Reviews

Interview with Assurant Global Automotive: Customer Experience Tech

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As Bob Hooey said, "if you are not taking care of your customers, your competitor will." With so many dealership options and value offerings a potential customer can turn to, the differentiator factor will ultimately be "The Customer Experience." This experience is not only up and till the transaction takes place but continues to be built on each customer engagement point for the lifetime of that vehicle. It is known that it is 5x easier to retain a customer than acquire a new one. Why not deliver on this lifetime CX opportunity by adding extra value to the post-purchase experience? Being tech-smart on how your dealership will deliver the benefits of added value and take care of the customer could give your dealership a competitive edge. Assurant Global Automotive has recently launched a mobile app that will help dealers and clients connect with their customers, deliver a more personalized car ownership experience, grow their revenue, and retain more loyal customers. The Dealer Marketing Magazine team had the opportunity to chat with Martin Jenns, Senior Vice President of Global Transformation at Assurant Global Automotive to see the new Pocket Geek Auto (PGA) app in action. What inspired Assurant Global Automotive to create Pocket Geek Auto (PGA)? We've always had deep conversations with our dealer partners and there was one consistent theme that stood out – increasing the value of core dealer products and services to consumers. There was an opportunity to help dealers grow consumer loyalty, improve the customer experience, and drive value for dealer offerings like maintenance, protection plans and service, and from that, Pocket Geek Auto was born. Pocket Geek Auto is part of the Pocket Geek family of products offered in Assurant's other core businesses like mobile and home, where we help consumers manage and protect their mobile device performance, content, and maintenance throughout its lifecycle. In the auto industry, the post-purchase lifecycle management of a customer is very manual, labor intensive, and fragmented. Pocket Geek Auto serves as a necessary relationship tool between the dealer and consumer that streamlines and improves the customer experience. Take banking for example. Do you remember the last time you physically visited your local branch? Likely not, as most financial institutions have created apps where you can easily manage your account and seamlessly deposit and transfer money through the click of a button. We've taken a similar approach with Pocket Geek Auto. Customer Experience in automotive has been a trending topic and focus for dealerships as they build new strategies post-pandemic. Your focus on the post-purchase experience is certainly interesting and is a crucial point to ensure your customer is retained for the long run. How does the overall objective for the Pocket Geek Auto app support this idea? It's all about creating a better post-purchase experience. For dealers, our objective is to help build customer loyalty, strengthen core offerings, and drive service revenue. We're also helping dealers become more transparent and direct in their engagement with customers to drive customer satisfaction. For consumers, we're focused on creating a personalized car ownership experience that extends beyond the vehicle purchase. We want to help dealers ensure that consumers have a hassle-free car care experience and can connect with their dealer efficiently today and down the road. Can you tell us a little about Pocket Geek Auto's key features? It is a mobile app designed to help keep dealers connected to their customers over the lifetime of the vehicle ownership. Through the app, dealers can communicate with their customers by sending maintenance reminders, safety recalls, deals, and price match offers, and other information. Pocket Geek Auto also offers a paperless feature called Digital Glovebox, which has the capability to store vehicle-related documents regarding ownership and vehicle coverage for multiple vehicles. Other key features of the app include on-demand technical support for in-car technology and we will be introducing a simplified claims process that allows customers to report a protection policy directly through the app. How can Pocket Geek Auto be accessed? Is it free for dealers and consumers? Anyone can download Pocket Geek Auto for free to their iOS or Android mobile device and connect it to their vehicle but there are enhanced benefits when a consumer downloads in conjunction with a Pocket Geek Auto dealer or partner. There is no cost to the consumer or the dealer. For our dealer and other distribution channel partners, it is a value-add product that can serve as the primary method of communication to the end consumer via a white labeled version specific to their business. Consumers will typically download the dealer white labeled app at the time of vehicle purchase while they are still in the dealership. Our dealers and partners will receive access to expert technical support for their customers, assistance with administrative details, and even customer insights and analysis straight through a convenient portal. Superior end-to-end customer experience is a major driving force in building brand loyalty, which is essential to retain customers for the possibility of repurchasing. Are there customized options available to complement your brand and business processes? What else makes Pocket Geek Auto unique to dealers? PGA's offering is unlike anything we have seen in the industry to date. The app's technology and open API pulls in over 20 integration points and complements OEM apps already in use with different dealer specific features. Dealers also have full control of branding, imagery, and offers digitally delivered to their consumers through the app, including reporting features that allow for real-time analysis of consumer interactions. Our clients continue to look to us for innovative ways to solve today's business problems and we will be continuously adding new features to the app based on the feedback we hear from dealers and their customers. We leveraged our learnings across the Pocket Geek family of apps, specifically Pocket Geek Mobile, to bring an enhanced experience for today's digitally driven consumer.
