It’s not uncommon for today’s dealerships to feel like VIP lounges, with gorgeous showrooms, state-of-the-art service centers, and waiting areas nicer than high-end coffee shops. Frequently, the dealership’s history is prominently displayed, and its staff is savvy and enthusiastic, providing customers with easy access to information at every stage of the buying process.
Customers at such a business don’t just have a great experience. Simply by being at the dealership, they immediately understand its core values: service, quality, transparency, tradition, and high-character employees.
But sometimes, this same business’ dealership website provides quite a different experience: page clutter, unaesthetic widgets, slow-loading forms, choppy chat, and poor design. All of these issues create a user experience that is challenging at best.
Why is there such a difference between the physical dealerships and the digital one? It’s not a problem of technology. It’s a problem of ownership.
This is understandable. Most dealer principals walk their showrooms frequently, noticing the smallest details. They have a vision for their dealership, and ensure it comes through to customers. They take full ownership of the physical space, and make sure it demonstrates their core values.
Their websites, on the other hand, can feel distant and intangible. Sometimes, dealers entrust their websites to others, and don’t take care to infuse them with the same attention to detail and superior quality as the in-person experience.
As our industry races back to business after a quick holiday respite, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on whether you’ve truly become an owner of your digital dealership. If you haven’t, 2017 is a great time to start.
The first step, surprisingly, is not to assess a website provider. Rather, it’s to go back to your values, and to make sure your website lives up to them. If you have the right values at your core, building a digital experience that reflects them will go smoothly.
So what are your dealership’s values, and how can they be expressed digitally? They can’t just be what you say in a mission statement. As Netflix famously posited in a presentation on its corporate culture, your values are not what you say you value—they are what you demonstrably value in the day-to-day experience of your company.
On your sales floor, if you promote the backstabbing high-performer, the message is that you value high performance and nothing else. If you promote the all-too-helpful but low-performing salesperson, you show you value kindness over performance. If you promote people of character who are high-performers, you demonstrate both as essential to your business.
The same principle applies online. If you value a gorgeous aesthetic, make sure your website reflects that. If you believe your dealership is about personal relationships, then ask yourself if you’re investing enough in personalized targeting. If you’re about efficient financing, get the absolute best prequalification tool and feature it prominently.
Some of these changes may cost money initially, but expressing your values ultimately comes with a payoff: You provide your customers with the same high-quality experience online that you would insist on in-person so they connect with your dealership, and buy from you.
Hold yourself to your own highest standards online, just as in your showroom. We looked at about 20 leading dealerships’ value statements and “about us” stories to see if the key themes are expressed in their digital showrooms. They aren’t always.
As 2017 progresses, consider whether the following values, presented here in no particular order, are ones you want to reflect in your dealership website experience. Then figure out how to make that a reality.
Rapid and responsive customer service
Most dealerships know how frustrating customers find car buying and related issues. Great dealerships solve problems for customers quickly.
If this is a value for your dealership, ask yourself: Does your technology allow for quick access to solution channels? How fast and effective is your chat? Is there a place for commonly asked questions? Do your financing and trade-in forms wreak havoc on your customers’ browsers, or are they simple to fill out? These questions will make a big impact.
Does your technology take into account the specific interests of each individual? Can your technology predict what someone is most interested in? Can your technology quickly lead prospects to contact with a dealer employee when they seek it?
Build these types of customer relationships online with personalized targeting.
The great dealerships have some magic about them, and it’s reflected in their showroom display. On the other hand, in their quest to convey huge amounts of information, many dealership websites end up cluttered and overwhelming. Do you have technology vendors that can create moments of focus that evoke your special aesthetic online and grab your visitors’ attention?
Of course, there are many more values to consider. The point is that you should actively and regularly be evaluating whether your values are being expressed on your website.
Fundamentally, there will be dealerships that put their essence at the center of their digital identities, and there will be dealerships that don’t. Those that don’t will be torched by an ever-growing marketplace of options that allow consumers to simply abandon dealerships that never move past the same old.
Those that do, however, while following best practices in marketing, will become grade-A performers online—the types of businesses that become great, weathering rapid change and standing out to their customers.
Aharon Horwitz, CEO of AutoLeadStar, is an entrepreneur committed to building and developing technology for modern digital marketplaces. He speaks and writes about innovation regularly, and has presented at automotive conferences, including Digital Dealer 21 Conference & Expo. The companies and technologies he has developed have been covered in Inc. Magazine, The Next Web, and Lifehacker, and featured by leading marketing companies such as MailChimp, Infusionsoft, and Digital Dealer.