The largest complaint that consumers have when considering a vehicle purchase is the fact that the process takes too long. Even with all the new technology processes that dealerships have employed over the past few years, the purchase process is still as long and cumbersome as it was twenty years ago.
AutoNation recently started to roll out a vehicle purchase program, transferring much of the buying process online. It promises consumers a 30-minute in-store automobile purchase transaction. It would seem that AutoNation listened to the auto buying public and may well transform how cars are purchased in the future. They certainly don’t have a shortage of locations available to consumers.
I’m sure the entire industry is watching to see whether they can accomplish this and if car shoppers will embrace it. If their program is successful, and consumers start to realize that they can buy a vehicle almost as swiftly as buying something on Amazon, AutoNation could hold a serious competitive advantage. Given the option to buy a vehicle in 30-minutes, or spend all day at a dealership, my guess is that many consumers would choose the former. They may, in fact, be willing to pay a small premium for the vehicle in exchange for the time they will have saved. If the process is successful and other dealerships are slow to adopt something similar, it could also result in an increase in customer loyalty to AutoNation.
When Henry Ford began building his automobiles, while cars existed, they were out of the reach of many consumer’s budgets. At that point in history, consumers asked for faster horses because they never dreamed that they would actually be able to afford an automobile. His vision was to make vehicle transportation affordable to the masses. And he accomplished that.
Just as the public in Henry Ford’s time didn’t believe they would ever own a vehicle, consumers, in general, don’t believe that they can purchase a vehicle so efficiently. Henry Ford proved them wrong and AutoNation may just accomplish the same thing.
Forget for a moment whether a sales consultant’s work area is messy, or if there are smudges on the windows. Let’s look a little closer at what a customer could see, hear or feel when they interact with your dealership in any department. What’s really taking place behind the doors may be a real surprise to you. Taken from a customer’s perspective, you just might be failing to meet their most basic expectations. As a result, you could be damaging your dealership simply by being unaware of what happens on a daily basis down in the trenches.
Have you made an anonymous phone call to your dealership lately? Almost every store now utilizes some form of inbound call tracking. These systems all provide the ability to record and playback your customer’s inbound calls. When was the last time you actually listened to some of the recorded calls these systems provide? Imagine a customer that calls your store, the receptionist gives a warm and friendly greeting but puts them through to the wrong department. Or worse, blindly transfers the customer to an employee’s voice mail (without giving them the opportunity to speak with another person that could assist them). Worse yet, many of the calls we have listened to clearly indicate the need for ongoing product training, as many times the sales consultant fails to answer even the most basic product questions. Would this be acceptable customer service? How often is it happening in your dealership? The answer just might surprise you.
And what about your phone system itself — Do you have a recording that customers hear when they are on hold? Is the message current and relevant? Imagine the embarrassment if you were still advertising a new car lease special for a 2012 model vehicle with the 2015 models sitting on the showroom floor. Or the “winterize your car today” message still running on July first. While obtaining current and relevant messaging may sound like a core, it’s really not. Visit the website Fiverr.com and you can have a year’s worth of professional messaging done at one time very inexpensively, and simply upload the recordings when the time is appropriate.
What about your Internet/BDC department and those individuals creating emails for marketing campaigns? If a customer “enters” your dealership electronically, are you making sure that those emails and marketing pieces are addressed in a friendly and personal way? It happens more frequently than you may think that an e-mail template is filled with the words “first name” and your message is literally addressed “Dear [First_Name].” It’s these little things that can make the customer turn right around and defect to another dealership. When was the last time you actually took the time to read the correspondence that is sent from you with your name on it? Who is responsible for checking the grammar and sentence structure of the thousands of pieces of correspondence your store sends out each month?
Pretend you are a customer and walk through your front door. Call your own dealership, both day and night, and listen to how you are greeted and what happens when a call is transferred, or put on hold. Is it perhaps terminated unexpectedly?
Send yourself a test Internet lead from your website, or a third party site, and let the flow of emails find their way to your inbox for a month or two. Do any of these communications surprise, disturb or shock you?