Interview with Experian & Amy Hughes: Customer Acquisition after a Pandemic

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The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated preexisting digital retail trends in the auto industry, and focusing on creating a clear digital retailing & customer acquisition strategy is essential for success.  Gone are the days of every car buyer walking through your dealership's lot. Today, car buyers are making decisions faster and spending less time shopping around. A surge in online tools has helped auto dealerships access key data pertaining to the customer buyer journey, giving dealerships the edge to influence a potential car buyer before they make their final decision.  The Dealer Marketing Magazine team met with Amy Hughes, Sr. Director of Dealer Intelligence at Experian, to chat about how auto dealerships can prepare for success and how to leverage data for marketing success.  After the turbulent 2020 the automotive industry has endured, the industry remains fragile. As the pandemic's effects start to dwindle and recovery is in progress, how can auto dealers ensure they're prepared for 2021, no matter what comes? Within the last 12 years, the automotive industry has weathered two major downturns — first the Great Recession, then COVID-19. While the industry has remained resilient in both cases, we know dealers are looking for ways to continue to navigate the current recovery and better prepare for the future. The answer is data. Staying close to data can help dealers stay on top of rapidly changing trends and respond accordingly.  With more time and data, there is more opportunity for optimization and to outperform any human. With so many kinds of data available these days, what types of data can dealers use to anticipate changes in the dealer market better?  Many auto dealers look at vehicle registration trends, but we've found that those trends can be even more informative when you layer in economic data. This can help dealers identify patterns and be agile in their planning. To that end, we recently introduced Experian Automotive Market Insights, which is a free dashboard that features numerous data points designed to help dealers be more strategic in their decision making as the industry continues to move toward recovery.  For example, a rise in unemployment typically precedes a drop in registrations by one month, as seen in the March – April 2020 time frame. If dealers begin to see a rise in unemployment, they can take steps to mitigate or minimize that dip, through things like incentive packages, special offers, etc. You can also look at indicators such as consumer sentiment, gas prices, interest rates, and more.  Experian Automotive Insights Dashboard That is very useful from a strategic perspective. How should dealerships leverage data when it comes to implementing tactics?  Dealers should start by looking for new opportunities around their store. Usually, this means going beyond the data within a dealership's CRM database, which can open the door to new customer acquisition opportunities. For example, the new Experian Automotive Market Insights dashboard highlights how many consumers are coming into positive equity or coming off lease at the state level, which can help auto dealers and OEMs understand how much opportunity is within their state.  Besides data being a key component to new customer acquisition opportunities, what are other ways that data can help improve marketing efforts?  At the end of the day, it's vital to know who your customer is, and what their priorities are. Layering in additional data points beyond the high-level economic trends can help dealers achieve this. For instance, on a national level, a recent Experian study found that millennials and Gen Z are the only age groups seeing growth in vehicle registrations. Millennials and Gen Z consumers comprised 32.83% of new vehicle registrations in 2020. Equipped with that knowledge, dealers can then take a closer look at what and how these groups like to buy and let that inform marketing strategies. For instance, Gen Z is more likely to finance a vehicle than millennials. Dealers can then tailor messages to each group accordingly, which are more likely to resonate that typical mass-mailings.  While the examples I just gave are at the national level, we always suggest that dealers look at local versions of these metrics, so they can see the nuances in their surrounding area and plan accordingly.  If a dealership is interested in learning more about how to apply data to their own marketing strategies, what do you suggest?  Data is a powerful tool that will continue to drive the auto industry toward recovery, and we want to help dealers as much as we can. In addition to the data readily available on the Experian Automotive Market Insights dashboard, dealers can also request custom insights. These insights will help dealers understand how data can be applied on their local level to better uncover opportunities near their dealership. For more information, visit  Experian Automotive Market Insights . 
