dealership could be this naive. Are these dealerships still in denial over the new normal? With all of the readily available resources, from companies like Cox, CDK Global, and many others, there simply is no excuse to not make an effort towards digitalization. Current trends clearly show that customers prefer online vehicle transactions. If customer retention efforts remain at the core of on-going dealership success, you have to be able to show some evidence that you’re listening to their needs. This is the reason I am beyond perplexed by my recent experience with a local dealership.

Our current circumstances mean that I have not been doing much driving lately. Luckily, I work remotely and can even choose delivery for most of my needs, I desired. Aside from staying home for my own safety, I also live with someone who is immunocompromised. This means that my mobility within the outside world continues to be limited.

Besides a morning run in the neighborhood, part of my routine is taking my car out for a quick spin to run the engine. About a week ago, during one of my drives, the check engine light came on. Under normal circumstances, this is a major cause for concern. When combined with the pandemic and our current household situation, it becomes something of a nightmare.

While my car is sitting more than it’s on the road these days, this is still not an issue that cannot go unchecked. Seeing that many dealerships have implemented contactless service, I was confident that getting my vehicle in without risk would be feasible. I was sorely mistaken.

When I called the dealership, I was quickly connected to “Dan” in the service department. Early in our phone call, Dan seemed friendly and engaged. He asked me a few questions about the car and made the scheduling process easy. Once I was booked for servicing, I asked him about the dealership’s contactless drop off procedures. This is where my confidence began to dwindle. Dan was very unclear on the subject. He vaguely mentioned something about pulling my car under an overhang. At this point, I thought this was the designated place for contactless drop off. So, when I asked Dan where I leave my keys, he told me that I couldn’t just drop off the car, and must sign off on some authorizing paperwork before leaving. Dan assured me that all of the service employees would be masked and that I could wear one myself if it made me feel more comfortable. I told Dan that their drop off procedures did not work for me. I asked him if there was any other way I could sign the documents – potentially online or over email. He responded with a staunch no, adding that this would be illegal. I could not believe what I was hearing. Has this dealership completely closed themselves off to data and the current events? Was I having an encounter with the other fifty percent? As an optimist, I believed this was simply a matter of miscommunication. I asked Dan once more if there was any other way we could go about handling this matter. “No”, he said. With no other options, I told Dan that I must cancel my appointment. Even as he was losing my business, he couldn’t come up with anything but a “sorry”. After my conversation with the dealership, I decided to do a little research into their pandemic business plan. After all, every car advertisement appears to address meeting customer needs during the current circumstances. To my surprise, the dealer’s website makes no mention of COVID-19 or any accommodations for customers. The only new features implemented are scheduling a service appointment online (you still must sign off when you drop off the vehicle).

This brought me to investigating other dealerships in the area and seeing if they, too, fell into the fifty percent. This is fortunately not the case for the majority of my local dealers. Every other website I visited welcomed me with detailed business strategies, and evidence of a plan designed to ensure that customer safety and health are not compromised. These dealers cover everything from contactless sales and servicing to their cleaning practices. If you are wondering if it matters, I can promise you that it does. Seeing the way other dealerships prioritize their customers, especially in times of crisis, has been a genuine eye opener. My current dealership’s inability to create relevant policies surrounding such a key issue causes me to consider where else they may be falling short of my expectations. Would my vehicle even be properly serviced under such management? I am not taking any chances. Unless this dealer gets with the program, I know where I will not be purchasing my next car.