Taking a little time to “walk through all the doors and peer through the windows of your dealership” could help erase mistakes, improve employee awareness, and reveal unnoticed problems. Take a different department each week of the month. Your employees will welcome the added attention and your customers will only benefit from it. No matter what actions are found to be needed, if done in the name of making business better and improving customer satisfaction, you’ll reap the rewards. Customers will feel more comfortable and have a more enjoyable experience at your dealership. Encourage all of your employees to pretend that they are customers and to keep their eyes wide open – to take a better look at what is happening in their dealership. You’ll be amazed how different things look.
A couple generations ago, if you didn’t carry cash on your person, perhaps a personal check was accepted at your favorite store. Then credit cards became an option, followed quickly by debit cards. And now, with technology changing seemingly overnight, two new payment options are becoming available to consumers at select and very notable retailers.
Apple Pay and CurrentC are two smartphone payment systems. CurrentC is a new (yet unreleased) smartphone payment system from a group of retailers, including the likes of CVS, Best Buy, WalMart, Sears, and Target. When it is up and running, with a CurrentC transaction, the customer’s payment will be debited from a connected bank account. Whereas Apple Pay’s system is partnered with banks and major credit card providers. The new Apple Pay system works only on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and integrates security technology that requires a fingerprint to conduct a payment transaction.
Apple Pay was launched on October 20, and has been greeted with lots of hype and controversy. In just three days one million new credit cards were added to Apple’s integrated Passbook app. Despite the fact it is only compatible with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, there is clearly phenomenal interest. This is great news for the retailers that have jumped on board and have started accepting this payment method. But perhaps not such good news for other retailers – consumers may soon stop shopping at places where their new preferred payment method is not accepted.
Retailers are taking notice of the interest in Apple Pay and some are turning their backs on this payment system. This is perhaps not a wise decision as essentially it means turning down customers and prospective new customers. It may be wise for these retailers to observe how quickly Apple Pay has caught on. It is likely to continue to expand as more consumers upgrade their phones. If the demand warrants it, aren’t more businesses likely to give the customer what they want? That’s the way it usually works. Why not keep your customers happy right from the beginning?
Loyalty doesn’t happen overnight. But losing customers because their wants or needs aren’t being fulfilled can occur instantly.
Every day we are hit with advertising and marketing messages. As consumers, we gravitate to a select number of places that offer the products we want or need to purchase. If we usually visit Wal-Mart and CVS, but they don’t accept our preferred method of payment, we may drive down the road to another store that will take our money. Will we return to Wal-Mart and CVS? That’s the question with unknown answers. Will retailers jeopardize consumer’s immediate business and the long-term loyalty ramifications if they do not accept the payment the customer prefers?
If two like companies are offering the same product with comparable prices, but one accepts the consumer’s preferred payment method, it’s only logical that it won’t be long before a the customer starts shopping at the place that allows the customer to pay their way.
As Apple Pay (or other virtual payment options) become more popular, businesses will lose the ability to track transactional data. The one thing to keep in mind, however, is that Apple’s Passbook app (which is built into iOS 8) also allows consumers to carry all of their loyalty cards within their virtual wallets. Loyalty programs of the future may end up being the only way for businesses to leverage transactional data to improve and target their marketing efforts.
The question has now transformed from “What’s In Your Wallet?” to “What’s Not in Their Wallet?”… And you better hope that the answer isn’t your business.
Competition in business is usually a good thing. Sure, we’d all like to have the market cornered, but without a little competition we would perhaps never figure out ways to improve our products or services and keep our customers coming back.
In an interesting article on Infusionsoft’s “Big Ideas Blog,” a few examples of businesses thinking outside the box were shared. 3Tees is a Singapore based company that prints T-shirts for companies “promoting events with a social cause.” It has a slogan of “You price it. We print it.” The company allows customers to determine the price of the shirts and their pricing strategy has proven successful. According to the article, the vast majority of customers make genuine offers that both fit within budget and provide an acceptable profit margin. In fact, while the company is willing to reject extreme low-ball offers, they have discovered that only 5% of total bids fit within this category.
One of the biggest reasons 3Tees is successful in their pricing strategy is their belief that, “given enough information and trust,” customers will make fair offers. Allowing customers to make offers for a vehicle purchase is a common practice in sales departments for dealerships. However, the challenges of educating customers on the technical aspects of a given service repair might prove a bit more challenging. In the automobile industry a “You price it. We repair it” pricing model probably wouldn’t go over well, and far be it that anyone would suggest such a thing!
