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Commentary & Insights

Meet Ilana, VP of Marketing at AutoLeadStar and Dealer Marketing Magazine Expert

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The Foundations "I did two years as a shooting instructor, and it was really fun!" If you know Ilana, you know she doesn't fit any mold.  We met with her on a video call; she was in a coffee shop and warmly greeted someone she knew as they walked in. That is Ilana. Welcoming, open and kind; relatable. She began to unpack her "start," an exciting story of army duty, exploration, and essentially, finding her team: her home base from which brilliance has come.  The Start "At the time, we weren't working in automotive. There were only five people at the Company, and I decided to take a chance because I liked the mission and the leadership. It was the best decision." Ilana worked through college and attained a degree in Psychology in the US, where she had grown up. "I knew that I wanted to do my army service. It's mandatory in Israel, and although everyone was going off to start their careers, it's something I knew I wanted to do." After completing her service, Ilana was introduced to someone who would become pivotal in her career.  "At the time, we weren't working in automotive. There were only five people at the Company, and I decided to take a chance because I liked the mission and the leadership. It was the best decision." Shortly after Ilana joined the Company, it changed its name to AutoLeadStar . It also changed its focus and began serving the automotive industry. "In the beginning, the CEO and I would travel back and forth while managing all sales from Israel; it was crazy!" In 2016, Ilana and Aharon Horwitz , the CEO of AutoLeadStar, attended their first NADA and then, a few months later, their first Digital Dealer. A lot has happened since then. They were able to meet people, have conversations and began truly understanding how to optimize for automotive dealers. "We understood some of the challenges. We began to focus and build relationships. It was an amazing experience." The Wins? "Building out a marketing team is actually way more aligned with what I want to do than I ever imagined." Ilana Shabtay: We're at over 100 people in the Company, which is, I think, the most exciting part about that whole journey is being able to be a part of building something and scaling a company now with way more experience but having been involved in the nitty-gritty from the beginning. I never thought I would be running a marketing department, but once we had a bigger team, it made sense for me to focus on and scale up the marketing department. We have people that focus on conversion optimization, we have a Growth Manager, a Content Marketing Manager, and they own it, which allows me to focus on the relationships. Being authentic is important. And I think that sticks out because I don't think it's very common. There's something about just being very real. When you build relationships, that's really special. And I think part of that is also just being able to remember things about people. And when you care about those relationships, people remember. The Future? "How do we stick to our mission when we're growing a company and obviously, you know, make money, but there's more to it; sticking to the core values." Ilana Shabtay:  This means making sure that people have a work-life balance and ensuring that our organizational values trickle down throughout the organization to all 100-plus people. This is just as important as delivering a successful business.  _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ On the 30th of November, AutoLeadStar's Q4 Live Launch Event, "AI-Powered Service Campaigns," took place, the third of the Company's commitment to a new product or big feature, released quarterly.  "We really care about disrupting the industry, and we commit to innovating quarterly."

Best Practices

Establishing Connections Through the Parts Department

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Creating connections with customers is vital for any business to thrive, whether you are trying to acquire new customers or sell to existing ones. By selling parts online, the dealership can connect to a wider customer base that expands across the country. This can provide additional revenue and help it build loyalty for the dealership and the OEM brand. The sales department often comes to mind first when we think of establishing connections with customers and building relationships. If a dealership wants to drive new opportunities, it will need to seek new ways to make connections with a broader customer base.  The parts department is often one of the most underutilized departments in the dealership when it comes to making connections with new customers. The dealership can expand its reach to customers nationwide through the parts department, breaking through localization barriers. It can do this most effectively by becoming the center for online sales.  The online parts market is thriving. In fact, it’s expected to reach  22 billion dollars by the end of 2023 , according to Hedges & Company. Despite the high demand for online OEM auto parts, most dealerships do not have an online parts business. As a result, many of these dealerships have difficulty establishing a strong network of customers. Connect Nationally by Selling Parts Online Adding online selling channels helps your parts department connect to more customers outside of your local market. Creating an online parts business also opens up new revenue opportunities and helps future-proof your department against local and national economic challenges. Dealerships may also find it valuable to sell through today’s biggest online marketplaces, like Amazon and eBay. Dealers that relied solely on brick-and-mortar sales took a major hit during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. According to NADA,  parts departments across the United States lost 6 billion dollars in 2020 . The business that came through their typical in-person buyers had plummeted.  However, dealers who sold parts online with RevolutionParts saw a  27% increase in online parts sales . When most parts departments were experiencing layoffs, dealers partnered with RevolutionParts were hiring more staff to support their additional sales growth. The flexibility of selling online allowed them to grow their customer base at a low cost. These dealers were able to increase their business because they were able to make convenient connections with a wide scale of customers. They were also able to provide a safe shopping experience for their customers, helping them establish a trusting customer base that would continue to grow long after COVID restrictions were lifted. Build Strong Local Connections for the Entire Dealership Aside from establishing a parts web store or uploading inventory to online marketplaces, dealers should sell parts through their dealership website. This is valuable for local retail and wholesale customers.  Local consumers can go online to evaluate prices, see availability, and order OEM parts without needing to call or visit the parts department. Offering convenient pickup or delivery options can help further secure business from your local customers.  This can be especially effective for growing your wholesale customer base. Make it easy for them to view your online inventory and more, help them get quotes on prices instantly, and check for part availability without having to pick up the phone. By providing a convenient shopping experience, you help both your department and your customers save time.   Giving local customers a positive online experience can build loyalty for the entire dealership. Those that purchase parts online will be more likely to return to the dealership for parts installations and other services. Getting that customer to the dealership increases the likelihood that they will return to purchase their next vehicle, leading to more revenue and a higher absorption rate for the dealership.  Don’t Overcomplicate Online Connections It’s expected that over  274 million Americans  will make online purchases in 2023. If your dealership is not selling parts online yet, you should make it part of your overall strategy to grow revenue, build brand loyalty, and expand your business. It’s time for dealerships to invest in parts eCommerce to drive connections for their local and national parts buyers. 