Digital Motors Enables Dealers to Deliver Apple-Like Experience

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Retailing has changed radically in the past decade, and it has changed even more radically in the past 12 months. Lockdowns, business restrictions, and fear of disease have conspired to keep the vast majority at home and isolated others far more than they want to be. This has had a profound effect on the way consumers purchase products. Online sellers have seen their sales and market shares skyrocket, while those who rely on in-store foot traffic have seen sales tumble and, in some cases, have been forced to close up shop forever. When one looks at various types of retailers, one can make the case that car dealers, in general, have been among the slowest to change the way they do business, even as the world around them has changed. Taking the attitude if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it and safely ensconced behind state franchise laws and licensing regulations, many dealers still operate their businesses in much the same way they did in 1960, 1980, and 2000. Generate foot traffic with advertising, convert a good percentage of those walk-ins into car-buyers, get a piece of the auto financing pie, and sell them some add-ons before they drive off the lot. Retaining a high percentage of those buyers as service customers sweetens the pot. Retailing Has Changed That said, it is no secret that today's retailing environment is far different from the environment in 1960 or even in 2000. Consumers have grown to appreciate the convenience and time-savings afforded by the ability to purchase goods online and receive fast delivery conveniently on their doorsteps. Wide choice, product reviews, comparison tools, and price transparency all contribute to consumers' switch to buying on the Internet. Add to that a dread disease and governmental business restrictions and you have a retailing paradigm shift of mammoth proportions. While many progressive new- and used-car dealers were in the process of investigating and, in some cases instituting online selling processes prior to the onset of the pandemic, once forced business closures hit, that relative trickle of activity became a torrent. Dealers have scrambled to enable themselves to continue to do business in the extremely challenging environment we have seen in the past 12 months, often turning to vendors to help them gain those new and to some extent, very alien capabilities. What is Digital Motors?  One company that has stepped into that breach is Digital Motors , essentially an online sales platform that gives any retailer of a traditional brand the ability to sell a car "just like Tesla" with an end-to-end online process. "I guess the sad reality is the only way to buy a new car that way today is if it's a Tesla," Digital Motors CEO Andreas Hinrichs told us. "So Digital Motors set out to change it. And I guess we're in the right place at the right time with the right product." Southern California-based Digital Motors was founded well before COVID-19. But Hinrichs admits that the rise of the dread disease accelerated the company's development and launch timeline. "COVID certainly is a significant accelerant to Digital Motors, but it's not the root cause," Hinrichs said. "You know, all the industries outside of automotive have gone to fully transactional over the past 20 years, and auto is the only one that's stuck in lead gen [lead generation]. And that's something we set out to change. And after a year and a half of development, we launched the platform early last year when the shutdown first hit." The change in the timeline wasn't radical, because Digital Motors had planned a summer 2020 launch. But in light of the shutdown, the startup suddenly had dealers knocking on its Internet doors seeking help.  "So we launched the platform a full three months early," he said. "And, right out of the gate, customers embraced this new process and the platform started selling cars, even at the depths of the first shutdown that happened in the spring." Because a car transaction is much more complicated than buying a pair of shoes online, developing the platform required dealing with all the complexities and idiosyncrasies of a typical auto purchase transaction that has multiple aspects, including the vehicle itself plus financing, trade-in, and after-sale additions. The typical car sale also involves state and local taxes and fees that often are very substantial. Beyond that, the auto industry's two-tier distribution model means an online retailing solution must in some ways serve two masters, representing both the vehicle brand and the dealer brand.  