Are you Ignoring Your Most Valuable Point of Customer Contact?

These days, customer experience is a vital part of the car buying process. And, the first part of that experience is your dealership’s appearance in the eyes of your customers, both on and offline. Sadly, I see far too many lots that are poorly presented – they look terrible. I’m sure you have seen them and know what I mean – dirty, poorly-presented inventory, ugly banners of every shape and size, no real information on the vehicles for customers to view, and lack of a consistent dealership image and branding.


Your lot could in fact be driving customers away to competitors which look far more appealing.


Have you ever left a restaurant because the tables were not cleared, the servers uniforms were dirty, or the food looked unappetizing? Or perhaps the opposite; you visit a new town, drive around to find somewhere to eat and a place on the corner looks rather attractive. You go in and a smiling well-dressed maître D greets you. The place smells wonderful, is attractively decorated and clean, and you have one of the best meals of your life.


Well, this same principal applies to your dealership lot -- how it looks will either attract or repel customers. Don’t drive customers away with poorly presented inventory and an unattractive lot; you spend far too much time and money attracting those customers in the first place. So, doesn’t it make sense to ensure they have an enticing reason to stay?


According to a recent article in Automotive News, in this era of online shopping and unlimited information, automakers are scrambling to find ways to reach consumer eyeballs to the tune of $15.2 billion. The article states that the automotive industry is the single largest category of ad spending nationwide and it is predicted that in 2018 advertising dollars will shift with digital spend surpassing traditional for the first time. And rightfully so, as more information and tools appear, consumers increasingly go online to research different brands and to narrow down vehicle choices. In fact, a 2016 Autotrader study, reveals that car buyers now spend 59 percent of their time researching online, and that number is sure to have grown since then.


Ah, but here’s the lynch pin in this whole car buying process. While a potential buyer’s awareness of a dealership and its inventory may start in the early online research stages, the 2016 Autotrader study reveals that 61% of new vehicle and 54% of used vehicle buyers initiate their first contact with the individual dealer by WALKING ONTO THE DEALERSHIP LOT. Yes, “Walking In” is the most common initial point of contact with dealers.  Yet that lot can be the most neglected advertising real estate there is.


Sure, consumers increasingly utilize the Internet to gather information and make buying decisions such as the type of vehicle and, more importantly, which dealership they are compelled to visit. But, in the end, most customers just come into the dealership.


And here’s the missing link: If most of your buyers simply walk onto your lot as their first point of contact, it’s vital to make that first personal interaction as attractive as possible to them. Don’t drive them away due to a poor lot presentation, make it visually appealing to car shoppers.


In the digital realm, appearance and efficiency rule. If customers attempt to gain information on your dealership’s website and it is poorly constructed, or hard to navigate, they leave with a negative perception of your dealership that stays with them.  Well, the same applies to your lot.


Customers want inventory that is well organized, clean and attractively presented. They want to view information about any vehicles of interest in an easy-to-read and attractive manner. They also want staff that can answer questions accurately without having to go to a computer or get a brochure to find the answer. Because most customers have conducted extensive research online before coming in, they often have more information about a vehicle than the salespeople. Part of the reason for this is the exceptionally high turnover rate in the sales department and many dealership’s lack of focus on training. But is that a valid excuse?


No single aspect of the whole car marketing, research and buying process is more influential than what happens at the dealership when they first walk in.  And, customers are won over to your dealership and brand with a good dealership experience.


So, what is the dealer experience and where does it start? Is it amenities like child care and a coffee bar? Is it the friendliness and approachability of your salespeople? Is it your banners, decals and the total consistency of your message from your website to the lot? YES, YES and YES. This dealership experience is epitomized by the quality and consistency of your brand messaging both online and on-site.


Today’s car buying consumers are accessing information via the Internet in unprecedented ways, changing the game for how dealerships acquire new customers. There is no greater way to position yourself for success in the changing environment than creating a unified online and offline presence.


Don’t drive customers away by ignoring your lot. It is one of the most important pieces of the marketing and customer experience puzzle.



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