Commentary & Insights

Non-GMO Dealerships

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I'll bet you one dollar ($1.00) you have this issue, too. When you're shopping at the market and see a food product that's "non-GMO," don't you stop and think about it? Follow my logic here, please. If it's "non-GMO," that means it's "natural," right? I mean, if it's not genetically modified, it's natural? So, if it's natural, that indicates it's "real food." So, they didn't insert not-real food into my food. Amiright? So, why do they feel the need to tell me that my food is made up of one hundred (100%) percent food? Why can't they just leave that off the labeling? Am I missing something here? I just want true and genuine food. Likewise, shoppers want a "genuine" dealership, not an artificial corporate one with no personality and a queue for everything. How do you translate this to action, so the customers feel what you are about? Let's just take one step today, and here it is: Respond to your online complaints like a human (and definitely not a robot) and invite the customers into the store to get their problem resolved. You cannot resolve these issues by communicating through postings on websites. All too often, I see dealers have "robo-responses" posted by real people telling the customers that the dealership is "sorry for their experience" and then offering nothing to the customer. Zero, zip, nada. What function is that fulfilling exactly? How does that help either the dealership or the customer? Even worse, I was recently at a dealership group in New England whose policy was to post something which said, "Please email xxxx@dealership.com and tell me your concerns." This was posted after the customers had just spilled their guts telling the dealership, and elaborating to the public, the very nature of the problems. At best, it appeared the dealership was insincere. The issue here is not just a reputational one. When potential buyers are scouring the internet, looking for where to purchase, they read these reviews to determine the genuine nature of the dealership. You really can tell the culture of a store by how its employees respond. So, responding to these reviews will help you sell units, too. I've seen it happen over and over again. Beyond this, an even better practice is when you have earned the right to ask the customer to "update" their review after you have fixed their problem. Here's what those updates should look like. And these are posted from the internet: "Previously, in a letter, I complimented the salesman yet slammed the dealership, which, in hindsight, was unfair since I never met Mr. Kline. After reading my letter, Mr. Kline was concerned enough about my feelings and thoughts about his dealership to invite me into his office and explain why I was so distressed. We listed my complaints and found that some were just anger on my part and unwarranted, yet some were justifiable. He fixed the ones that were justified. I guess the point I am trying to make is that he didn't have to do that. The owner of a corporation took the time to satisfy the concerns of one individual. I think that was great, and he'll have my business for life. Most times, you can get the help you need from the managers, and I'm not saying everyone should be running to the owner with every problem. It's just nice to know that Mr. Kline's door is always open. Thank you." Here's another: "At first, when I got the response back from Tom Kline, I did not respond back. I felt why bother if that is how his employees treat customers. I am sure it is the same way. Well, Mr. Kline kept calling, trying to settle this matter. Finally, he got a hold of my daughter, and we agreed to meet with him. I really did not want to, but my daughter said that it wouldn't hurt anything. I have to say that today I met with Tom Kline, and he was much different than what I accepted. He apologized, listened (truly listened to what I had to say and how I felt). He fixed the problem. I was so far off in my judgment about him, and I am glad that I listened to my daughter. I just knew that I would never use the dealership again for anything, but after dealing with Mr. Tom Kline, I have changed my mind. Thank you very much for your assistance and truly listening." Finally: "First, I want to thank Mr. Kline for his response. I was indeed contacted by Mr. Kline today and have set up a meeting with him soon. I must say any company that will take the time to not only listen to a customer but agrees to make it right is a place I want to do business with. I have never seen an organization except for the military to respond and address a problem so quickly. I look forward to working with Mr. Kline in fixing some concerns I have." There's nothing magical here, just good, old fashioned work. Fixing these complaints is money in the bank. And if you are not going to repair your customers' problems, the government will. Regulatory actions almost always start with unsatisfied customer complaints. Look at the recent regulatory actions against dealers resulting from upset and unresolved customer issues: Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Napleton Automotive $10 million Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Passport Automotive $3.380 million Commonwealth of Massachusetts Jaffarians Ongoing State of California Paul Blanco $27.5 million So, you can sell more units, have happier customers (who will continue to patronize your dealership), and avoid lawsuits and regulatory issues by controlling your online customer issues. By managing and overseeing these internet complaints, you are minimizing your risks and increasing your revenues. Now, that's a non-GMO deal if I've ever heard one!

