The future is virtual

Last updated on February 10, 2022

It’s no surprise that customers are heavily influenced by price when it comes to buying a new vehicle. But certain studies show that customers are just as motivated to purchase from a dealership when they enjoy a positive customer experience at that dealership.

A study by AutoTrader found that as many as 54 per cent of customers made their decision to purchase primarily based on their experience with their dealership1. The result rams home the importance of customer care – from first point of contact, throughout the negotiation and sale process, and beyond.

But what does customer care look like when a global pandemic has upset the natural order of things? And can dealerships spin a positive out of the upheaval caused by COVID-19?

What’s for certain is that the pandemic has reshaped the traditional car-buying experience, with both customers and dealers forced to change the way they engage with each other. Where virtual interactions were once rare, now they are the norm. And where sales staff once set the agenda for how vehicles, finance and insurance were sold, now customers demand greater control over how and when they purchase.

The speed with which consumers have adapted to virtual interactions has been a hallmark of the new economy during COVID-19. And customers have quickly learned that the best experiences are the ones that are tailored to them and that are on their terms.

Successful businesses are rising to the challenge by incorporating communications and collaboration technology into the customer journey.

Technology solutions firm CDK Global did a deep-dive into drivers helping reshape consumer engagement and discovered that building a bridge from ‘online to in-store to virtual’ is essential for delivering the personalised buying experience consumers want2.

“Dealers who can offer a hybrid approach between the traditional experience and the virtual experience are thriving,” according to the report. “They’re able to streamline the sales process for a better, faster and consistent experience that results in more sales and happier customers.”

And what are some of the practical ways to do this during car-purchase? Here are just some examples:

  • Implementing video calls to provide customers with a familiar experience while also building relationships
  • Text messaging to get quick responses and stay connected with customers
  • Using screen sharing to provide a customised experience when talking through vehicle requirements, and financing and insurance needs

Investing in an omnichannel communications strategy that utilises text, live chat, video and screen sharing can help create the types of experiences that customers want. Sure, none of these channels are new, but some dealerships are utilising them better than others to communicate virtually with their customers.

If you’re thinking about adding flexibility to your insurance sales process, visit Your Workbench for tips on how to stay compliant with phone sales, including the new Anti-Hawking Reforms.

There’s no doubt that virtual vehicle sales are becoming increasingly prevalent. But let’s not write-off the in-person experience just yet.

The 2021 Deloitte Global Automotive Consumer Study found that 79 per cent of Australians would prefer to purchase their next vehicle in-person, with 13 per cent stating they would go fully virtual and 8 per cent happy to have a mixture of both3.

Of those who specified they would purchase their next vehicle online, the majority (39 per cent) said that convenience would be their main reason for doing so. Thankfully, a lowly 10 per cent said they would purchase a vehicle online so they could avoid going to a dealership.

The traditional process of buying a car may be undergoing a profound change, but it appears that dealership customers still want that familiar and trusted experience. Customers want to engage in different ways throughout the buying process, but they still want the reassurance, familiarity and warmth that comes with in-person contact.

The good news is that this is what dealers do best – build relationships. But if COVID-19 has taught us nothing else, it’s that good, old-fashioned customer care needs to sit alongside new (virtual) ways of doing business.

  1., '54% of Consumers Would Buy from Dealerships Who Provide Better Experiences Compared to Lower Prices', (26 October 2022)
  2. CDK Global, Reshaping Consumer Engagement
  3., 'Global Automotive Consumer Study 2021', (26 October 2022)

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