Carol Marshall

VP and Partner | ActivEngage

Carol Marshall is VP of Operations at ActivEngage, Inc. and has been helping ActivEngage become an industry leader for the past ten years. She has over 20 years of industry experience and has held positions with national organizations such as Mazda N.A. and AutoNation, respectively. A cancer survivor/fighter and a world-class super mom, Carol's strength and resilience only make her a stronger leader.

Is Your Dealership Site Ready for the New Era of Car Buyers?

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What You Do Speaks so Loudly, I Cannot Hear What You Say People inherently value freedom of flow. The difference between your bedroom and a prison cell is whether you can leave it. While the pandemic severely restricted travel and tourism rates fell off a cliff, holiday travel numbers still reached record highs for this year. People value the ability to go places and will take certain risks to get there.  Automobiles represent this idea of freedom and make it possible for many people now more than ever before! Owning a car opens many doors and offers many opportunities, not just for travel, but in job choice and many other realms of life.  Does it make sense, then, that the auto-buying experience offer within it the same kind of freedom that vehicle ownership offers? Price point and product quality are no longer the number one consumer concern. Sure, these things still matter, but the primary driving force behind purchasing decisions is the customer experience or CX. Up to 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for an item if it comes with a superior customer experience. The more expensive the object, the more willing a customer is to pay extra for a better shopping experience.  The Customer-First Approach Unfortunately, traditional dealership processes don't match this idea of freedom and lack a customer-first approach. Websites have become so very similar, and various restrictions and guidelines impact what offers can be shown online. The days when all you needed was a well-designed site and eye-catching offers to get people in are gone. Additionally, this past year has accelerated the drive to limit in-person interactions to the bare minimum. That means that brands across the board will have to put as much personalization into their online engagements as possible to fill the gap. Person-to-person sales tactics are useful because good salespeople know how to connect with customers and give them their desired shopping experience. If you fail to deliver that personal connection with your digital storefront, the customer will go somewhere that does.  What I Say or What I Do? Promising a great shopping experience isn't the same as delivering it. What do the tools on your website provide? An empty form to fill out? Real answers? A live connection? How do you become THE one location that earns a buyer's visit? What is their experience with you before they ever step foot onto your lot? Your website's features will speak volumes about the experience you offer and the freedom they are seeking. If you assure your customers that you are putting their needs first but then try to capture their data at every turn, they will feel betrayed. Asking for contact info should come only if the customer says they want to hear back from one of your employees. Consumers don't want a digital run-around. They want to find the answers — and the service — they are looking for. Does your website provide that? According to a study by Cox Automotive, consumers visit an average of 4.3 automotive websites and 2.3 dealerships in the course of their car-buying journey. Shoppers are looking for something specific and will only visit the dealerships that fulfill their car shopping expectations.  If you don't make your prices easy to find for your customers, you're also not putting their needs first. Hiding prices might seem like a way to force consumers to begin a chat with one of your agents, but that's not actually the case. Removing prices causes chat interaction rates to plummet because customers don't want to spend time with a company that uses such tactics.  Using bots and forms to capture lead data sends the wrong message to your customer. It says, "You're just a lead, and we just want your marketing data so we can send you ads later."  How can your customers hear the message that their needs come first if your site is shouting far louder that you just want their data? Answer: they can't.  If you're willing to spend thousands of dollars per month to drive online traffic to your site, it's also worth investing in the user experience for your digital visitors once they arrive. Perhaps instead of pouring more money into ads, you could work to retain a higher percentage of your visitors and convert more leads.  Let me put this in dollars and cents.  The average cost for an automotive lead was $205 in 2019 — a cost that is likely trending up in our economy. So, I ask you, just how free is that "free" chatbot or 10-question form you're using to generate leads if $205 are blown every single time a poor experience turns off a shopper? Let Your Actions Speak Think about what improvements you can make to your existing site to better serve your customers' needs. What would make the customer experience (CX) of your website match the expectations of your visitors?  Transparent pricing, ease of use, and more features are all on the top of the list. But consumers also value being able to jumpstart the process before even arriving at the dealership. Getting a jump on the paperwork, valuing their trade-in, and scheduling appointments are all ways to put your website to work for your customer — and you.  Are your actions speaking louder than your words? Because your site visitors are definitely listening. 
Are We There Yet? Actionable Steps For Digital Retailing Success in Automotive