Commentary & Insights

Right-Sizing Extended Electric Vehicle Warranty And CPO Policies, an Interview with Josh Bass, VP of Innovation at JM&A Group

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"It's all about ensuring that JM&A Group stays ahead of the competition, specifically in the F&I Product space."  The  MAPConnected Vehicle Service and Warranty Lifecycle Summit 2022  is approaching. A collaborative conversation, led by some of the most brilliant minds in the industry, will be hosted by the Westin Southfield Detroit on the 25th - 26th of October. We had the opportunity to sit with Josh Bass, Vice President of Innovation at  JM&A Group .  The Automotive Industry: A Transformation  Josh has had an exciting career, "most of my roles have centered around strategy and product innovation," he shares. Josh has spent most of his career at the front and center of emerging ideas and innovations. He started in the dotcom space and the e-commerce world "when everything was moving from brick and mortar to online retailing," Josh says. "I have seen the evolution and innovation that took place there and then spent many years in the energy industry." Terms like customer centricity and the evolution of home-based technologies were becoming prominent. Josh was fortunate to be involved in roles focusing on leveraging emerging technologies and trends to shape strategy and product innovation. In 2012, Josh continued his career by joining JM Family Enterprises, an $18 billion privately held company based in Deerfield Beach, Florida and parent company to JM&A Group, as Director, Sales Planning, then Vice President of Strategy and Business Transformation and subsequently, VP of Corporate Enterprise Strategy. Continuing his role as an agent for change, Josh became Vice President: Innovation, a new role within JM&A Group, a leader in the F&I industry for more than 40 years. In his new role, he is focused on combining the synergies of marketing and product development, "ultimately, it is about listening to our dealers and customers to leverage intelligence in the right way in order to provide great products and a great experience for our dealers," Josh says.  "It's all about ensuring that JM&A Group stays ahead of the competition, specifically in the F&I Product space," Josh says. "Most importantly, we focus on how our product helps dealers with their performance and, in turn, supports the end-user buying the product."  Predicting and Building for the Future "I think on a personal level, you've got to be curious, and you've got to be trying to connect the dots of things happening both within and outside your industry," he shares. However, Josh adds that an additional layer of sensibility is required. "I think where you can get caught up or trapped if you're looking way too far out and not being sensible about what's manageable and doable today." Josh cites bridging emerging trends with current trends as a critical factor in identifying how you can make things actionable in the present. However, he explains that a balance needs to be found, "not dreaming too far into the future and not being myopic and missing out on what's happening in your industry today." Connecting Marketing and Product Development for a Competitive Advantage "It's about the voice of the customer and our dealers." Listening to the dealers and the customers to fully understand their insights is vital when crafting products.  "Collaborating with our dealers to make sure that we're providing products and services as well as branding that is going to help them progress in ultimately understanding the customers' needs" is essential, Josh says. JM&A Group is committed to helping our dealer partners understand their customers better. Josh explains that leveraging consumer insights helps dealers effectively sell F&I products and brings a level of sophistication to the overall buying experience.  The E.V. Customer: Dealers need to be ready to answer sophisticated questions There are, of course, similarities between the traditional buying experience, those purchasing I.C.E. vehicles, and those purchasing EVs. "They are ultimately still buying a vehicle, but there are differences for sure," Josh shares. "We have seen that they tend to be a more sophisticated buyer, that typically has done more research prior to their purchase; EV customers ask more questions."  EV customers want to understand how the battery will maintain its health over time. In addition, they want to know how and where they will charge their vehicles. New technology within the vehicle, such as dashboard information relating to the car's performance, is another aspect that dealers need to be equipped to answer.  JM&A Group focuses on helping dealers create a compelling sales experience through the recent launch of their EV+ Protect™ brand.  "One of the reasons we launched the EV+ Protect™ brand is because we want to make sure that when customers come in to buy a new vehicle, they understand how to protect it and have the peace of mind that they have the coverage to prepare them for the road ahead."  JM&A Group has been providing service and maintenance F&I products to dealers for many years now and prides itself on listening to its dealers. Josh explains that collaboration with dealers allows for opportunities to be realized, "we understand that there is an opportunity to have a comprehensive brand that supports and covers our products." He goes on to share that "helping our dealers and their customers understand the buying experience to include a tailored set of products that are specific for a unique technology."  Inviting Change through Exceptional Relationship Management "We develop strong relationships with our dealers and maintain continuous dialogue," Josh explains. "Ultimately, we consult with our dealers to ensure that when emerging technologies and processes change within the dealership, we are right there to support them " he says.  "EVs are the next piece in the line of evolution in our industry." "Dealers have always been good at adapting to change in the industry, and JM&A Group is there to ensure that they are getting what they need in terms of product, insight, training and perspective on how to adapt to the changes." It all comes back to the relationships between JM&A Group and its dealers and customers. JM&A Group also used dealer feedback to create and launch a new EV warranty product under the  EV+ Protect™ brand. "We believe we have the most comprehensive and unique F&I warranty product on the market today," says Josh. The product provides comprehensive coverage for used vehicles. "Customers buying any EV vehicle can be provided comprehensive coverage for the vehicle as well as protection for the battery for the duration of that warranty period."  A Culture of Innovation "It is a continuation of our corporate culture to find new ways of doing business," Josh smiles as he answers what excites him most. "For us to be innovative in the market, and particularly to remain ahead of the curve relative to our competition while ultimately providing innovative products and services for our dealers, is the most exciting part." JM&A Group is committed to trying new things. "Part of innovation requires you to be able to try things that may be new to a market or new to the customer," says Josh, "some things are going to be successful, but there might be times where we don't do as well as we thought." Overall, JM&A Group has a deep commitment to learning from those experiences to convert them to success in the future, the freedom to create, and the byproduct of true innovation and, ultimately, learning.  In terms of launching the EV+ Protect™ brand, the team, through its field team, has made it accessible to dealers to gain a complete understanding of EV F&I products. "We can promote products and the brand. In addition, we have point-of-sale materials and information for customers during the buying experience." The MAPconnected Vehicle Service and Warranty Lifecycle Summit "We're going to be discussing the performance of EVs as well as the vehicle's impacts on claims considerations that you have to take in terms of pricing F&I products. These aspects will also impact product design and marketing, ultimately selling F&I to the buyer."  Josh will be teamed up with James Davies from J.D. Power, who will have unique insights and data perspectives on EV technologies currently operating in the market. "We are looking forward to also hearing the perspectives of the audience and participants, having a great dialogue around these topics," which will make it an engaging session. Join Josh in the interactive session, "Right-Sizing Extended Electric Vehicle Warranty And CPO Policies"  MAPConnected Vehicle Service and Warranty Lifecycle Summit  at the Westin Southfield Detroit on October 25th and 26th.  www.mapconnected.com

