The Automotive Customer Experience Is Changing. Here’s How Your Brand Should Adapt

There was a time when the automotive customer experience was fairly straightforward. Customers would shop around for a vehicle, buy one, and then rarely interact with that brand again outside of service stops. However, as customer experiences have grown more complex, so too have their expectations, meaning that a formerly simple set of interactions have grown into their own ecosystem of multiple journeys and touchpoints.

What follows is a set of simple steps that your automotive brand can take to adapt to this changing landscape, enabling you to stay a step ahead of both the competition and your own customers’ expectations (any organization that can anticipate what its customers might want before even they know will be a winner in its vertical).

How to Adapt to the New Automotive Customer Experience

  1. Understanding Customer Frustrations and Delights
  2. Directing Frontline Training Efforts
  3. Predicting Happy and Unhappy Customers
  4. Identifying Moments That Matter

Step #1: Understanding Customer Frustrations and Delights

This tip may seem obvious, but bear with us, because there’s a more productive way of going about understanding customer experience sentiments than waiting to react to a bad Yelp review. Customer experience (CX) orthodoxy tells us that it’s just fine to address problems and delights as they occur in real time, but “fine” doesn’t take your brand to the top. What does is having designed your program around concrete financial goals, listening to the audiences most pertinent to those goals, and then directing investments only toward the areas that matter most to them. Why spend big on a piece of your program if it does nothing to solve CX challenges?

Step #2: Directing Frontline Training Efforts

Once you understand what about your customer experience delights or frustrates your clientele the most, you can have a much easier time deciding how and when to train employees accordingly. This is a huge step toward achieving Experience Improvement (XI) because your training efforts are coming from a proactive, informed place that you’ve established in our first step. Empowering your employees to better address problems will also boost their morale and investment in their work, which correlates directly with happier customers.

Step #3: Predicting Happy and Unhappy Customers

This step takes some time to get to, but like we said earlier, being able to future-proof your customer experience and anticipate what your customers will want or reject is a total game-changer. This knowledge can only be built up after taking time to understand your customers as people and training your employees to respond with that mentality. Of course, reaching this step is not a one-and-done; it takes constant proactivity to future-proof your experience, but your bottom line will be stronger and your clientele will thank you for the work.

Step #4: Identifying the Moments that Matter

Being able to spot the moments that matter in your customer experience is the culmination of everything we’ve talked about so far: gearing your program toward spotting problem areas, training employees to proactively tackle brand shortcomings in their interactions with customers, and gaining an understanding of what customers will want down the road. Identifying the moments that matter is crucial to creating a truly customer-centric culture and building a foundation of powerful human stories to take your brand to the top. After all, the best brand experiences aren’t built on just the best tech or consultation; they’re built on the best and most human connections.

Want to learn more about the evolution of the automotive customer experience and how your experience program can help you get ahead? Check out our latest eBook here!

Automakers Focusing More Attention to “Retention/loyalty”…But Can Dealers Deliver at the Customer Facing Level?

There’s a change going on with automakers! For the first time, automotive OEMs are creating and implementing proprietary customer loyalty programs for their dealer network.

Those programs are anchored by redeemable rewards points and aimed at keeping customers in the dealership “loyalty loop.” And car makers are even funding entire programs…one has even deposited $210 worth of points for each new car buyer so that new sold customers can use their points immediately.

It’s a first for the automakers, who, until recently, have ridden the wave of robust car sales following the great recession of 2008. The past hot market for sales placed retention on the back burner. But that wave is now ending, prompting dealers to search for other means of profits…mainly from used cars and the service center.

Loyalty programs, driven by redeemable points, are not new. Those programs offered by vendors have been around for decades. What makes them more attractive today is the new awareness on the part of retail auto leaders of the true value of a retained customer.

Loyalty programs can send a clear message to the customer that “we care about a relationship with the customer for the future”.

In addition to creating loyalty rewards program, car makers are also focusing more and more on retention rate benchmarks of their dealers…even rewarding them with bonus cash for meeting manufacturer preset goals.

And there is an increasingly strong feeling among retail auto leaders that “retention” will eventually replace “CSI” as the key measurement for the customer’s experience at the dealership.

In one case, a major automaker has already replaced the traditional service CSI score with an expected retention number.

These changes are also prompting a subtle but significant shift in dealership strategy. Traditionally, dealer leadership has always focused on the showroom, but now, with the plateauing of sales, that same leadership is now gaining a more intimate awareness of how the service center is the key to retaining customers for service revenue and repeat sales.

Dealer Service Centers are Ground Zero for Customer Retention

There is little doubt that what happens in the dealer service center has the most profound effect on customer retention. I spoke about this in two previous posts in the Maritz CXCafe Your Other Showroom, The Service Center and Client Loyalty Is Not Dead…But Client Follow-Up is!…but some of that information bears repeating in this latest post.

Success with ramping up acts of retention will require a dramatic cultural change that dealers will not adapt to easily.

Ever since the dawn of auto retailing, budgets for bringing traffic to the showroom have far exceeded those allocated for the service center. That will have to change with the new focus on loyalty.

Consider these NADA stats from 2017:

  • Dealers spent an average of $7.00 on retaining their already sold customers (2017)
  • Luxury dealers spent an average of $762.00 on each vehicle sold, non-luxury spent $670.00 (2017)
  • Average gross on referral vehicle sales was $1,200.00 vs $817.00 for fresh “ups”
  • Referrals have a 51% service usage vs 29% for fresh ups
  • Referrals have a 96% CSI score vs 73% for fresh ups

Clearly, increasing budgets for the service center have had a hard time gaining traction with store General Managers, a group dominated by those whose pedigree was developed in the showroom. That will have to change.

Greatest Deterrent to Focusing on Retention is the Existing “Transactional” Culture

Dealer service advisers don’t instinctively view the value of customer retention. I know this after observing it for 3 years as customer experience manager/retention (the service center exclusively) for one of the largest Buick dealers in the country.

As I stated in a past MaritzCX Cafe post, the number one enemy of customer retention is what I call transactionalism…the preoccupation with an all-consuming focus by dealers on the sales “deal” or the service “RO”, to the detriment of creating a “memorable” experience for the customer with follow up to match.

That proverbial focus on the transaction pushes a “memorable experience” and “customer follow up” to the back burner.

Customer Rewards Programs: A Platform for Delivering a Memorable Experience

We already have established that the service center is ground zero for retention success/failure for dealerships. We also know that service advisers are the primary brand ambassadors for that retention.

Sure, the CX delivered by the sales unit is important, but not as critical to retaining customers as the service lane experience and customer follow up. And while the customer experience during their visit to service is important to retaining them for future loyalty, the follow up of that same customer is even more critical.

That’s why loyalty programs, featuring redeemable points for future service discounts are so critical to repeat visits to service…and eventually to that next vehicle purchase.

Those programs not only offer the customer future discounts on products and services; they also convey a perception that the dealership cares about a future relationship with the customer.

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