Transforming the automotive customer experience, one conversation at a time

Nothing gives you better insight into your customers’ experience than putting yourself in their shoes.

 

We knew it was pretty bad. But our personal experiences shopping for a car allowed us to live and breathe the frustration. From waiting too long for information to having to repeatedly explain our stories to different departments, the experience disappointed at every step.

 

It was a series of disjointed, repetitive, frustrating interactions. Not a continuous, helpful conversation—like the ones we have come to expect from brands.

 

We take a deep-dive into the reasons for shifting focus from sales to conversations, the anatomy of an engaging conversation, and how to use conversations to improve the experience of your customers. 

 

If you’re not convinced, go buy a car.

 

What’s wrong with the current sales-focused approach?

When prospective customers reach out for the first time, they automatically enter a sales pipeline. A linear chain of events that aims to push them from unqualified leads to qualified leads, and, if all goes to plan, eventually a sale.

Several things are wrong here.

  1. The traditional sales process frustrates customers
    The traditional sales pipeline actually makes it harder for customers and businesses to connect. Just making the first connection often involves a long game of back-and-forth, where both parties end up giving up.

Retailers have to qualify leads, chase leads many times via phone, email before getting through. Leads have to fill out forms, unwillingly wait for a call back, listen to voicemails, wait for another call back. As they move through the process, they speak to many departments, from BDC to sales to finance, and more.

  1. The language used to talk about people wanting to do business with you
    The way businesses talk about customers is a reflection of how they value their customers. When businesses talk about people in terms of leads and sales, the business-customer relationship is purely transactional from the get-go and focuses on the monetary value a customer represents.

The process is inconsistent. It’s impersonal. It isn’t human-focused. It’s the polar opposite of what makes today’s customers tick.

What do we mean by engaging conversations?

Engaging conversations means connecting in real-time with consumers to help them move smoothly and efficiently from one stage of their customer journey to the next. Customers have a continuous conversation with your brand: in person and across devices and apps.

By enabling automotive consumers to connect with your company when, how, and where they want, you can remove the friction along the customer journey and create the standard of customer experience consumers now expect from every brand they choose to connect with.

Without assistance, it’s currently impossible for sales teams to provide instant and helpful responses to every end user, every time. Technology that automates conversations is essential for auto retailers to do this at scale. 

The anatomy of an engaging conversation 

Dealerships already have conversations with prospects and customers all the time. But not all conversations are made equal. Engaging conversations combine the basic elements of human communication and more recent expectations driven by communications technology.

Let’s first remind ourselves of the basics. 

The definition of a conversation is, and always has been, an informal exchange of ideas and information between people. And whether chatting with friends or businesses, “people expect conversations to be helpful, personal, and empathetic.” We’ll explain.

  • Helpful. Customers begin conversations with an intended outcome. Maybe they want more information on prices or specs or they want to book a vehicle inspection. Dealerships need to give relevant answers to help customers reach their goals quickly.

  • Personal. No-one wants to feel like a number. Customers want to feel like brands are carving out time to have one-on-one conversations with them. Personalizing conversations includes using the customer’s name and tailoring recommendations based on their knowledge or preferences. This makes customers feel valued and more likely to remain loyal.

  • Empathetic. This is the opposite of the more apathetic traditional marketing and sales techniques, where sellers do most of the talking. People want to feel like they are listened to and understood. This means that customers must have control of the conversation—they ask questions, they choose when to engage. Retailers must listen carefully and respond when the opportunity arises. 

Second, we need to take into context the modern-day influences that are shaping conversations. Messaging technology is shifting customer behavior and leading consumer brands are setting new standards. Conversations also need to be:

  • In the right place. Many consumer-business conversations happen in the digital sphere, via SMS, instant messaging apps, chatbots, or social media. Dealerships need to meet customers wherever they are or lose out to competitors that readily communicate via these platforms.

  • At the right time. Customers don’t like hanging around for answers. They expect brands to respond almost instantaneously to messages. (Even at 3am, when your sales team is sleeping.) Conversational platforms allow dealerships to automate immediate responses to queries no matter the time and no matter the scale. Without the need for sales and support to work around the clock.

Improving the end-to-end customer experience with engaging conversations

We touched on some of the pain points customers experience in the “sales pipeline.” This is only a snapshot of the bigger picture. Pain points span the end-to-end automotive customer journey, from pre-purchase to customer service, to the end of the relationship. A direct consequence is painfully low customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Yet auto dealers still have the opportunity to turn this around. Enabling real-time conversations across the customer journey can directly impact the customer experience and their loyalty to your company.

Let’s see how dealerships can use conversations during the purchase journey, customer service, and beyond.

Nurture new contacts
In the run up to purchase, potential buyers typically interact multiple times with dealerships via a number of platforms. They want answers quickly. After just five minutes, lead response times significantly decline.

This creates chaos for sales teams. We see it all the time. Sales agents bust a gut to find every incoming messaging and reply in quick time. But the sheer volume of messages is too much to handle and responses are delayed. In the end, potential customers lose patience and find answers elsewhere.

Dealerships can take advantage of real-time conversations to reply to incoming queries quickly and keep customers engaged. Dealers can set up automatic messages and message sequences to new enquiries so they can send out relevant replies to queries as and when they come in. At the least, this helps to keep the buyer connected until a member of your team can engage in a deeper conversation.

For the business, not only can speed keep customers in your sales funnel, it can potentially reduce the time they stay there and increase your ROI.

Improve customer service satisfaction
Any dealership can see that customer loyalty is declining. A number of factors are to blame, but customer service (or lack of) is a big one. According to a Microsoft survey, 95% of 5,000 respondents said that customer service influences their loyalty to a brand. With tunnel vision for closing the deal, dealers are unable to give customers the level of service they expect.

Real-time conversations enable customers to communicate how and when they want with the automotive service team. This can help customers troubleshoot minor issues out of working hours, or keep them engaged until a service technician is available. Conversation bots can also schedule service appointments, which makes the process quicker and easier for customers and the dealer.

Plus, car dealers can automate sales follow ups without even having to pick up the phone. For instance, you can automatically send a friendly SMS to check on all customers that purchased within the past few days, or remind them later on to book a vehicle service check-up. 

Re-engage long lost contacts
Sales teams are grafting to respond to prospective buyers, yet old contacts haven’t heard a peep from you in years. Your customers are much more likely to purchase from you than non-customers. So, why do most auto retailers focus more on nurturing new “leads” than old ones?” 

Hey, we know it’s not easy. Dealerships don’t have departments dedicated to re-engagement, so it takes time and manpower you haven’t got. This is where real-time conversations come in. They allow you to automate the re-engagement process by initiating conversations with all those contacts who purchased months, years, or even decades ago.

For example, you could automatically engage with customers who bought, say, over five years ago to see if they want to trade-up their model, or send an automated reminder to customers whose lease warranty will soon expire. 

Automotive consumers are unhappy about dealerships’ “lack of interest [and failure] to interact” once the sale is done, according to Deloitte research. Keeping the conversation going afterwards with the help of technology isn’t just the perfect antidote, it also gives them a good reason to stay loyal.