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Move made in 2020 were critical, but are they complete? Digital Retailing has been a buzzword in the industry for a few years. What they mean in reality is as vast as the Grand Canyon. When the pandemic hit us in March, and many dealers found themselves unable to open their doors and consumers everywhere were resisting coming to the showroom, these words carried new weight and meaning.  Dealers did what they do best. They moved quickly and got creative. Many have seen record years as the changes they have made were able to meet their shoppers where they were comfortable and ready to buy; even with the economic challenges that many faces and still face, shoppers are buying.  Which Dealerships are Winning? Within our conversations with shoppers, their focus has been on the current special offer for financing or rebates. They are more conversational than before COVID but still directed toward a purchase. When lockdowns were at the peak, a common question was about delivery. It was not unusual to have shoppers from New York and other impacted states shopping out of state dealers and asking about shipping. Dealers who are prepared to meet and help these determined shoppers online are winning.  Questions Every Dealer Should Ask Themselves Shoppers are ready to move forward with their purchase. How prepared are you to help them? Are you there yet? Do they have the ability to get their credit application going? Can they get a decision before coming into the dealership? Are you able to get a valid trade form completed online?  What type of interaction online are your shoppers experiencing? Are they leaving a message? Are they able to communicate through their chosen channel? If the conversation turns to the next step of credit or trade, can you get it going within that conversation? Or are you risking losing a deal by interrupting that continuity and moving the interaction to the phone or in-person?  Set Yourself Up For Success Everyone has felt the frustration of 2020 and all it has brought. No one has escaped the loss of freedom of movement and limitation of choices in nearly every aspect of life. Dealers who have set up their dealership and their teams with the tools that allow consumers to take control of their journey are the ones reaping the benefits — benefits that include higher grossing deals, increased volume, and more satisfied customers.  The move to digital retailing before 2020 seemed inevitable while also being ill-defined. Now, the successful dealers understand digital retailing involves making it possible for your shopper to do business with you in whatever way they choose. Just as dealerships go through redesigns, sales processes are designed and measured to achieve both dollars and satisfaction scores, so our websites need to be scrutinized. What Does Digital Retailing Mean To You? What does it look like on your site? What are your shoppers able to do, and how is your online team a part of that? The tools and people need to work together to achieve real success. Now is the perfect time to look at steps taken in March toward digital retailing and see what progress has been made. Assess the tools and processes that were put into place. Determine what should stay, change, or be tweaked. Are you there yet? Have you put the plan together that marries what happens in-store with what can take place online? Shoppers adjusting to the freedom of buying online, whether partially or totally, will not want to go backward. Let's leverage the giant leap we made and complete the moves needed for retailing online. Actionable Steps For Digital Retailing Success: 1. Listen Listen to your customers and your staff. Poll them. Find out exactly where the kinks in your chain are and are sure the product you chose addresses those concerns. 2. Research Do your due diligence. Don't assume that all providers or services are the same because that's not the case. Please do your research, test multiple products, compare and contrast them so you understand what makes each of them unique. 3. Implement Don't skimp on this step. Make sure your customers and staff are ready and capable of using the new tools. 4. Refine Observe and tweak the process as you go. Rome wasn't built in a day, and things will come up that you didn't expect. Be agile and vigilant to make sure your staff and customers are getting what they need to succeed. 5. Repeat Customer expectations are always evolving. You should be going through these steps (or at least the first two) regularly to make sure you're as successful as possible.
In the Quiet, Listening Becomes Easier