Plug and Play Digital Motors has assembled a process that enables it to create plug-and-play online stores that are a natural extension of the dealer's physical showroom. The customer is able to identify a vehicle of interest from a dealer inventory based on certain search criteria. Then they can structure lease or finance payments, value their trade-in, select finance and insurance products, and get instantly approved by one or multiple lenders subject to the dealer's preference. Buyers can schedule their delivery online as well. So end to end, Hinrichs claims, it takes about 15 minutes in contrast to a process that traditionally takes three to five hours at the dealership. While that might seem too good to be true, the speed of transaction is facilitated by the fact that in the typical Digital Motors transaction there's no negotiation. In pricing individual vehicles for sale, the dealer is encouraged to put a "solid foot forward." According to Hinrichs, that doesn't mean a race to the bottom or rock-bottom pricing, but a price that the typical shopper would find fair and compelling.  Of course, that is not the end of the transaction. From there, the Digital Motors platform layers on the different marketing campaigns, incentive programs, and lending programs to get the customer to the "transactable" deal. The driving force of the platform is a highly complex, intelligent FinTech engine. It has dealer-adjustable "guardrails," so customers can only put together sensible deals. But at the same time, the dealer is in full control of the economics of the process, just as they are in their physical showroom.  "One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that the more control you give to the customer, this is actually bad for business," Hinrichs said. "What we see on a daily basis is the more control you give to the customer over the transaction, the higher your profit margin is and the happier the customer is at the same time. So the dealer walks away with a better margin, the customer feels fully empowered and is in control of the process. Everybody saves time. And there's virtually zero buyer's remorse afterward." Apple-Inspired Retail Process Digital Motors execs say they're attempting to emulate a very familiar retail experience -- Apple. At retail, Apple is completely "channel agnostic." It doesn't matter if the customer puts the entire deal together in the online store or if the customer puts parts of the deal together online, or if everything is done at the Apple retail store. The same philosophy holds true with the plug-and-play experiences Digital Motors creates for its dealer clients.  Digital Motors recognizes that the consumer might not desire a complete end-to-end online transaction with no in-store contact or ability to see, feel, smell and drive the merchandise. It also recognizes that consumers might not want to complete the transaction in one online session, so it allows them to "park" the deal online and then resume on their timeline. The customer can start a deal online, get comfortable with the payment scenario, and then seamlessly finish the transaction at the dealership. Or the customer can start the transaction at the dealership and finish it at home if they like.  "Ultimately, this gives retailers a huge boost in efficiency and customers a lot of empowerment," Hinrichs said. "But Digital Motors is not the consumer-facing brand here. We're the technology platform that enables this experience. We consider our clients' online stores their stores that they own and operate with pricing as they see fit." Dealer Branding Digital Motors considers its platform's dealer-branding abilities to be one of its key strengths against other competitors vying for the same dealer-customers. They describe their platform as "hyper-configurable." "We actually can create something that looks like a custom online store for a particular dealership or dealer group in about 24 hours without writing a single line of code," Hinrichs told us. "And we're able to emulate any franchise branding for any OEM or custom branding for the dealership. So the ultimate result is not only something that resembles the branding of the dealership, lives on the dealership's website domain, but also has a feature set that can be configured to each individual dealer's needs." Future is a Hybrid While Hinrichs is absolutely convinced that car shoppers want the option of an online shopping and buying experience, he does not predict that the industry will see a wholesale shift to end-to-end online buying. Instead, he predicts the future of auto retailing will be a hybrid process that lets the customer choose when and what they do online and when and what they do in the showroom. "At Digital Motors, we do not believe that there is going to be a hard cut over from the traditional offline process to everything all of a sudden occurring online," he said. "What we clearly identified is virtually every single car buyer has an express need to do more online than they traditionally were able to do. Whether this means structuring the entire deal or parts of the deal doesn't really matter. By the time they contact the dealer or visit the dealer physically, they want to have a good understanding of their deal. If if they've played around on the online store beforehand, customers are no longer coming in just kicking tires, taking test drives, and being non-committal. By the time they walk in after getting the transparency on the online store, they're ready to do the deal." And isn't that what every dealer wants?