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Commentary & Insights

Reimagining The Parts Return Process, an Interview with Jennifer Jones, Global Lifetime Warranty Manager at Ford Motor Company

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The Career Journey: Jennifer was encouraged by her high school science teacher to pursue her love of math and science with a career in engineering. When it came to applying to colleges, Jennifer was set on Michigan State, "it was the only school I applied to; I knew I wanted to go there." The  MAPConnected Vehicle Service and Warranty Lifecycle Summit 2022  is approaching. A collaborative conversation, led by some of the most brilliant minds in the industry, will be hosted by the Westin Southfield Detroit on the 25th - 26th of October. We had the opportunity to sit with Jennifer Jones, Global Lifetime Warranty Manager at Ford Motor Company. After completing her undergraduate studies and an unappealing automotive coop, Jennifer chose to return to school to become a professor in engineering. Jennifer had enjoyed tutoring during her time as an undergrad, and it seemed a natural fit, coming from a family of teachers.  Jennifer's journey, however, would reintroduce her to the automotive industry: After completing her Master's thesis, Jennifer began working on four-wheel drive systems at Chrysler but would soon join Ford Motor Company in the Glass Division. "It was interesting, and it gave me great experience. I did rotations in different manufacturing areas, with my last rotation as a Production Supervisor at the Dearborn Glass Plant." Jennifer shared Ford has "a real focus on including everyone," noting DEI was an area Ford invested in even early in her career. She went on to work in four-wheel drive systems and engine mounts in product development for trucks. After being promoted to Supervisor of her team within Powertrain, Jennifer and her team launched hydromounts in Ford truck applications, which at the time was not commonplace. Working with new technology was "fascinating and challenging," says Jennifer.  After a downturn in the market, Jennifer took on a role in Engine Service, a position that she wouldn't necessarily have considered before but a role that ended up opening her career to a new trajectory. Jennifer was the primary liaison between engine product development and the Customer Service Division, focusing on understanding engine issues and working on how to service them. "We also were working on future vehicle service, how to plan for service, and engine repairs." "After being in that role for about four years, I had a manager that had moved to Quality, and he suggested that I apply to a new position there," Jennifer shares how she began her work in her current department. At the time, the department was called Warranty Spend, and Jennifer was experienced in powertrain warranty spend from her time in Engine Service. "My experience in Product Development made me a perfect fit for that role, and subsequently, I was promoted to manager and then Global Lead."  Global Responsibility: the importance of adapting the lens through which you view the objectives Jennifer is still responsible for the metrics of warranty spend and cost as well as the global tools and processes for their delivery. One of the pillars within Ford Motor Company is to treat customers like family. "I had thought about that and realized that the name of the Department needed to reflect that value," Jennifer says. "We should be working on improving warranty for our customers," and after a few iterations, "Warranty Spend" was replaced with "Lifetime Warranty." The exciting part about this name change and how it reflects what Jennifer and her team are building, is that the primary focus is on improving the warranty experience. Jennifer stated, "Within that, there are certain aspects of controlling costs because that impacts the customer too. But, if we focus on improving quality instead of controlling warranty, we will have happier customers and lower costs." Inspiring your team to make the right decisions "One of the things I love about being part of Ford is that there is a large focus on integrity, which is experienced through company culture and leadership," says Jennifer. In addition, it's about being a part of a team that is highly dedicated to what they do "within a Company that cares about its people." Jennifer shares that a long time ago, before remote work was a point of discussion, her Manager at Ford offered for her to work from home after her maternity leave. Jennifer's daughter will be attending college this year and will be following in Jennifer's footsteps, becoming an Engineer with plans to go into the Automotive Industry.  How Technology is Impacting and Driving Change "It's such an exciting time to be in the automotive industry," says Jennifer, "as technology progresses, our ability to take care of our customers increases." For example, a few years ago, customers could use USBs for updates. This progressed to updating your vehicle through connecting to WIFI and has now progressed to over-the-air updates.  "As an industry, we have the opportunity to reorient ourselves" Product development no longer ends when the vehicle is launched. "With developments in software, your vehicle can get better over time instead of worse, and it's a real mind-shift."  The Parts Return Process "The real purpose of parts return is to help us solve quality issues," Jennifer shares as she explains what she is most excited to talk about at the upcoming Vehicle Warranty Lifecycle Summit. "The ideas I want to talk about relate to how we can receive information from the dealers to solve problems faster." Integrating new technologies, such as video and virtual reality, allows for an integrated, real-time communication channel between the dealer and the OEM. To improve quality, how can the parts return process leverage technology and, more importantly, "leverage the relationship with the dealer to help us solve problems more efficiently."  Jennifer shares that a significant focus is also "how do we make the part return process easier and more consistent for the dealer?" She is interested to hear from dealers and other OEMs in terms of best practices. As with the name change to "Lifetime Warranty," Jennifer is keen to solve problems for all stakeholders faster.  Jennifer will discuss "Reimagining The Parts Return Process" MAPConnected Vehicle Service and Warranty Lifecycle Summit   at the Westin Southfield Detroit on October 25th and 26th.  www.mapconnected.com

