CommentaryMar 2nd, 2017

The Consumer Experience: Get It Right With Human Interaction


It’s a consumer experience so many people know, yet so few love: buying a new car. Although the outcome is something to look forward to, the journey can be overwhelming.

The choice of makes and models is daunting, plus the buyer needs to decide to buy new or search for the right used car, then consider the different purchasing options. Fortunately, digital advances have paved the way for much of the legwork to be done online, and 80% of drivers are now taking advantage.

This arms consumers with the information that they need to make a purchase when they get to the dealership, which they will ultimately visit. In fact, 84% of consumers indicate that they still want to buy a car in person, and 39% will call the dealership before visiting. Only 24% of consumers will interact digitally with the dealer by sending an email, initiating a chat, or engaging through a social media site.

Offline, human interaction plays a significant role in the auto consumer’s path to purchase. When the path to purchase shifts from online to offline, a massive blind spot is created for auto marketers, who want to create a complete picture of their consumer. Given this challenge, how can marketers connect the advantages of the digital world with the strengths of physical interactions to deliver a positive consumer experience, and drive more sales?

Getting digital right

Even when a purchase happens more frequently offline, the digital pre-sales process that leads the way to the dealership is just as important. With consumers viewing ads on television, comparing different vehicles online, and experiencing model features through apps on their mobile phone, drivers are using a variety of channels to gain intel that will ultimately inform their purchasing decisions.

Although companies have a significant marketing opportunity with so many mediums in use at once, today’s “always-on” consumers demand highly relevant communications from auto brands and dealerships — and only on their preferred channels, at their favorite times. If they receive communication that isn’t applicable to them, they don’t pay attention.

To ensure that auto marketers engage with customers across channels and that their digital efforts result in powerful offline moments when consumers are ready to make their purchase decision, it’s critical for them to ensure they deliver the appropriate message at the right time.

The power of human interaction

One of the easiest ways that consumers are moving from online to offline in their path to purchase is simply by making a phone call. In fact, it’s been estimated that for every one vehicle-sales email a dealership receives, it gets 6.5 phone calls about purchasing a car. And it makes sense why. A phone call is more efficient than an email, delivering answers to questions consumers have in real time.

What’s more, a phone call typically occurs closer to the actual purchase phase of the shopping process, and often validates a consumer’s intent to purchase. As such, dealerships and its sales team play a very important role in the car-buying process. If the salesperson offers a poor customer experience at this stage, it hurts not only the dealership, but also the brand.

That’s because consumers only shop a limited number of dealerships, and when they have a bad experience with a dealer of one brand, they’re likely to move on to another brand. A bad phone experience impacts customer loyalty and sales for the entire brand. With call volumes increasing, dealerships need to focus on better engagement with phone leads in order to drive a profound impact on customer experience, conversions, and overall ROI for their business and brand.

Data is the driver

Because of the increased complexity in the auto buyer’s path to purchase, it is challenging for marketers to attribute their online campaigns to these offline purchases.

To more accurately track which online campaigns are driving offline sales, it’s important for automotive retail marketers to leverage data from across all channels online and offline. This way they can glean actionable intelligence about each lead, what consumer paths are most successful, and how to optimize both the sales process and marketing decisions.

To gain that insight, marketers need to be able to collect and connect their offline transaction records back to the online actions that drove them. When marketers have access to deeper insight around their customers’ behaviors, they can turn that into actionable data that can then drive the campaigns to the appropriate audience at a lower cost.

Keys to success

Marketers in the auto industry should implement a “clicks and bricks” strategy to get the most from their efforts. By combining positive digital experiences with meaningful offline interactions, dealerships can create a customer-centric experience, and will cross the finish line first.

Matt Muilenburg is senior vice president of customer evangelism at Marchex. He has years of product strategy and design experience, and has successfully launched several products and secured the issuance of two patents. Today, he oversees strategy for the extension of the Marchex analytics platform, with a focus on extending the reach of the platform into offline measurements and retail outcomes.

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