Sierra Toyota Recognized for Community Actions

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Sierra Toyota in Sierra Vista, AZ is a small market Toyota dealership, and the leadership team understands the value of providing an exceptional customer experience. They have invested in technology, training, and staff to support initiatives like digital retailing and vehicle pick-ups for service. One program they recently implemented is called Quickride, an app that organizes home deliveries, vehicle pick-ups, and shuttles.  As a start-up consultant, I serve on the advisory board for Quickride. During our normal check-in call, I asked to hear about some of their recent success stories from clients. I expected to hear about happy customers or the benefits of adding home delivery options to their services per usual, but they shared with me a story about Sierra Toyota that caught me by surprise.  Gabe Rendon is the Service Manager, and he manages the team responsible for managing customer pick-ups. He shared that feedback was overwhelmingly positive since implementing the home delivery service. Customers waiting for shuttles appreciated being informed about their shuttle and wait times over the previous system, and those who scheduled vehicle pick-ups appreciated the convenience and being informed about pick-up times without constant phone calls. This feedback fit in with what Sierra Toyota hoped to do with the new program, but no one on the Quickride or the Sierra Toyota teams anticipated this next comment.  The dealership received an unexpected visit from Brenda Charles, who said, “I can’t tell you how much I love this new service you’ve introduced. I have a stutter, so the app made it incredibly easy for me to schedule a service and vehicle pick-up. I’ve recommended you for a commendation for local businesses that take steps for disabled people.” In Gabe’s words, they added this because they wanted to increase customer satisfaction, but they never imagined it would have this kind of impact.  Gabe and his team were originally concerned that people wouldn’t embrace the technology or might abuse the service. However, the opposite has been true. Customers have embraced pick-ups when they have trouble leaving the house or need assistance. Most regular customers appreciate having the option available to them but use the service sparingly as they recognize it comes with additional overhead from the store.  The pick-up service also provided unexpected benefits for the service department. Service advisors can now write up vehicles during downtime because the customer isn’t waiting for service. The vehicle pick-up service also offers them a valuable closing tool for customers who might otherwise find a lengthy and expensive service too inconvenient to finish that day.  On October 8th, 2020, Gabe and Sierra Toyota owner K.C Han went to the City Council meeting, where Mayor Rick Mueller presented them with Sierra Vista’s “Vist-Ability” award for their actions in the community. As their customer mentioned during the ceremony, “This [app] to me has been priceless.” Disclosure: I am also an advisor for and an investor in Quickride. 
Need Some Support? Hyundai Capital Offers Dealers & Customers Worldwide COVID-19 Support Programs

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The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Posting the fiscal deficits larger than those during the 2008 global financial crisis, countries around the world have come up with a series of measures to stimulate the economy. The worst economic downturn is still underway. Some countries are fortunate enough to see relatively quicker recovery, but the COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating in many others, including the United States, Brazil, India, and Russia, further dragging down their economies. The International Monetary Fund has recently forecasted that the 2020 global economic growth rate would be minus 4.9% due to the pandemic. The Federal Reserve announced in July that while the U.S. industrial output increased for the previous two months, the production dropped by an annual rate of 42.6%, the largest quarterly rate decline since World War II. The automotive industry is also going through an unprecedented crisis. Vehicle manufacturers have suspended their factory operation, and dealerships are struggling with their business. Compounding the crisis is that their potential customers have lost their jobs and seen their income shrunk. IHS Markit has forecasted that 88 million cars would be sold this year worldwide, down by 12% from a year ago.  