My point here is that, if the name of the game is customer loyalty, then ultimately, every dealership will have to do something different than what has been done before. Everything changes, especially in our fast-paced world: from implementing new marketing strategies, to offering superior products, or an evolving customer experience. Finding new and creative ways to retain your customers, while still building new business, is an ongoing project, not a one-day or static invention. Dealerships have a mindset of being notoriously complacent and are often discouraged by management from trying anything that is outside the norm. How many times do you still see inflated gorillas hawking a weekend sale on the roof of a dealership? Taking a “safe” approach is generally expected and often encouraged in dealerships today. But with overuse of the safe approach, eventually will come diminished results. You should be thinking about how you can market differently than your competitor down the street. Ask yourself how you can set yourself apart as Cal Worthington did with his stores years ago. While Cal’s approach may have been a bit gimmicky, it worked at the time, and is actually documented in many marketing text books.
So just think about it. Every so often, it’s perhaps time take a trip up to 10,000 feet, open the doors and look at the landscape of your competition. Try and encourage creative thinking from both your staff and vendors. Unless you are the already the king of the hill when it comes to retaining and acquiring customers, there will come a day when you have to do something just a little different to keep your customers, or lure new ones into your dealership. As a dealer principal or manager, are you willing to take a chance and try a few out of the ordinary ideas to expand your business?
When consumers think of loyalty programs, they typically think of racking up miles, or frequenting a business in exchange for rewards, perks or freebies. No matter what business you patronize, there is a good chance that it is offering some sort of loyalty incentive. In fact, many argue that loyalty programs are so prevalent nowadays that they are losing some of the initial qualities that attracted consumers to them back some 45 years ago. Namely, that feeling of being treated special in exchange for the customer’s ongoing business and continued loyalty. Today, some loyalty programs choose not to even offer rewards. Instead they just provide the concept of receiving lower prices. Many grocery store chains have the regular price and then a loyalty member price. Sale prices are reserved just for members of their loyalty program. Your information and transaction histories are exchanged with the grocery store for a slightly lower total at the checkout counter.
Loyalty programs have certainly evolved. Many companies are shifting away from traditional rewards and offering experiences and other perks instead. The restaurant chain, Olive Garden, found that it’s “Never Ending Pasta Bowl” promotion was by far the most popular. So it decided to take it a step further and last month introduced the “Never Ending Pasta Pass.” The pass allow customers to enjoy all-you-can-eat pasta as many times as the customer wishes for a period of up to 7 weeks. The offer also allows the customer to extend some of the pass’s perks to as many as 7 guests dining with them. Olive Garden made the offer exclusive by offering just 1,000 passes through their website, at a cost of $100 each.
They sold out completely in just 45 minutes. Some may view this as a loss leader promotion. However, according to an article in USA Today, the restaurant chain came up with this promotion as it wished to provide a VIP experience for some of its most loyal and profitable customers.
Similar to the Starbucks metal gift cards that sell out annually, the Never Ending Pasta Pass offers Olive Garden’s most enthusiastic customers the opportunity to enjoy a VIP experience as many times as they like. It also generates instant (and quantifiable) revenue, while encouraging the pass holder to bring guests. This clever addition helps generate more revenue with each additional dining partner. In addition, a promotion like this (obviously) can generate press, blog articles and social media buzz. Olive Garden even teased consumers who were not able to purchase one by dangling carrots of extra passes that will be handed out through social media properties.
What do you think about adopting such a program as a car dealership? Imagine offering a limited quantity season long car wash pass that includes some service perks over and above what you would normally do for a customer. Or some other privileges, while also extending discounts to the customer’s friends and family members that bring their vehicles in with them.
In general, people like to feel special. Whether it’s showing off a metal gift card at Starbucks, laying down the Never Ending Pasta Pass at Olive Garden, or getting an on-demand car wash without waiting. When creating incentives for your loyal customers, thinking outside the box can make them feel very special while providing a reason for them to bring new customers to your store. And that’s one of the most important attributes that any loyal customer brings to any business – more customers.