Commentary & Insights

Using Digital And Automation For Cost Effective Claims Processing To Optimize Operational Efficiencies, an Interview with Ed Roberts, COO of Bozard Ford Lincoln

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"They were the first to give me an opportunity because up until that point, I was homeless."  Meeting with Ed Roberts is always an experience that leaves an impact. A leader in the truest sense of the word, hearing his story allowed for a much deeper understanding of how he came to be building the Bozard Ford Lincoln brand, the team, and the culture. Understanding his journey, where it all began, gives a new perspective on Ed. His vision of the future: "Dealers have to change, and we'll probably be around for the next 100 years, but I hope we're different." The  MAPconnected Vehicle Service and Warranty Lifecycle Summit 2022  is approaching. A collaborative conversation, led by some of the most brilliant minds in the industry, will be hosted at the Westin Southfield Detroit on the 25th - 26th of October. We had the opportunity to sit with Ed Roberts, Chief Operations Officer of Bozard Ford Lincoln.   Ed was offered an opportunity as an Apprentice Technician at a Ford Dealer. He had, up until that point, relied on selling glass and other items he was collecting from dumpsters to put food on the table. "I thought they were a cool brand, but honestly, they gave me my first opportunity," Ed shares.  It wasn't long before Ed got promoted to Team Leader and then Shop Foreman, and after working for Ford Motor Company in Michigan, he ran a satellite service center. When Ed's daughter was born, he left the dealer business for a couple of years but returned to work with people and customers; "the dealer business and the automotive industry fit perfectly with who I am."  "What I love most about Fixed Ops is that I get to give that opportunity back." Bozard Ford Lincoln's hiring strategy is in harmony with their personal development philosophy, "I did not have to go hire anybody to replace me when I moved into the COO role; I just moved someone up. Our growth comes from within, and most of the positions we hire for are entry-level spots," says Ed. "It all starts with employee loyalty because then they become your brand," his understanding of people and their needs has directly impacted not only his team but also the customers they serve. "Customers feel the culture of a store, and they want to be a part of it."  A Record-Setting, Impact-driven Mindset "We typically set records four or five times a year" Ed smiles, he has been with Bozard Ford Lincoln for over ten years, and it has been a prosperous decade for Ed and the Team. "I ask myself what I did today to make an impact, and sometimes, you get caught up on things that don't have a larger impact on the Business." Ed goes on to share that "just by asking yourself that question, you are putting yourself in an impact-driven mindset, and that starts to affect everyone around you; it becomes infectious." "It's intentional" Building teams and, consequently, culture requires having all the elements and channels designed with a sense of individualism. "You need to have an understanding of who a person is to connect with them," says Ed, "not everyone wants to work in service or sales; you need to find out who they are and create a path that allows them to be the most effective in their job."  The Future of Talent and the Industry "A lot of people talk about millennials and Gen Z's negatively, but the truth is, if you allow them to chase after a career path, you will be surprised at the results," says Ed. With the future of everything being digital, Ed understands how important it is to leverage young talent. "They grew up in a digital age where they embrace technology, and if we embrace that direction, we all win." "I think the shift towards electric vehicles has given us a new opportunity to make it cool to be a technician again." "We've shifted, and there has been a digital transition to how we communicate with the manufacturers," Ed says, "regarding claims, we can get instant feedback which helps immensely." This means that the industry can improve and grow by ultimately being more effective. When you intend to make everything as seamless for the customers as possible, the cascading effect is that the employees are positively affected in every way, and the brand is elevated. So many Vendors are technology focused, trying to improve the efficiency of the automotive industry through digital transformation, "it's good to take the time, to slow down and consider what they're trying to accomplish," says Ed. The automotive industry is decades behind in technology, and according to Ed, there is something to be learned from each person and company entering the space to drive the industry forward. In the last few years, "shopping habits have changed, but unfortunately, in general, the car buying experience hasn't," says Ed.  "I believe there will be a time when autonomous vehicles fully understand our driving habits," says Ed. He smiles and speaks of a future where vehicles will fire themselves at night, be serviced, and "be waiting for you in your driveway the next morning: no downtime." Ed acknowledges that there are timelines, and lifetimes, to consider but highlights the importance of forward-thinking, incremental steps being dependent on envisioning that future.  Ed will be discussing Using Digital And Automation For Cost Effective Claims Processing To Optimize Operational Efficiencies at the  MAPconnected Vehicle Service and Warranty Lifecycle Summit  at the Westin Southfield Detroit on October 25th and 26th. www.mapconnected.com

Research & Analysis

How Google’s Website Ranks Website Vendors for Average SEO, Accessibility, and Best Practice Scores

