The changing customer journey

To capitalise on diminished face-to-face opportunities, dealers must embrace the digital revolution in order to develop new customer relationships, and maintain old ones.

Broadly speaking, the customer journey has always been the same. Customers carry out research, visit a showroom and eventually purchase a car. We know that in recent times, this journey has become more reliant on digital channels, with ever-less time spent with dealership staff, but the fundamental principles are the same.

Of course, it is important that dealers keep up with the changing nature of this journey, but perhaps more important than that is having a good understanding how the customer has changed.

What changes have we seen?

A key shift in customer attitudes can be seen among younger generations. Once, car ownership represented freedom, often opening the door to social interaction. Now, there is less immediacy in youngster’s desire to drive, with increasing urbanisation, greater efficiency of public transport, ownership costs rising and the interactions possible through social media.  

In keeping with this trend, the customer ownership model is also changing. Increasingly customers opt for PCP/HP agreements, effectively never ‘owning’ the car, so developing less of an emotional connection to their vehicle.

With these changes in attitude and the ease of online research and interaction, customers are changing the way they look for their next car. Rather than simply visiting the dealership, the majority of the journey takes place online. Whether this be on the dealers’ own website, or via social media channels, thanks to the extensive resource available, the customer has often decided on the model, variant and price before they set foot in the showroom.

Embracing the digital revolution

To capitalise on diminished face-to-face opportunities, dealers must embrace the digital revolution in order to develop new customer relationships, and maintain old ones. Dealer websites should be as easy-to-use and informative (including pricing/incentives) as possible, while providing customers with all the facilities of visiting the showroom. As ever, OEMs are keen to encourage retailers to refresh and revitalise their showrooms, but the effort must spread through every customer touch point, effectively OEMs and dealers should be refurbishing the entire customer journey.

Through online channels customer patterns can be tracked more accurately than ever, which makes personalisation even easier. Whether a customer has viewed a model online, or investigated booking a service – dealers can pinpoint the customer’s activity and use the information to approach them proactively.

The data harvested from online tools and the multitude of remote and in-person customer interactions can not only help personalise the experience, but can also be used to identify profitable customers and segments of a database. Used wisely and interpreted with insight, dealer data can be the link to our changing customers.

Author Neil Packham is Vice President and Managing Director, UK Region for CDK Global.

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