Chief Commercial Officer at automotiveMastermind, overseeing new business, customer retention, account management and marketing.
Emerging from the unpredictability of 2020 are the companies that took additional steps to stay relevant and appeal to evolving customer demands. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of 2020 was the resiliency displayed by consumers and brands alike. Some industries, like automotive, actually fared better than early forecasts.
IHS Markit, my organization’s parent company, currently projects economic recovery in the automotive space is underway, leading to the global growth of 4.4% in 2021. Auto sales are expected to pace this recovery, forecasted to grow 9% this year. This should excite and motivate dealerships to get their fair share of that 9%. Now is the time to accelerate growth.
While businesses have proven they’re capable of quickly adapting to new kinds of buying behaviors, today’s audiences want more. While price and payment are still major considerations, convenience, safety and consumer experience are now some of the most important aspects of the car buyer’s journey.
Looking at 2021 and beyond, it’s critical businesses continue to evolve with their audiences. While there will always be quick fixes, the past year has proven that approach doesn’t lead to sustainable, long-term success. Three key themes related to long-term growth have emerged — and they’re applicable to businesses beyond those in the automotive retail space.
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1. Make customer experience your number one priority.
Though priorities may change, including customers’ perception of value, customer experience remains the most critical factor to business growth. This has become increasingly true in today’s consumer-first era and saturated media landscape.
To cut through the noise of cluttered inboxes and constant marketing messages, create highly personalized connections that ensure you stand out against the crowd and prove you truly understand your customers’ unique wants and needs. These communications should tap into the ethos of your brand, setting the stage for a customer experience reflective of your brand promise.
In the automotive space, one of the goals of enhanced customer service is to reshape the narrative of less than stellar customer experiences that perpetuate the industry. Dealers are embracing new technology that both enables them to identify areas of improvement and refine their approach to customer experience.
This may look like automated service SMS updates providing a cost-effective and consistent way for dealers to connect with customers on something that benefits them, while also paving the way for an excellent customer experience and future loyalty.
According to IHS Markit, ease or convenience is the primary choice for vehicle buyers selecting their purchase method during the peak of the pandemic. Whether it’s in-person or online, your customer experience needs to be simple and straightforward. For a business transitioning some or all of its services online, there are digital concierges able to bridge the gap between online and in-person transactions while helping personalize customer experience along the way.
2. Make strategic hires to put the right people in the right seats.
Finding success with customer experience doesn’t just mean changing the way you do business, but also how you hire personnel and staff your business.
While the number of touchpoints and in-store staff at dealerships — and other businesses — are decreasing, the required skills for each employee continues to shift. Time spent interacting with customers through digital mediums is increasing. Therefore, talent management and retention become increasingly relevant. Today, successful digital sales personnel have more authority to close a deal thanks to their multifaceted approach, compared with sales representatives who simply work on the floor.
This new kind of staff should aim to maximize efficiencies while planning for the future. At the dealership level, this has meant challenging traditional hiring personas, expanding the search to consider people with a unique experience — like hospitality and digital marketing — and retaining employees with diverse skill sets and backgrounds. A recent Roadster study found being tech-savvy and process-oriented are two of the most valued skills for dealerships when considering new hires.
Your team needs to support the new processes and systems to simplify your process while leveraging technology wherever possible. Seek out recruits who are not only tech-savvy but also eager to adapt to every challenge thrown their way.
While it’s important to remain nimble in 2021, companies should hone in on one of the things that they can control: hiring the right people for the right roles.
3. Commit resources to community giving.
Community involvement is an effective way to increase brand awareness, establish a positive reputation and grow your business. According to a 2017 study using benchmark data dating back to 1993, approximately 87% of buyers would purchase a product from a company that advocated for an issue they cared about.
Social responsibility and giving should be something near and dear to your brand and community, such as working with the local Habitat for Humanity or local youth sports teams or making large donations and collections for food banks. Businesses that are genuinely interested in investing in their community will, in turn, be viewed as authentic. As community-oriented businesses, this is something the dealership world has long known as true but saw an increased emphasis on during the pandemic.
Becoming more involved in your community will create invaluable long-term bonds and ultimately build loyalty. Not only do we need to come together to fight the virus and financial issues surrounding shutdowns, but building an ongoing sense of togetherness will help keep more businesses from shuttering their doors for good.
Processes and preferences born during the Covid-19 pandemic have required companies to think differently about how they interact with customers, how they hire and how they support their communities. Focusing on these three areas will position your company for success not only in 2021 but also in the future. While these ideas are not a quick fix to sell more cars, they are critical to the long-term success and health of your business.