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How Do You Measure Up? We’ve now written three articles on how Google views our industry for speed and performance. We touched on Page Speed, Speed Index, SEO scores for OEMs (vs Independents) and vendor vs vendor . Next, we looked at Google’s accessibility and best practices score for OEMS. In this article, we will wrap up this four-part series with an analysis of how Google ranks website vendors for average SEO, Accessibility, and Best Practice scores. Remember, our data source is quite large pulling from over 35,000 dealer websites. No joke. Average SEO Score As everyone knows, technical SEO is a very important requirement for good website design. If your technical SEO is poor, then your site will behave like a one-legged man running a marathon.   The average SEO score for all vendors was 86%. Overall, this is pretty good and a sign that most vendors are getting their technical SEO right. This is in sharp contrast to our mobile Page Speed analysis where the performance was dismal. But let’s look at the data… What does this bar graph tell us?  The most obvious thing we see is that Sincro Digital has work to do and YourCarLot is doing slightly better than most.   Average Accessibility Score What is Accessibility and why is it important? Google’s Accessibility audit/score is rooted in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a civil rights law that “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.” What does that mean for web providers? Simply put, websites need to be designed in such a way that they can be easy to “read” whether by adjusting sizes, maintaining strong contrasts, and/or by allowing digital readers to “read” the website out loud for someone with a severe visual impairment. Google’s Accessibility Score weighs the average of a number of accessibility audits to create the score that you see. These scores are important because if you have a low score, you are not serving your customers well AND you are possibly exposing your dealership to a lawsuit by an enterprising lawyer or two. Enough with that. On with the data: By and large, these results are good, but as you can see some providers, such as Naked Lime and Dealer.com average below 75%. Realistically, the average should be higher and technical and design adjustments to the website can improve performance. I would recommend that any provider who is below at least 85% should seek to improve their positioning. Otherwise, they are risking causing trouble for their dealers. That said, kudos to those website vendors 90% and above such as AutoFunds, Jazel, LotWizard , ProMax , SOKAL , V12 , Team Velocity , eBizAutos and SurgeMetrix . Average Best Practices Score Your Best Practices score is based on an audit of common web development mistakes, some of which serve as the root cause of scoring deductions for other scores such as those above.   A poor score here is very avoidable so the overall vendor average of 75% is something to decry and not celebrate. Realistically, you should score over 90%, but like I said above, 85% or higher is a good start. Here’s some data-driven eye candy since a “picture”, or in this case graph, is worth 1,000 words. As you can see from the data, most website vendors hover around the 75% mark with some, such as CarBase, Dealer eProcess, Dealer.com, DealerFire, DealerInspire, FusionZone, Motorcar Marketing, Naked Lime, and PixelMotion all scoring in the 60s.   Sadly, there are only two website vendors above 85%: V12Software at 88% and SurgeMetrix at 91%. The Final Word While Brian Pasch drives conversation around GA4 standards for the dealer community, we need to have the same standards discussion for website vendors as I suggested in my last article . Some standards are pretty obvious. For example, since we know that bounce rates increase dramatically the slower a website loads, we should set our speed standards according to user behavior. 3 seconds is a good goal for mobile sites although 4 is fine to start. In the case of the stats above, it is not hard to reach 90% for a performance goal for all three measures. We can do better.   If anyone wants to discuss the data we collected, have opinions and suggestions for standards, or want their site (and even their competitor’s sites) evaluated, then contact me via email or 954.507.6468. Until then, use this data to push for better performance. You deserve it. 

Commentary & Insights

Transparency And Trust: Overcoming Negative Price Perception, an Interview with Art Shaw, CEO of RepairPal

