Created on Friday, 25 February 2011
Joanne wants to book a service appointment at her new car dealer. Rather than picking up the phone or exchanging emails with a service advisor, she simply calls up a dealer app on her Smartphone. A few strokes and the appointment is booked, with services needed and estimated costs provided.
Many readers already possess the hardware to do this, and the dealer apps are already starting to appear on their iPhone and Blackberry devices.
When Joanne drops off her vehicle at the dealership, the service staff is waiting for her. No lineups. No paperwork. When the repair work is complete, she uses her Smartphone again to pay her bill.
This mobile technology is already in place. It's just one segment of the digital revolution that is sweeping today's society, including the retail car industry, and changing the way dealers connect with customers.
Recently, at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco, a major focus among delegates and exhibitors was how to market to a younger, tech-savvy generation. Many dealers feel that communicating with customers in the digital age is one of their biggest challenges.
The array of options is ever-widening, from mobile apps, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools and text alerts to social networking, search engine optimization and aggregator websites.
The focus on mobile technologies makes sense, given the growing popularity of these devices, especially among younger customers. Today, between 40 and 50 per cent of dealer customers have a Smartphone. By 2012, that figure is expected to hit 90 per cent as older, less tech-savvy and slower adapters embrace the technology.
There are apps that allow dealers to create a daily mobile inventory of used and new vehicles, which can be forwarded to a customer's mobile device, and apps that allow dealers to send service alerts in real-time using text messages.
Dealers are using mobile apps with CRM functions that allow staff to respond to inbound leads using their mobile devices, thereby avoiding delays in response time.
Manufacturers are introducing features that allow Smartphone users to upload mobile apps to their in-car navigational systems. These transferable apps eliminate the need to access a mobile phone from inside the car.
Another innovative way that dealerships are communicating with customers is through aggregator websites like Groupon and WagJag. These sites post a daily special for a limited time, and the deal is only valid if enough people join the group. Some dealerships are using Groupon and WagJag to promote service specials and detailing services.
No discussion about modern communications would be complete without mentioning the growing popularity of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Many dealers have created Facebook fan pages and Twitter feeds to share information and encourage dialogues with online communities. A few enterprising dealerships have even developed their own YouTube channels and webTV sites, where they post videos of vehicles for sale.
Search engine optimization has also been effective in helping dealers attract viewers to their websites using popular search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.
With so many people working and playing online, electronic newsletters have become another innovative way for dealers to connect with customers. Electronic newsletters are delivered to multiple platforms, including Smartphones, iPads, laptops and desktops. The vehicle navigation screen will soon follow with voice interphase, as currently used for navigation routing.
E-newsletters are used to provide customized content to an established list of subscribers/customers. That content often includes upcoming sales events service/parts specials, vehicle maintenance tips, new product announcements, and lifestyle information.
If there is one lesson that dealers are learning in the expanding new world of electronic communications, it's this: ignoring this trend is no longer an option.