From the days of tracking customers with index cards to the incredibly complex and varied solutions on the market today, there have undoubtedly been many evolutionary changes in the auto industry. Many of these technology solutions emerged before dealers even recognized a need, and so embracing new tools and processes was not met without resistance.
Fast forward in time a little from those index card days, and dealers could receive third-party leads via fax machine. Then with new technology, leads were emailed and tracked with Outlook or another mail client. After that, CRMs came out, and dealers could better manage communications and track the customer’s progress in the sales (or service) funnel.
Technology advancements and the many new tools capable of handling those reoccurring tedious tasks, put pressure on businesses to invest more heavily in marketing tools designed to drive traffic to the dealership website. Dealers were paying crazy amounts only to receive leads that contained bad information or that were sent to four to five other dealerships as well.
Many thought the answer to engaging customers was two-fold: buying/obtaining more opportunities and then responding to them through autoresponders, email templates, and several phone calls, made as quickly as possible. The problem was, other dealerships were often taking the same actions, and even using the same CRM-provided email templates as their competition. Customers were getting fast responses, but not only did they not get answers to their questions, but they were also receiving the same templated email from multiple dealerships.
The paradox here is, many dealers thought buying more leads would attract more customers and lead to more sales. Some dealers started buying as many leads as they could afford, but the problem was, those leads converted at a low-percentage rate witha very high cost-per-sale.
As I started to think about how to x/improve this issue, I reflected on a story about Henry Ford: When consumers, investors, and others questioned why he was building cars, his response was, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” You see, Henry Ford was a visionary and foretold what society would want before they even knew they would want it.Despite the risks involved in crafting new solutions/technologies, change was necessary.
The creation of software and new technologies arise from a need to solve a problem on the user’s end. That’s not always the correct way to do things. A philosophy (and business strategy) of “reverse engineering,” starts at the customer and works its way backward. This philosophy can help with identifying and alleviating pain points that create friction in processes.
By following this strategy, I discovered the most obvious problems were unengaging templates, the inability to monitor the customer journey, which made it impossible to know when taking action was necessary, and the lack of or minimal personalization.
Another best practice is to study what high-performing competitors are doing. Of course, in the domestic market, Ford’s largest competitor is Chevrolet. Both encompass a large market share of truck sales in the United States. What was GM doing that we weren’t? How could we take advantage of those practices or learn from their knowledge?
One initiative that GM instituted was with a partnership with the Disney Institute -- a worldwide leader in customer experience and the single largest beneficiary of not just the fans of the brand but even better – brand advocates. Why is that? It started with a single philosophy that Walt Disney himself implemented when designing Disneyland way back in the 50s – intentional design. While Walt Disney was researching theme parks to learn how to create a better one, he noticed that most existing theme parks were dirty and unpleasant.
In one simple but extremely telling example of intentional design, Walt hired hundreds of employees to do one thing – count the steps a guest took with trash in their hand before throwing it onto the ground. The answer? 30. So, what did he do? He made sure there was a trash can every 30 feet. There is no detail in any Disney park that doesn’t t into Walt’s philosophy of intentional design.
And that’s how new solutions that solve pain points emerge - reverse engineering to identify the problems then intentional design to solve them for the business but, more importantly, for consumers. Dealerships that take this approach, embrace these strategies, and then implement them into their dealership’s processes will find that they are better able to improve not only customer engagement and experience but also enjoy increased sales and revenue.
Originally published in the September/October issue of Dealer magazine