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Culture, Manifestation, and the Desire to do good "I have built a framework from the best of everyone I ever paid attention to, and I don't read many books. I don't have a lot of time," Art smiles as he explains that he has a simple paradigm that has defined the RepairPal culture, "the right person doing the right job." Art meets every person during onboarding to ensure this value system remains the focus and cites their approach to people as the reason they are a 2021 Inc Best Workplaces Honouree: "effective teams that are fully remote." The MAPConnected Vehicle Service and Warranty Lifecycle Summit 2022 is approaching. A collaborative conversation, led by some of the most brilliant minds in the industry, will be hosted by the Westin Southfield Detroit on the 25th - 26th of October. We had the opportunity to sit with Art Shaw, CEO of RepairPal .  The Art Shaw and RepairPal Journey "It is very simple; I am a poor kid, the first to attend college after high school in my family," Art explains that he paid his way through college, worked hard, and "got lucky." It was back in the 90s, and he had done well; he landed a job at Charles Schwab, where he stayed until 1999, eventually exiting as the Senior Vice President. After that, Art became the CEO, Board Director, or Founder of several companies ranging from management advisory to digital music distribution, artificial intelligence, and investment management. In 2012, Art took the reins at RepairPal, "I had learned that doing something I am proud of is important. Trying to help people is the foundation for running good companies, and I perform better in companies that are doing good for those around them."  "You can do good and do well," Art explains; he had learned early on in his career that there is a way to do right by the consumer while also building great companies and, by doing so, attracting great people and partners. "We have partners like USAA who work with us not just because of what we do but because of who we are," Art beams as he describes the relationships they have built through and with RepairPal. His time at Charles Schwab comes up throughout the conversation, and Art reflects on his time there with an unmistakable sense of pride and appreciation. The parallels experienced from a consumer trust perspective in both industries were clear to Art, "feeling empowered as a consumer" in a space that traditionally has a level of uncertainty attached to it means that you can build a great business if you have the right tool: "fair price for car repairs."  Through luck, Art had come across a team in auto repair who had a significant data set and the desire to do good, but the business was not sustainable. "I realized that like with Schwab, people were really afraid," the stats were overwhelming, and there was an opportunity to build trust. And so, Art went around San Francisco with the audit professionals who had built this dataset of "what's a fair price?" They went to different independent auto repair shops and asked a question that no one could answer, "your daughter is in Nashville, and her car breaks down. Where do you send her to get a car fixed?" Your car is built thousands of miles away, in Europe, Japan, or elsewhere in the States, and this is a tightly engineered ecosystem. A referral from a family member who knows nothing about cars or, even more specifically, cannot diagnose your car was the only overwhelming stat on how people were finding repair shops in an environment where trust was the issue. The relationships or connections people have with their cars are primarily accepted within the industry, but the numbers show that in 2022, people still don't know where to get their cars fixed. So Art created a brand with his team comparable to the hotel industry's quality standards. What was lacking in auto repair was knowing what you are getting at each price point.  "I was honored that the audit professionals came up with this paradigm that we call RepairPal Certified," Art explains, "for a trusted place to get your car fixed, defined by the level of quality which is not just what consumers want, but it is the right thing to do." Quality "So the first level is quality."  One of the things RepairPal does in terms of their quality standard is to make sure everyone is trained, "dealers pass easily, but independents don't always, and that's one of the biggest things: skills and training." Art explains that the next is the diagnostic equipment and high-quality parts. The second level is customer satisfaction, "and we do all sorts of interesting things around unbiased customer satisfaction." The third piece is the warranty, "if you're trained, and you satisfy customers and stand behind your work, we have a minimum warranty of one year, which all dealers pass."  "Interestingly, independents that fit our model and that are repaired by certified technicians have an average of two years or 24,000 miles in their warranty because they understand that's a sign of quality," Art shares. And then lastly, the final component, "that estimator that the team had built before, based on high quality with OEM MSRP and parts, and average dealer labor rates, not low, but what's a fair price with ranges, means that people can charge whatever they want, we don't control that," says Art, "if they want to charge outside of that range, they can't be Certified."  In terms of the work that RepairPal does with independents, it's mostly about quality. "They are pretty focused on being priced lower than the dealer. It's one of the ways that they increase their business," says Art, "in terms of dealers, they satisfy the quality standard already." So leaving the critical thing for dealers to focus on is price.  "We started with independents because it's a much wider range of quality, and that's the number one buying factor. So today, we have 3000 independents in our network, that's much bigger than any other chains," says Art. As a result, the RepairPal footprint is sizable, and they have grown a healthy website with 4 million unique visitors each month.  "We have 4 million people looking at service and repair. That's what we've done, and we've done that for 15 years," Art adds that the additional benefit pertains to those who are Certified becoming part of that online ecosystem, "so when you're Certified, you go up on our site. So when people come to us, 4 million of them, we help solve their problem by including you."  Price Once RepairPal had built a network of independents big enough, they talked to big companies that were in the car business, "for instance USAA has the highest net promoter score of any large company," says Art, "we presented them this nationwide network of trusted partners that we had already built, alongside an effective workflow, integrations, and technology to try to make it simpler across all these independent shops nationwide." Through the member network, RepairPal created a space where consumers can find a trusted repair shop with high quality, excellent service, and a fair price.  "This is great for brands, and we have a huge commitment to quality. The average net promoter score of independents in our network is 76," Art shares, "shops are happy to pay because they are getting incremental business."  People leave the dealer for servicing and repair. Four out of five customers leave the dealer over time, and the number one reason is price. The quality is excellent, the customer satisfaction is where it needs to be, and dealers stand behind their work, "so why are they losing most of their customers? Dealers are hardworking people who want to do good and earn a fair profit." Art highlights the objectives, "someone has to connect the customers to the dealers who are attentive to a fair price."  RepairPal has built what they call a "healthy, three-sided marketplace" Art says, "we have 3000 shops, most are independents, but we have recently started working with dealers." They have 4 million unique visitors to their site and 70 partners who rely on RepairPal to curate their trusted network, including dealers, for them. "We are on a journey to build out the dealer business," Art explains that the process includes certifying pricing through testing but that what they are already finding is that most dealers who are attentive to pricing qualify. "We use average dealer labor rates, OEM MSRP, and so if you build based on those inputs, you can become RepairPal Certified," says Art.  The beauty lies in the mechanism of trust that is established throughout the conversation with the customer. Having a third party certify fairness in pricing establishes trust between the customer and the dealer. "That conversation changes everything," Art says, "you are addressing the number one need, fairness." People know that dealers provide excellent service and a high standard of quality, but people also look to third-party sites for validation.  As we wrap up our conversation and discuss the longevity of dealers, Art and his team at RepairPal play a clear role, "there are a lot of ways to buy a car online, but when a customer needs repair work done, they still need to go to their local dealer." Art will discuss "Transparency And Trust: Overcoming Negative Price Perception" at the Vehicle Service and Warranty Lifecycle Summit at the Westin Southfield Detroit on October 25th and 26th. 

