Does Your Customers' IRL Experience Mirror the URL Experience You Provide...and Visa Versa?

I bet you are asking yourself...what exactly does this mean? I am certain you have heard repeatedly and read numerous blogs about developing a unique and personal brand for your dealership, and how important this is while striving to gain that "competitive edge" which sets you apart from other "cookie cutter" establishments. Once you have identified your particular dealership dynamics and worked it into your business culture, the question now remains..."Are you perceived the same online to your prospects as you would be when they physically visit your store IRL, (in real life)?" Professional Authenticity in the digital age means being recognizably the same online and offline.

Let's reflect on a few facets of your client's visit, both online and at your physical geographic location, and compare the services offered in regards to hospitality, informational resources, transparency and more:

First Impression - Since most people decide in the first 8 seconds of visiting your site, whether they are going to stay on your site or continue their search elsewhere, "first impressions" are of vital importance. In the same way, first impressions at the dealership will set the customer's mood for the entire process and can make or break a sale. Does both the online and offline first impression match? Do they both perceive a well-established, solid and credible, customer-focused environment or is the virtual dealership online current, fresh and state of the art, while the physical facility is dated and dysfunctional, for an example?

Navigation- Your departments and specific points of interest online are strategically outlined and laid out with the use of tabs, pages, and drop down navigation. Are the departments and points of interest equally as visible and easy to navigate at the dealership facility? Often times, a customer isn't even easily directed to the proper area of the lot designated for "Customer Parking". Where do I go to look for pre-owned vehicles? Are they displayed in any sensible order or just randomly mixed in a state of organized chaos and confusion? Where is the retail parts counter, the waiting lounge, the public restrooms? Can I get WiFi and where is the guest password?

Personality - Your dealership has a personality...whatever that may be; it has one of its own! Perhaps you wish to depict a friendly, energetic and upbeat persona where employees are happy and offer a stress-free and delightful experience to all who engage at your store. However, is that characterized equally online and real life? Maybe online, you are portrayed as fun, embracing the most current technology and tools, and responding to the needs of the Gen Y's, but in real life you are dated, committed to old school philosophies and even playing "elevator music" throughout your building! BE the brand you want them to see!

Customer Service - In this fast-paced society, time equates to money and doing everything in your power to eliminate excessive waiting periods is considered courteous and will earn you respect. Are guests identified and greeted in a friendly manner with timeliness and professionalism both online and at your dealership? Perhaps at your dealership, you employ a greeter to help facilitate guests and move things along; yet online, you don't employ a chat function to field questions which warrant immediate responses.

Informational Resource- Many websites do a fantastic job acting as an "information station" providing answers to practically every question a prospective buyer could ask. The online shopper has access to all equipment, options, availability, pricing, how the model rates against its competition and more. However, sadly, the staff may not be equally as knowledgeable or even resourceful as the website. Product knowledge and inventory awareness are necessities when it comes to training your staff.

Identity- Building rapport at the dealership is a critical step in the sales process. Getting to personally meet the staff is crucical when nurturing trusted relationships, developing consumer loyalty and retention at your place of business. "Meet the Staff" is typically found tucked under an "About Us" tab on your website and is not always complete or accurate. Employees at the dealership sometimes blend in with guests and other visitors. All team members should wear a name tag denoting their name and position held at the dealership. Employees should also go out of their way to introduce themselves to guests at the dealership. It is proven that if a GM, Sales Manager, and F&I Manager introduce themselves prior to the negotiations commencing, it will be a smoother process and the closing ratios increase.

Transparency -More than just a buzz word, transparency must be exercised both online and during the negotiations which take place via phone calls, emails and face to face negotiations. Providing your customers with pricing, a tool to calculate estimated trade value, a payment calculator, a secured credit application, and even service menu pricing is a great place to start. With no hidden agenda, a very positive message is represented within this transparency, portraying integrity, honesty and trust.

Promotions- Online and offline specials must be in alignment. Too many times the staff at the dealership is unaware of promotions, coupons, or special saving offers displayed online. Furthermore, when a prospective customer actually calls to inquire, the employee is not prepared to discuss the promotion or answer any questions posed about the details and terms.

Credibility- Nothing builds credibility like relevant reviews and voluntary testimonials from your customers. Links to reviews and testimonials are often found on dealership websites, but tucked away in a manager's drawer at the dealership. Every consultant should maintain an evidence manual or a digital picture frame showcasing the customer's positive feedback for prospective buyers and customers to view. Testimonials in the form of video can also be played on big screen TV's wall-mounted in the showroom.

As we near the end of year, and begin planning for a more vibrant and profitable 2013, these are some of the areas we can review. It is fun to sometimes put on your customer goggles and look at your retail operation through the eyes of the consumer, whether it is from signing on to the website or driving up to the lot.

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