Best PracticesApr 10th, 2024

The Road to Sustainable Growth: How Auto Dealerships Can Create a More Positive Customer Experience

Article Images Tiger Okeley

By Tiger Okeley, Executive Board Member, Oak Motors, A Buy Here Pay Here Used Car Dealership

The image of car buyers negotiating with salespeople for hours on end in tiny smoke-filled offices is a relic from another age. These days, American consumers are more connected, knowledgeable and time-starved than ever, and dealerships that can’t adapt to this reality are destined to fall behind. So, how can dealerships build lasting relationships with customers that have more information than time?

For the last 35 years, I’ve operated Oak Motors, a Buy Here Pay Here dealership in Indianapolis that caters to buyers who may not have the best credit history. During that time, my team has developed strategies for serving our customers well and building lasting relationships. We’ve doubled down on the processes we’ve made over the last few years as selling cars has become more challenging. Here’s what we’ve learned.

Car Buyers are Knowledgeable and Impatient

Unlimited access to information fundamentally changed the car buying process. Google research shows that 95% of car buyers use digital in their research process, and twice as many start researching their upcoming purchases online than at a dealership. As a result, consumers are arriving at dealerships already knowledgeable about their desired make, model, trim, and pricing comparisons. Additionally, consumers demand transparent pricing, trade-in evaluations, and financing options upfront to avoid lengthy negotiations. They expect hassle-free post-purchase experiences and resist pressure for unnecessary services. Dealerships must adapt by investing in customer-centric solutions across all aspects of their operations to thrive in this new landscape.

Build Loyalty by Optimizing the Customer Experience

Despite these challenges, evidence shows that consumers value the in-person dealership experience highly, particularly for building brand loyalty. Consider these statistics:

  • According to research conducted by Google, “a customer’s maintenance and service experience was ranked No. 2 in influencing automotive brand loyalty.”
  • Autotrader research found that “54% of consumers would buy from a dealership that offers their preferred experience, even if it didn’t have the lowest price.”

By following a few critical points of focus, dealerships can improve their customer experience to enhance revenue and increase the likelihood of them returning to buy again. Here are a few places to start.

1. Obsess Over Your Customers

It will be almost impossible for dealerships to reach their target customers if they don’t understand who they are. At Oak Motors, for example, our customers are credit-challenged and may have failed in previous car purchase and lending experiences. In response, we’ve developed comprehensive offerings (like maintenance and repair programs, low-cost rentals and insurance solutions) that support our core customers where they need it most.

These efforts will look different throughout the industry. However, every dealership can speak to their customers more authentically and with greater confidence if they commit to understanding critical information like what their customers value, how they communicate, where they do their research and how they make decisions.

Fortunately, motivated dealerships can find nearly unlimited tools to deliver actionable insights to help them track customer behavior, anticipate their needs and delight them with the results.

2. Embrace Efficiency Throughout Your Dealership

Buyers will move onto the next option if they don’t receive the information they need quickly. Research shows that more than 23% of the average dealership’s leads don’t receive a follow-up within 24 hours. Another 13% of leads never enter the customer relationship management (CRM) software. Building processes that improve efficiency in these two areas alone could make a significant difference for dealerships.

But efficiency improvements can happen anywhere. Empowering salespeople to make more closing decisions could improve the customer’s buying experience and get the sales team back out on the lot faster. Building systems that automatically remind customers of their upcoming maintenance intervals can drive revenue in the service department. Creating seamless transitions between a dealership’s online and in-person experience can assist a new generation of multi-modal buyers in getting the information they need to make purchase or service decisions.

Efficiency initiatives are often technology-driven, so choosing tools that complement each other —like a website platform, CRM software, branded applications and customer communication solutions— will be critical.

3. Adopt a Customer-Centric Strategy At Every Level

The final step in creating a positive experience at the dealership is to cater to the customer at every imaginable touchpoint. Adopting a consultative sales approach rather than a coercive one is a great place to start. We’ve learned over the years that our customers are more successful and more satisfied when we can help them find the best car for their situation rather than one that makes us more money. We approach our service department the same way, emphasizing transparency so our customers trust we’re working in their best interest. There’s more value in creating repeat buyers than there is in trying to maximize the profit of every possible transaction.

Dealerships can also be innovative in serving customers, like analyzing foot traffic data to ensure there's ample staff on-site to handle busier periods or by providing service customers a ride to work after dropping off their car. Building a great customer experience can also be as simple as providing free WiFi, plenty of charging outlets and comfortable spots for customers to work while they wait for an oil change. At every level, dealerships should ask themselves how they can make buying and servicing a car a relentlessly positive experience.

Follow the Road to Sustainable Growth

The evolution of the car buying experience requires dealerships to make a strategic pivot to thrive in a more challenging and competitive era. But the path forward is also filled with opportunities to innovate and build deeper customer relationships. At Oak Motors, our journey has taught us that understanding and adapting to our customers’ changing needs is the cornerstone of sustainable growth.

Dealerships who can begin putting those pieces into place will start seeing their customers return again and again while recommending those services to their friends and family. By focusing on more than just selling cars and building positive and supportive customer experiences, we can create the long-lasting relationships that will drive our businesses forward for years to come.

About the author: Tiger Okeley is the owner of Oak Motors, a family-operated Buy Here Pay Here used car dealership that has been empowering people in Central Indiana for over 35 years.

    Curated, quality insights?
    Content worth the click