Global automotive companies have been looking for diverse measures to overcome the crisis, including budget cuts, fixed cost reduction, liquidity increase, to name a few. Considering the difficulties that both customers and dealers face, Hyundai Capital’s global entities have come up with various support programs in partnership with Hyundai, Kia and Genesis. And these programs have been well-received in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Brazil. Hyundai Capital operates Hyundai Finance, Kia Finance and Genesis Finance in 11 countries worldwide. Hyundai Capital America, which runs Hyundai Motor Finance, Kia Motors Finance and Genesis Finance in the market, provided first payment deferral programs to 20,000 new retail customers who purchased a vehicle, allowing them to make their first payment 90 to 120 days later between March and May. The three months were when the U.S. was hit hardest by the COVID-19. The American operation also allowed 130,000 existing customers to defer a monthly retail or lease payment up to three times and extending their finance term, easing the financial pressure of more than 200,000 monthly payments. The measures turned out to be successful. Although the U.S. auto market has worsened in the wake of the COVID-19, Hyundai and Kia were able to achieve a combined market share of 8.9% as of June, continuing its winning streak in market share for 23 consecutive months. “Our top priority lies in better supporting customers and dealers according to each market’s conditions as we go through this unprecedented time,” said Paul Skiadas, who heads the Global Business Division at Hyundai Capital. Relief programs for customers suffering from COVID-19 Hyundai Capital entities in the U.S., Canada, and the UK offered payment deferral and waived programs to customers who can’t afford to make a payment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Canada, in which the automotive market was hit harder by the pandemic than in the neighboring U.S., Hyundai Capital Canada offered payment deferral programs up-to 180-days to customers who financed the purchase of a new vehicle through Hyundai Motor Finance and Genesis Finance. The company also offered a 6-months payment waiver to customers who financed or a 3-months payment waiver to customers who leased a new vehicle through Kia Motors Finance. Existing customers were offered to defer lease payment up-to one month, finance payment up-to three months. As a result of various customer support programs, “Hyundai Capital Canada was able to support strong sales for OEMs in June when the combined market share of Hyundai and Kia rose to 13.5% in June,” said Mark Di Donato, who heads Sales and Marketing Department at Hyundai Capital Canada. “We achieved the largest monthly sales volume of $200 million in July since the establishment of Hyundai Capital Canada,” he added. Hyundai Capital Bank Europe offered zero-interest loan and payment deferral programs in Germany. Hyundai Capital UK directly contacted customers whose agreements were due to end during lockdown to offer them a 3-month deferral or 12-month refinance of their balloon payment. The measures helped customers preserve future renewal opportunities. They also launched a 0% PCP product with 3-month deferred payments to help customers. All of this was heavily promoted and signposted via dedicated webpages. Banco Hyundai Capital Brasil also decided to extend the customer care program in August. New customers can make their first payment starting from 2021, and existing customers can defer their payment for up to 90 days. Liquidity support for dealers amid sluggish auto market The support from Hyundai Capital is not merely targeted at customers. Dealers also benefited from a chain of aids. Global operations came up with programs to improve cash flow of dealers struggling with financial difficulties amid the downturn of the automotive market. Hyundai Capital America was quick to deploy solutions that spanned their floor plan and commercial financing products in support of their dealer partners. As part of Dealer Cash Flow Assistance Programs, the operation provided 60-day deferral on floor plan interest payments and 60-day waived curtailments on aged units. Also, 90-day deferral on principal payments for existing working capital and real estate loans and 3-year fixed interest-only for new working capital loan applications were offered. Hyundai Capital Bank Europe provided payment deferral programs for 105 days to about 640 Hyundai and Kia dealers in Germany. Similarly, Hyundai Capital UK extended interest-free stocking periods and suspended payments for demonstrators for over 300 dealers on wholesale credit to ease the burden of the lockdown period when they were unable to sell cars. Banco Hyundai Capital Brasil has extended the period for its floor plan payment from 120 days to 210 days. “We are committed to helping dealers stay financially healthy with the dealer fund, raised together with Hyundai Motor Brasil and its dealers,” said Banco Hyundai Capital Brasil CEO Cezar Janikian.
