Change the Experience; Change the Results

Change the Experience; Change the Results

The studies are clear:

  • According to DrivingSales, 99% of buyers expect a hassle when they start the car buying process; and
  • According to AutoTrader, only about 1 in 235 buyers actually likes the current car buying process.

While consumers have nearly universally disliked the process of buying a car from a dealer for virtually as long as there have been dealers, they didn’t really have many viable alternatives in the past. Prior to the Internet, they could (and some did) buy a used car after scouring the newspaper classifieds or when they happened to notice a For Sale by Owner sign on a parked vehicle.

Interestingly, even though the Internet brought us websites like eBay and Craigslist that made it fairly simple for used car buyers to avoid dealing with dealers, every year tens of millions of consumers still buy vehicles the traditional way; that is, by eventually visiting a dealership’s lot.

So, if people are still buying cars “the old fashioned way,” why should dealers care about improving the car buying experience at their stores? Moreover, given the robust market over the last several years, there really hasn’t been a reason for dealers to change, right? I mean, even below average dealers grew sales over the last several years.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Sometimes change happens slowly and sometimes it comes at you all at once. In the car business, change usually happens a little slower than what some would describe as “at a snail’s pace.” For example, while the Internet lead is more than twenty years old, the “car buying revolution” that the Internet promised in the 1990s has been little more than a slow evolution… until now.

Unfortunately for most dealers, the changes are now occurring faster than ever before; and they’re coming during a market flattening that has already seen greater discounting and higher employee turnover. If the market remains flat or even turns downward (as some predict), dealers who cannot provide a great customer buying experience – the way today’s connected consumers want to buy – will find themselves struggling unnecessarily to move metal.

But Steve, dealers have improved over the years, right?

Certainly, there are dealerships that have made great strides when it comes to improving the buying experience. But, most dealers have been so satisfied by the market growth that they’ve seen little reason to improve. To demonstrate this, let’s look at one friend’s recent attempt to buy a car (I’ll keep his experience to bullet points for the sake of brevity):

  • He dealt with two online third parties and four dealers directly.
  • He visited three dealers’ physical lots during his first attempt to buy, and was not approached by a single salesperson. (He visited the physical lots, because he said these dealers’ websites and third parties provided too little real information.)
  • He submitted price quote requests via four dealers’ websites on the last day of the month, asked for their respective “best price” and stated he was going to buy that day – which he did.
  • Of the three places he did not buy, one dealership responded with a price well above what my friend felt was “market;” one indicated they would send a price, but never did; and one responded two days after the lead was submitted (and after he had already purchased elsewhere).
  • The place he bought responded immediately and included alternate, in-stock choices of the same Year, Make and Model.
  • After he provided a little more information requested by the dealer, they responded with a competitive price. He showed up on their lot 15 minutes later to purchase.
  • While at the dealership, they treated him so well (and made him feel like he was buying rather than being sold) that he upgraded to a nicer trim level.

Good, right? Well, let’s be clear, the experience was sub-par (in his opinion) at three of the four dealerships he visited in his search. Additionally, despite a good sales experience where he purchased from, his F&I experience with this dealership was typical.

My friend explained, “The sales process took all of ten minutes once we had everything done; but the F&I process took a while. They had two F&I managers and were backed up. I was sixth in line so it took way too long.” 

My friend’s final thought was simply “Buying a car is a pain in the ass! It should've been made simple years ago!”

Time to change the experience!

We know from our own data that dealers who improve the in-store experience (via the methods taught in Assumptive Selling) earn higher grosses and better CSI, while they enjoy lower employee turnover. But, rather than dive into all the reasons some dealers won’t change the experience, let’s look at just a few simple ways dealers can improve the buying process for today’s consumers:

  • Keep the customer engaged
  • Offer true online buying
  • Be prepared for the online-offline hybrids

Keep the Customer Engaged

Consumers say they want a faster process when buying a car; and many dealers are accommodating them with a shortened road-to-the-sale that assumes everyone is here to buy and they’re here to buy today. Consumers, not surprisingly, are rewarding these dealers with higher grosses and better CSI. (Yes, you can shorten your four-hour road-to-the-sale and still hold gross. Moreover, you’ll close at a much higher rate.)

Shortening your road-to-the-sale, then, is an important step. Of course, just as important is to keep your customers engaged throughout the process. In laymen’s terms, this means keeping them busy. Think about it: if your customer had to sit still with nothing to do for five minutes, would that seem longer than if they and your product specialist were reviewing the F&I add-ons via a tablet for the same five minutes?

Of course the latter experience would seem shorter… because your customer was engaged. (Not to mention the transactional transparency that customers love when they can self-select things like lenders, terms, and F&I products on a tablet.)

Offer True Online Buying

Although most experts predict that true online buying will make up no more than 10% of the market over the next few years, this is an important 10%. Why? Because, according to those dealers who are already offering true online buying for new and used vehicles on their websites through products like AutoFi, they are seeing higher front and back grosses (and, of course, great CSI).

Plus, adding true online buying (not just the popular “digital retailing”) to your website, keeps you in control of that 10% that will buy this way. (Traditional banks and tech startups are already marketing their version of online buying via their own websites. And, while these companies generally pass the reserves onto the dealers, they still control the customer. This means the winning dealer will likely “win” on price.)

Be Prepared for the Online-Offline Hybrids

When you book a stay at Hilton.com, do you assume the hotel will have your room ready when you arrive? Do you believe their team should be expecting you? Do you think your check-in process should be abbreviated versus someone who just walks in off the street?

Of course you do! So, why aren’t you doing this at your dealership?

When someone submits a lead, calls your team or chats with your BDC, they are (in effect) ordering a vehicle from you. If you connect with them and set an appointment, they assume that you’ll have their vehicle ready, that your team will be expecting them, and that their buying process will be abbreviated versus someone who just walks in off the street.

We teach this as The Perfect Appointment; and when done correctly, dealers can expect to close 80% of those who arrive on time, while earning perfect CSI in the process. The first step for your dealership is to be prepared for those who’ve already provided us some information and, more than anything else, don’t make them start over when they arrive.

Think about that. What if the hotel acted like they’d never heard of you, and made you provide all of your information again when you arrived? Would that be a good customer experience? Well, that’s what’s happening today at too many dealerships.

The Experience Matters

Despite all the pre-work consumers conduct before arriving, the average dealer still closes only about 20-30% of their Traditional Ups because most everyone hates the experience. But, as we learned, dealers who can provide a better experience – like 100% online buying or The Perfect Appointment – can and do enjoy higher grosses, better CSI and closing rates up to four times better than average.

In other words, when you can change the experience, you can change the results.

Good Selling!

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