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Many of us lived through the 2008-2009 recession. For those of us that were in some of the hardest-hit industries like real estate, banking, or automotive, we emerged with a different sense of how to navigate life. The impact of COVID-19 will be exponential when compared to the 2008/09 recession. Instead of only a handful of industries being hardest hit, this time around only a handful of sectors will be spared. And even those will be reshaped because of what happened. Regardless of what group we belong to, we all have the shared impact of living through a once-in-a-lifetime event. Slowing Down is Helping Us to Really Listen Without the constant push to go somewhere, prepare to leave, plan your route, we can just be. When the peripherals are removed, the main event is all that stands. During this stay-at-home time, listening becomes easier. Perhaps we can now hear those around us in a more meaningful way than we have in years. Hear the textures to conversations, which are so much more than just the words used. The forced slow pace has opened us to new realities in really hearing what others are saying. Such is the case with online conversations–all the other concerns like appearances, sounds, and people around you don't exist. All that is left is to address the main concern of the shopper. What prompted them to click on a call-to-action, to text, to message? Learning the primary motivation is typically easy enough, providing there are no barriers to starting a real conversation. A genuine greeting, letting the shopper know they are being heard, assures them what they have to say is important, and they open up. Those textures of the conversation, what page are they chatting in on, what was their first question, did they have small talk early on, give an indication to the experience they seek. Given the quarantine experience, listening in every direction and in every possible way becomes even more essential to provide the consumer with an experience that builds trust and encourages action. Technology is Connecting Us With so much time at home, shoppers have become more comfortable with technology. Those slow adopters have had to take the plunge, using various systems to connect for work, or school, or both! Whereas in the past, they may have avoided connecting virtually, they now have the confidence to reach out via online methods. It is more vital than ever to have associates on the other end who understand how to communicate virtually and make the shopper feel heard and valued. Building relationships takes intuitiveness and empathy, as well as knowledge. Keep Building Those Relationships It can't stop there, though. Once the lead arrives or the shopper shows for their appointment, the information that is shared should be remembered and guide the process forward. After living through so many uncertain days, we can go a long way towards building trust by simply over-communicating what will come next in the buying process. Spelling out each step, what's required, and the expected time required will ease those consumers' minds who have had an uneasy feeling for a couple of months. How can we cater to the drive for more upfront knowledge of how the buying process will work at your dealership? Arming your online team with those steps or providing a start to it with trusted guidance by your team will be one way to set yourself apart from others. We must be sensitive to the fact that our buyers are seeking certainty in understanding and knowing what is coming. This is not a time to forego the personal touch. In fact, the dealers who put the training and time into the in-dealership experience and manage their online reputation can expect to see their share grow. As people, we will have just lived through a time when so much was out of our control. We will need to imagine all the ways we can provide empathy, understanding, and transparency to our process and begin to incorporate them in authentic ways. Some Questions to Ask Yourself What are your processes online and in the dealership? Are there gaps? What additional ways can you communicate with potential buyers and service customers so that they know what to expect? Use the quiet to listen. Review your own experiences as well as the feedback you've received from past customers. Craft what your new customer journey will be and look forward to welcoming even higher returns in the post COVID environment.
With High Regard—What Buying a Mattress Taught Me About Customer Service at the Dealership

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Recently, I set out on a quest for the perfect guest room mattress set. This mattress would be used around six weeks out of the year, mostly by our elderly parents when they visit. I had a decent budget, but I certainly didn’t want to spend more than a thousand dollars. As you can imagine, a name brand was crucial to field any potential commentary from the in-laws. I was a shopper who knew pretty precisely what she wanted — a consumer on a mission. So, I set out to test a few options in-store to make sure I got just the right set.  What I discovered after a weekend of shopping in and out of mattress stores shocked me. "If You Look at Our Website, You'll See…" Every time I had a question about anything at a store, I got the same answer. "If you look at our site, you will see the…." Whether I wanted to know about measurements, specs, warranty, etc., was irrelevant. It was bizarre, like I was in some alternate reality. What was happening? Is this real life? I was in the store, ready to buy, and I was being sent to a website to find answers about an item the business had in stock.  This experience got me thinking about the car buying process and the glaring signals that auto shoppers give us when they're ready to make a purchase. What if instead of a mattress store, I was at the dealership with the clear intent to purchase a big-ticket item, literally cash-in-hand? How would your team treat me? Understanding where shoppers are in their journey is critical. If they have taken that step to engage you in a conversation, that is a clear sign that they are ready to move forward and buy. That conscious decision to interact with your dealership should be regarded highly and with great care. No matter how many folks on the lot or in the showroom have said, "I’m just looking,” we know they are never just looking.  How Are You Treating Your Online Customers? Being constantly redirected to a website, while frustrating, highlights just how much we, as a society, rely on websites to conduct commerce in various forms. Just as you promote your physical showroom to attract buyers, you should want your website to accomplish the same. Does it showcase your business in a way that entices people to learn more? What are the current specials? Does it clearly explain what sets you apart from everyone else? This sentence reinforces the role of what websites should be in terms of business. The experience I had at the mattress stores reinforced my belief that your website should be an extension of your business — a place to turn casual shoppers into excited buyers.  Imagine a customer visiting your dealership website to “just look” and gather information. Now, imagine they’re treated with such attention and respect for their time, that they are eager to get off their laptop or phone and test out the merchandise in person. In the era of customer experience, we can and should be able to offer this kind of engaging interaction for our customers. But, you need to start making all customers — both on and off the lot — a priority. How does the time and money you spend on sales training (i.e., phone training, product presentation, and sales process) compare to the attention and development you offer the team greeting online shoppers? When those potential customers start getting the service they deserve, more of them will turn into actual customers at the showroom.  NOTE: The in-dealership team must be knowledgeable about those online interactions, and every employee must be clear on what kind of experience to give those customers moving forward. That’s the only way to provide a seamless transition from the online showroom to the physical store. You spend so much to bring in buyers; you need to capitalize once they are there.  Leads Aren’t Always Opportunities Just capturing a name and contact doesn't always ensure a sale. I gave both in all the places I shopped. It was asked at the start of the conversation and I was happy to give it. I expected to receive the assistance I needed to complete a purchase. Likewise, generating a lead from your website is easy. People are more familiar with chatting online, and they’re accustomed to putting in phone numbers and email addresses on forms. But, it’s just as easy for shoppers to ghost you during follow-up if they didn’t feel highly regarded during the interaction. Placing a box on your site to capture phone numbers won’t capture sales. A positive experience that moves that shopper into a state of readiness to buy from you is what they are seeking and waiting to happen. Don’t make them wait. Whatever attention and experience you are not providing is just one click away to a site that does.
Dealership Management Advice: Work Smarter Not Harder in 2020