Behavior Prediction Tech Can Improve Stores' Marketing ROI

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A dealership owes its existence to retaining as many of its existing customers as it can and replacing those who defect with new customers. That is plain to anyone who has ever spent any time around the car business … or pretty much any business for that matter. Keeping the customers satisfied is a business goal so transcendent that it has been memorialized in song. Yet keeping loyal customers loyal is a more challenging task for a dealership than it is for other types of retailers. Those who run coffee shops or delis or even clothing stores might see their customers several times a month or even several times a week. But a car dealership might not see a loyal customer for months or maybe even years at a time. You've heard of long-distance relationships? For auto dealers, the relationship might better be termed "time-distant." And like a long-distance personal relationship, it can be hard to maintain. With any luck, your store retains the sales customer as a service customer after the sale, so that is one way of maintaining positive contact. But in these days when the titillating impulse to try something new is ever-present, providing good service experiences might not be enough to persuade them to purchase from you again, especially if that customer has moved across town, or if he or she drove crosstown to buy from you in the first place. So the game boils down to keeping as many of your sales customers as is humanly possible, giving service customers the impetus to become sales customers, and gaining incremental business by enticing people you've had no contact with at all to visit your store and buy a car from you. Just like hitting a baseball or catching a trout on a dry fly, the basic concept is easy to grasp. Executing it is the hard part. One thing you could do — one thing that a great many auto retailers resort to — is using mass media to put and keep their names in front of potential customers. TV, radio, and online ads enable you to reach many people at once with a concise message about what you do…and with luck, what you do that is different from the things all your fellow dealers do. But mass media can lack two key ingredients — relevancy and personalization. And without relevancy and personalization, the expensive messages are nothing but clutter. They bounce right off the potential prospect if, indeed, the prospect pays any attention to them in the first place. On the other hand, big data plus the data you already have on hand in your DMS and CRM systems can enable you to create compelling, personalized messages to your customers and potential customers. When you think about it, your DMS knows a hell of a lot about each and every sales and lease customer you've ever had. That data can be used predictively to suggest to you — and to your customer — when they might be ready to transact with you again. The difficulty is data-mining it. This is where behavioral targeting technology like that pioneered by a company called automotiveMastermind comes in. Its behavior prediction technology helps dealers anticipate individuals' automobile-buying intentions with an amazing degree of precision. This enables the automated creation of micro-targeted communications to current customers and prospects alike. Far from being one-size-fits-all, these communications are tailored to each individual and are delivered only to them. "When you combine the DMS data that we have from the dealer on their customers with IHS Markit data, we've got over 1,000 points of data on these customers," Ian Grace, automotiveMastermind's senior manager of partner performance, told us. "That allows us to understand better who's going to buy and, more importantly, why they're going to buy. So that then we can empower the dealer with that information to make a proactive phone call or outreach to the customer." In fact, the outreach itself might provide the impetus to begin the shopping process and to buy. For example, an email might remind the prospect that she is driving at a pace that could take her beyond the mileage limits of her lease. Or it could warn a customer that his vehicle is about to go out of warranty. "Ultimately, what we're here to do is to let the dealer know what their customers' potential pain points or pleasure points are," Grace said. "Are you [the customer] in a bad spot? Or could we get you into a better spot? That's ultimately what's at the core of our technology. That's what we're letting the dealer know, and that's what our marketing is saying [to the consumer.] So we're here to ultimately help you." This just in — helping customers actually works. More to the point, providing customers with reasons to transact that are unique to them and speak to their individual circumstances are keys to marketing effectiveness and favorable marketing/advertising return on investment. Stores like Audi Princeton and Lexus of Warwick that rely on behavior prediction technology have found it has boosted their loyalty rates while at the same time gaining them sales from their service-only customers and from conquests of likely buyers in their areas. Mastermind dealer partner Lexus of Towson's first-month direct mail campaign based on the analysis of thousands of data points that enabled it to close 20 deals at a 63% close rate, up from the store's typical 35-40% rate. The ability to predict when customers are going to buy and what customers are going to buy offers magical pieces of information that dealers can leverage to their advantage. But they can only use that leverage if they are able to deliver compelling, personalized information in a timely manner. And that's where technology must come to bear, technology that can have very salubrious effects. "We've got some dealer partners that are such strong partners with Mastermind and truly believe it at such a core sort of cultural level for their store, that it's one of the questions that they ask in their interview," Grace said. "Have you ever heard of automotiveMastermind? Have you worked with automotiveMastermind at a previous dealer? And if they say yes, then that's a feather in that potential hire's cap."