The digital revolution has radically altered how marketing, sales, and delivery are conducted in most industries today. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in consumer markets and the purchase of goods and services. Brand new ecosystems and businesses like Airbnb and Uber have completely altered the way people gain awareness of, research, and purchase even traditional services like transportation, lodging, and recreation.
These changes have not been slow to materialise. As digital technologies have evolved at an ever-increasing pace, so too have consumer’s expectations for their buying experience from these companies. Traditional ways of marketing and selling are no longer valid, and changes need to happen at fundamental levels within an organisation if they’re to successfully transition into new ways of doing business.
Customers Yearning for Quality Experiences
According to the Autotrader Car Buyer of the Future Study, less than 1 percent of automotive consumers rate the current execution of the car buying experience as ideal. Consumers are sick and tired of being anonymous consumers. They feel like an undervalued nuisance with no real value to the OEM until they’re pulling out their credit card; after which they revert to being anonymous again, a one-in-a-million, faceless email address ripe for untargeted and annoying offers with no relevance to their interests, lifestyle, or needs.
This cycle and customer sentiment clearly show that few OEMs are delivering high-quality, meaningful brand experiences. Just a few years ago, consumers could not fathom buying a car online. Today, over 44 percent of consumers see the online purchase of a vehicle as a viable alternative to the traditional dealership experience.
In many cases, buying online is preferred as the stigma of the dealer has grown worse over the years. Yet OEMs seem reluctant to admit that these changes are even happening, much less alter their businesses, sales models, and overall approach to meet the changing needs of the consumer.
Another area where the automotive industry needs to evolve is in the timeliness of their consumer response. While older generations are accustomed to delays in dealer responses due to hours of operation or other reasons, younger generations expect feedback via digital channels within hours of sending an initial contact request.
Waiting days, or even 24 hours, to receive a response is simply not acceptable any more. Timeliness is key, and being slow to respond creates an appearance of being out of sync with today’s fast-paced digital world.
Digital Is the Future of Automotive
So how can OEMs reverse their industry’s sliding reputation and recapture the imagination of the automotive consumer? The key lies in leveraging advances in digital marketing, data capture, and the extraction of consumer insights from digital data to deliver accurately targeted content and experiences at the right time and the right place.
This digital transformation pervades all aspects of the automotive sales cycles and begins with better tailored websites that aim to provide consumers with the research tools they need to find exactly what they are looking for. Information about the client and their interests as depicted by their activity on the website need to be captured and made available to the dealerships to enable higher quality, more meaningful interactions with the consumer, so they feel valued as a potential customer.
Dealers need to be trained on how to use the info provided to them to become a trusted adviser to the consumer—someone the customer believes truly has their best interest in mind. Sales processes need to be simplified to be less intimidating. Consumers complain about the pushiness of the financing portion of the buying process, which often has them leaving the dealership feeling that they’ve been taken advantage of.
After sale, digital channels need to be leveraged to provide consumers with timely updates about the status of their vehicle delivery. From my own experience, this is one of the most disappointing stages of the car-buying process. Not knowing where your car is or when it’s going to be delivered is frustrating, especially while receiving irrelevant offers from the OEM that clearly show that it does not know that you’ve already purchased a vehicle.
Current technology can turn this stage around and make it one of the most pleasurable parts of the car-buying process. Regular updates about the car, perhaps with a personal touch, combined with relevant offers that show the OEM knows who you are and what you’ve purchased can go a long way in making you feel more confident with the purchase.
In the end, consumers will ultimately demand and receive the car buying experience they’re looking for through their purchasing decisions. Those OEMs that are unwilling to adopt new technology and adapt to the changing marketplace will be left behind.