Keeping Brick and Mortar In Line with Online

By Amy Losonsky

There are some folks nowadays that claim the internet is everything.  They research and work online, pay all of their bills and do their banking online, shop from home while in their pajamas on their comfy living room couch. They love having the control and independence that it all brings. The question, though is how do you keep the ever-growing online concept from entering your space in the automotive industry but not driving you out of your brick and mortar dealership? The answer may be simpler than you think.  

If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them   

Just Googling “How to purchase a car online?” already seems to put you at a disadvantage, as you are immediately competing with several sites popping up telling the customer they do not need your dealership. I do not believe this is entirely true, having worked for several years as an Internet Sales Consultant for one of the major players in the automotive industry.  But I will say the competition can be fierce. You need to prove to your customers that they need you just as much as you need them.   

Your dealer website is the first major role of importance in maintaining a positive presence in the online world. The content is extremely important. It is so much more than just the obvious, pertinent information of your name, address and hours of operation.  

When a consumer searches for a vehicle, more often than not, they have already done their research and have an idea of the make and model they are looking for.  Be clear and concise on the models, key features and be honest with availability. For the rare few that aren’t so knowledgeable you want your website to be informative about all of the vehicles your brand has to offer and what is available to order. In this ever-busy world the online customer doesn’t want to spend all day in a store. The more questions they can answer on their own, the happier a customer they are. This holds true for scheduling their initial appointment, to coming in to the dealership. The more user friendly your website is, the easier the whole process will be, resulting in a sale. Your customer wants to come in, have a quick and easy experience, and leave with plenty of time left to spare in their day. This is actually an advantage to you. The quicker you service your customers, the more customers you will have time to see in a week. It’s important to consider that you need to appeal to a wide variety of customer needs.

I have purchased vehicles in the past when I had to patiently wait several weeks for my order to arrive and I was fine with that because the result would be I would have the exact vehicle I wanted when my wait was over. I have unfortunately also been that customer who was so desperate for a vehicle and could not wait for a dealer-swap. Thus, I had to settle for what was in stock, resulting in me leaving the dealership with a color vehicle that I really wasn’t satisfied with and keeping it for the next five years. Being prepared for every type of buyer will make you more accessible to more buyers.

Online Sales Are Becoming Part of the Norm 

Now, there still may be a few customers that wish to skip the visit to your dealership altogether.  Be ready and willing to accommodate them too, after all, they are still your customers. By offering direct sales through your website and off-site delivery, you are still gaining a sale and staying a part of online retailing. Be pleasant and never discouraging as down the road they will remember their experience and you will want to gain a service client or a future sale. Once the customer has purchased and taken delivery of their vehicle, the real work begins. Business Development is so important and all part of customer retention.  Both the salesperson as well as the Business Development Customer Representative for your dealership should be following up to ensure the customer is satisfied with their vehicle and addressing any questions or concerns they may have. Have your BDC representative ask the right questions and listen and report back to you with the answers. Sometimes a customer’s slight suggestion will make a huge difference in your dealership. You will be surprised that implementing small changes in the right areas will help your dealership grow tremendously. Keeping customers happy trickles down in two positive ways: customer retention and referrals.   

Service Exists As An Extension of the Customer Relationship

After the sale, of course the customer will now need your dealership for servicing their vehicle.   Your website should be equally user friendly to schedule service appointments as it is for initial sales appointments.  If the customer does call, the receptionist and/or service advisors should be pleasant on the telephone. This is so important as sometimes needing service on your vehicle can be a stressful, unplanned situation. The service department, especially the customer waiting area, should be clean and comfortable for all of your customers’ needs.   Offering ample seating, wi-fi and refreshments all go a long way in ensuring a pleasant visit for your customer. When your service advisors check the vehicle in they should speak with respect to all customers, never having a predetermined notion that the customer does not understand their own vehicles. Yes, there is a business opportunity for upselling the customer things they may need for their vehicles, but try not to be too pushy as the average customer can see right through that.  Once the vehicle is ready for take home, I have always been impressed when the Sales Manager would briefly visit with me and seemed genuinely concerned asking how my visit was. Even a follow up telephone call, the next day, is a nice touch.   

Last Thoughts 

By repeating all of these steps over and over, your dealership will become a friendly atmosphere and not one that customers will shy away from.   All of the above may seem a bit obvious to you. But often we are guilty of monotony sinking in and we fail to stop and think about what is happening in the moment.   A dealership that prides itself on fast and easy performance to the customer, makes life so much better for all involved. The customer remembers the way you treated them.  Your sales and service staff are happy and your bottom line soars. It is truly a positive situation for everyone involved in the process.