With Covid-19 restrictions still ongoing, we are all asking the question of when these will end and what the future looks like for all of us. This question affects not just us as individuals but many companies that employ us. With a focus on the automotive sector for this article imagine the impact on the vehicle manufacturers and the dealerships. What will be the new normal in the short and long term for this industry?
What exactly is the ‘New Normal’ with automotive?
These are uncertain times with the automotive industry, as manufacturers and supply chains are looking at financial issues that impact their customers, their suppliers, and their employees. due to this pandemic and the restrictions that accompany it.
Up until now, the customer could have just walked into a dealership at any time any day to view a vehicle and even ask for a bit of advice and engaged in a test drive, financial implications, and affordability of the vehicle and possible sale. That was the past and times have changed massively due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and everyone is unsure if this approach will exist in the future. Dealerships and OEMs need to adapt to a new normal that embraces digital tools to meet customers online and provide alternative means for arranging a test drive, securing financing, and even delivery of the new or used vehicle. The industry is doing this without a lot of pre-warning and advice.
When Governments announced everyone needs to work from home unless they are “Essential workers” – dealerships have had to spring into action fast to get a plan in place for the safety of their staff and ensuring their business’s survival. The important and strict rules that have been put in place by many governments for social distancing and other precautions have caused a delay in the manufacturing of new vehicles and has disrupted the supply chain across the globe. Even with manufacturers slowly getting a step into play for the future and returning to a ‘new normal’, there will need to be adjustments to the current way of working and this will take some time for management, employees, and colleagues to adjust there. However, people are ready to get back to the work environment in a safe way, which helps with the management of health and safety and prepares them for future pandemics if they come.
With all this said, customers have had more free time at home allowing them to browse online and even place orders for goods without going to the store. What is interesting is the automotive industry was already being affected by changes in buyer behavior pre-COVID restrictions. About 97% of auto buyers start the car search online and of those car buyers, about 50% spend 30 days or less, looking for a car. Auto buyers are still looking and there is a perception that the car is a “safe” place because only the owner and their family may enter the car. This means we will see auto customers spend their time and money online shopping across the websites instead of popping into the dealership. Manufacturers and dealerships that have embraced live engagement solutions for the online shoppers, has allowed companies to stay running online and still keep in contact with their customers to assist them via email, telephone and live chat of text, voice and video!
The pandemic is ongoing, and we will all be good global citizens as things ebb and flow. With digital being the main interaction of how customers get about online, using email, live chat and video chat is definitely the way forward to engage, interact and provide a high level of customer experience. In my opinion, those that do not embrace this approach may not be relevant this time next year.
As people begin to buy autos again, new or used, there is most likely to be a process in place for all dealerships to limit the number of customers in their dealership. With technology in place for engaging online, traffic in the brick and mortar will be diminished, but online engagements will increase allowing sales staff to work remotely. Cars might be delivered to the buyer at their home as a future service, minimizing the need for going to the showroom. With the buying process streamlined, more shoppers can be attended to digitally and more cars could be sold in the 30 days that an auto shopper takes to purchase their vehicle. Live engagement solutions would bring more traffic, smaller dealerships would stand out from the competition, provide customers the information and convenience they want and minimize the current challenges posed with customers getting stuck in a queue.
This really introduces the new normal that is now coming into full view. Auto dealerships need to embrace the future now and embrace the digital changes that have been accelerated as a result of the current situation. Digital engagements are more important than those walk-ins used to be – these are the leads that will lead to sales. Your organization needs to have chatBOTS to allow for off-hours or busy times to answer questions, cobrowse with the customer and book in sales meetings. But organizations must look even further to digital engagement by using video for face-to-face meetings or even doing a showroom walkthrough online with video chat. Many dealerships have invested in CRM or lead systems, but engagement is the most important work you can do to build relationships and drive sales. We have seen video drive a 35% increase in the number of leads with a corresponding increase in sales today. We will not be going back to the way things were and no one can guarantee what the future will be, but live engagement for your online presence is key and the way to a sustained future.