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The industry is forecast to be stable in 2020. Stable may be a welcome word for many and is certainly better than the prediction of decline we all lived under in 2019. However, I don't know too many in this industry who would agree that "stable" is the goal. Let's face it; if given stable , we all want to maximize every resource and reach better .  When setting stretch goals, what are typical obstacles? Time and money immediately come to mind. While budgets can undoubtedly be restrictive, they can always be massaged and tweaked according to our priorities. When we look to maximize every resource, dive deep into processes, and conduct analyses on results, time is usually the enemy.  Overcoming the Biggest Management Obstacle You’ve analyzed the reports. You know that certain activities are producing greater results and that it’s time to set those efforts into high gear. But, before you tinker, take a moment. To go higher, you first must go deeper. How can you give yourself the time to achieve more?  An honest review of your skills is a great place to start. My team and I do this every year — we ask ourselves, “where do we, or our leadership team, have expertise?” It’s been an eye-opening exercise that has allowed us to maximize our team’s strengths and fill the skills gaps we would have otherwise missed.  Maybe you’ve been in a location or position long enough that you believe you have the most experience there. Or maybe someone you know has stepped up and filled a need that impacted results. Know where your skills lie so you can optimize your efforts. One major recommendation I must make to help your skills audit go well is this: check yourself. Look around, read articles, review others' results to ensure you are indeed at the level of expertise you think. With the quick and vast evolution of technology going on in our industry today, it is a high bar to say you are an expert in something. Sometimes, Doing Less Achieves More Think of the last time you took something on at the dealership and thought, “I could be doing X, but instead I’m stuck here doing Y...and I really need to do more of both.” Yikes. That’s an impossible position to be in, and not one I enjoy. That’s why my motto is always: work smarter, not harder.  This is where partnering with a managed services company can give you back valuable time. Customer expectations today are high. They want it all and they want it now, which means you need to make smarter investments that will maximize your resources so you can meet those demands. Fortunately, there are many business models today that compete with the traditional dealer for a "stable" revenue base. With that optimized stability, you are free to maximize other efforts. So, what can you best control? Where is your expertise, truly?  A realistic look will have many dealers agreeing that expertise in the store is exactly there — in-dealership interactions. How is the shopper greeted? What inventory is available, and how is it displayed? What exactly is the in-store process? Is there room for improvement? Is that walk to the Service drive happening with every new customer? Are the F&I wait times managed to a minimum? Are all the possible trade-in deals being bought? Can we do better? Where to Optimize So You Can Maximize Now that I have you thinking about what can be, I want to offer some outsourcing opportunities at the dealership and why they just make sense. With word-of-mouth now becoming online reviews that reach much further than the consumers' closest circle, the importance of a fantastic in-dealership experience cannot be overstated. Proper reputation management is not an option, it’s a necessity. If you are managing it in-house, crunch some numbers. It will surprise you to know how much more you’ll save (and achieve) when you outsource. Where else can you streamline processes? Look at what happens before the dealership visit. According to Google, the only two increasing channels of engagement between consumers and car dealers are chat and SMS. Is this an area of expertise for dealerships? A quick look at the number of phone training companies would indicate that non-face-to-face interactions are not a strength in the dealership.  Engaging customers in a way that yields proven results is critical. Anyone who has attempted to build and or manage an in-store BDC understands how much time it takes to hire, train, manage, and measure results. These associates are typically very different than your successful sales team on the floor. Why absorb precious time in-store to achieve less desirable results?  With ever-increasing ways to capture your customers’ attention across multiple channels, a partner specializing in the customer journey can be an invaluable asset to your business. Considering the experience from the consumer's perspective allows the dealer to compete with other, less traditional models.  The Value of Time Can’t be Overstated Look, I get it. Having worked in Operations for most of my career, I understand that “I’ can handle it” mentality. But ‘can’ doesn’t always mean ‘should’, and it’s one of the most valuable managerial lessons we can take with us as we go from stable to better. To quote Harvey Mackay, "Time is free, but it is priceless."  To achieve more than what we have in the past, to get to the next level, we should be as smart with our time as we are with our money. Reaching out for expertise to bolster the opportunities we see in-dealership can be a game-changer. Spend your team's and your own time wisely.