Reviews

ASOTUCON: These are a few of my favorite things

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Pioneering a new type of conference in automotive takes a lot of guts, and Paul J Daly and Kyle Mountsier just pulled it off in a big way. From the venue to the guest list to the panel-style workshops, this conference lived up to its infamous tagline, “the rebirth of the automotive conference.” Here’s a recap of a few of my favorite things about this conference and why I can’t wait for next year’s event.  ASOTUCON2022 No expo hall  I’m a big believer in networking and learning from content, which is why exhibition halls can be distracting to that mission. ASOTUCON was all about the jam-packed schedule of podcast interviews, keynotes, and well-thought-out panels throughout each day; there was no one running to the expo hall to see what free swag they could snag. Everyone was focused on the same communal mission of learning together and from each other.  Vibrant venue  When I think of breakout sessions at conferences, all I can picture is carpeted hallways with lined-up classrooms one after another. I think of the closed rooms with quiet energy. ASOTUCON disrupted that image, rocking the Xfinity Live’s entertainment center with every breakout session held in a repurposed sports bar featuring a ton of screens with session information as you listened to the panels. It was vibrant and engaging rather than bland and quiet. It was fun.  Limited spots The curated and intimate guest list meant I didn’t waste any time looking for people at this conference. The ASOTU guest list focused on quality over quantity, controlling the registration so the event didn’t get too big or overwhelming. This meant that every conversation I had was meaningful, focused, and productive.  Progressive topics  As the industry continues to improve on data connectivity & orchestration, everyone present was on board with critical changes that need to be made in automotive. There were several sessions around owning and controlling your data, implementing a data strategy, and how to focus on first-party data and brand content to drive quality traffic and leads to dealership websites.  People>cars  At the end of the day, there was an underlying theme to every presentation, panel, and conversation at ASOTUCON: people are everything. It doesn’t matter which industry you’re in, what tech stack you have, or which top 150 group you may work for; if you don’t put your people first, nothing will function properly.  Ilana Shabtay in the Podcast Booth at ASOTUCON2022 Conclusion ASOTUCON was a new and exciting experience that reshaped my view of what an automotive conference could be: content sessions that are practical, relevant, and bring multiple minds together without any fluff. It was amazing to be empowered by so many other professionals in the space who want to make an impact in the industry. Congrats to the entire ASOTU team - you killed it. 
Community Minded Marketing Strategy

Best Practices

Community Minded Marketing Strategy

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Marketing, customer-dealer interaction, and even your website are more than just the sales process, it is engagement with your community. Are you engaging in your language or your community’s language? For your dealership, engaging your community is the best way to grow your business and gain new customers.  There is a great deal of focus on engagement and experience, without covering how you need to engage with your community. If you are like most dealerships, you are focusing on the sales process itself, your reviews, and driving traffic, not thinking about how your website, marketing materials, and even customer interactions can help you grow your business. The car business must go beyond the goal of selling cars—you must connect with people. And when you do so in their own language, they will feel more comfortable buying from you. Brands across the board have been pushed to recreate their marketing strategies and focus efforts on building relationships that are driven by two-way communication.  One of the big questions is how to keep consumers engaged so that when they need your products or services, you are their first thought. To accomplish this, we need a shift in thinking to “Whose interests are being served?” For example, when you are posting on social media, are you posting content that drives butterfly effect engagement from your audience, or are you posting about the product only? By butterfly effect engagement, I am referring to the type of engagement that draws in people your audience is connected to and drives them to engage as well, allowing you to create a brand community. Consider that many potential customers will visit your social media pages before initiating the purchase process, reviews and content can impact the decision process in your favor. Putting out content that is of interest to your community is paramount, an example is Meta marketing content that is solely based on product and deliveries versus what interests your community. If you can scroll through your feed and cannot find anything that supports your local community regularly, you are not building your brand community. Remember, you are recruiting volunteers to champion your business, inundating consumers with sales purchases, and product places hoping to see results is simply disruptive marketing that desensitizes consumers and does not promote conversation. Unlike traditional advertising, which is primarily focused on getting new customers, a community marketing strategy is about connecting and engaging with people to build long-term relationships. It is about making customers feel seen, heard, and important. This type of strategy bridges the gap between the people driving your business, your team, and your customers. A vehicle purchase is no small thing, growing a sense of connection, support, and service within your community allows you to start building relationships before the sales process even begins. Providing value to your community is a great place to start What questions do customers most commonly have during the car buying process, what are some challenges you have helped others overcome, and what do people on your team specialize in? Sharing the details of how you serve and how it benefits the community paves the way for conversations. Participate Your community marketing strategy should take you outside of the virtual world of social engagement and participation in your community. Can you help educate young consumers on how they qualify for their first auto loan, how credit affects a large bandwidth of life or the ins and outs of the buying process? Getting involved early and giving young consumers the tools, they need as they move forward in life is a wonderful way to expand your value in your community. Consistency and accessibility are key Consistency is the foundation for trust, accessibility allows that trust to grow. How easy are consumers able to reach and converse with your team, do your internal processes allow for ease of communication or is there a backlog of calls to be returned and messages to answer? One large component of customer satisfaction is communication, the ability to reach contacts at the dealership amid the sales process, or even worse after delivery, is beyond frustrating to customers. This is a big part of the experience customers will remember when it becomes time to purchase another vehicle or service their current vehicle. Creating ways to engage with your audience in a way that works for them is crucial, whether by phone, text, email or messaging services - being accessible builds trust and impacts customer retention. Tell a story and use images Interaction on your social media posts gets on average 160% more interaction when you use relatable images, take this a step further and focus on telling the story behind the image. Consumers trust and value other consumers' opinions and experiences, share those success stories! Share other sides of your dealership, service, parts, community outreach, and team members - give your content an individualized touch. Consumers want to know who they are working with and look for connections and common interests on which to build relationships.  Over and above long-term benefits in customer loyalty and retention, executing a community marketing strategy can help to reduce your dependency on traditional advertising, often a large chunk of the dealership budget. While not necessarily immediate, this type of strategy will snowball as you continue to grow your audience and engagement. The use of social platform engagement isn’t going away, what you begin building now will impact your future sales and retention. Over the last few years, we have experienced a shift in consumer value, a shift that focuses on people and the community. Building value and creating relationships within your community is a powerful way to engage your customer base and community, create loyalty and trust, and grow your sales and retention - that is if you choose to accept the challenge before you.