In recent years customers across the retail environment have seen a major shift in the style of interaction they experience when they walk into a shop or a car dealership. Many major high street brands and numerous car manufacturers are moving away from sales-focused staff, introducing approaches that enhance the customer experience and facilitate the buying process far more subtly.
This change in sales tactics has come following the evolution of the customer journey. A recent Google and Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study suggests that customers are almost 60% of the way through the sales process before stepping into a dealership or engaging with a ‘sales representative’.
A number of vehicle manufacturers are responding to these changing customer needs by offering an ‘Apple-style’ approach in dealerships, with product ‘Geniuses’ or ‘Angels’ replacing the traditional car salesmen. But time will tell if these moves are salesmen in sheep’s clothing or a true culture change in automotive retail.
In the coming years we expect the decline of the traditional sales role to continue, with dealership staff trading sales patter for in-depth product knowledge and perceptive customer guidance. The companies that prosper will encourage their staff to continue the customer’s journey, rather than trying to begin a new one.
Inevitably the continuation of the customer journey has to blur the lines from early online research to the physical dealership presence. It is acknowledged widely that, thanks to the extensive resources available, the customer has often already decided the model, variant and price they’d like to pay before they even set foot in the showroom.
In an effort to meet the customer digitally before meeting in person, some dealers have embraced a virtual customer relationship, utilising social media, websites, live chat and video, in addition to bridging this gap within the dealership. However, many appear slow to digitise by moving to mobile as part of their operations despite it having become such a large part of every customer’s life. It is time for dealerships to seize the opportunity and catch-up with this growing trend.
As brands grapple with this changing landscape, we’re seeing the leading dealers shift to using tablets for in-dealership customer interactions, providing a more engaging experience that focuses on the needs of the customer. This approach means that details can be taken from on the forecourt, inside the car or sat on sofas with a cup of coffee. This is not just a benefit for those thinking of buying a new car, but also for customers looking at used vehicles or during an assessment for part exchange.
With retailers catching on to the need to pair mobile devices with a flexible and relaxed approach to customer interaction, the current desk-bound salesman approach could soon be a thing of the past.
Author Neil Packham is Vice President and Managing Director, UK Region for CDK Global.