Optimizing the customer experience in the sales process

November 2, 2023

What’s it like being a customer at your dealership?

Typically, the first experience a new customer has with your dealership is with the sales department.

This experience sets the tone for the relationship throughout their ownership of the vehicle and significantly impacts the longevity of that relationship and the overall health of your business. Therefore, it is crucial to provide an exceptional experience to every single customer.

So how do we navigate the sales process in a way that allows us to achieve our dealership objectives, and provide an exceptional customer experience?

User Experience

In today’s technological era, and post COVID, it’s no surprise that the vast majority of customers begin the buying process online. Providing a great user experience is key, in fact CDK Global reported earlier this year that 89 per cent of users will shop with a competitor after a poor user experience.

Review your online presence through the eyes of your customer. Is your website easy to navigate both on desktop and mobile? Are convenient features available such as up to date inventory listings and payment calculators? Are these accurate? One of the biggest customer frustrations is calculating a payment online only to find that it increases when they visit the dealership.

While the online trend continues to increase, affecting the amount of walk-in traffic at the dealer, most customers still want to complete the transaction in the dealership even if they begin the process online — 91 per cent in fact (CDK Global Friction Points Study 2023). Therefore, the showroom experience must line up with the online user experience.

Showroom Experience

The traditional showroom sales process is built around the dealership objectives and simply no longer aligns with the expectations of the modern customer. By the time the average customer sets foot into your store they are well-researched and informed regarding what they would like to purchase and their trade value and are looking for a great experience. To meet these expectations, we must be willing to tailor our approach to the individual.

The Friction Points study also reveals that the top focus for dealers in 2023 is to elevate their customer experience, in fact the response was overwhelming at 5x higher than the next: managing inventory to maximise profits. To elevate your showroom experience, consider the following:

Transparent Communication: for sales departments to shake the stereotypical customer perceptions and build trust, we must focus on transparent communication throughout the whole process.

For example, frustration is often caused when customers are not informed about optional products prior to the business office turnover, or when expectations on lead time for new vehicle orders are not managed proactively.

The modern Sales Associate must be trained and empowered to execute a consultative approach. They must be well versed in the options available to the customer and be confident in making recommendations throughout the process, prior to the turnover.

With the supply constraints of recent years, it is common for a customer to pre-order a vehicle and they must be updated regularly and consistently. Not only does this keep them informed with the progress of their new car build, but it also allows the Sales Associate to maintain the level of excitement about their purchase, and satisfaction with the overall experience.

Consider having assigned “update days” and set the expectation with the customer that they will receive updates weekly in whichever way they prefer to be communicated with.

Time Investment: Studies show that dealerships and customers want the same thing: an efficient process and less time at the dealership. To optimize the customer experience, we must offer a comprehensive, yet concise sales process. We can achieve this by communicating the process to the customer, and asking questions to ensure that we meet their expectations of time spent together.

CDK Global also reports that 65 per cent of shoppers in 2022 waited 15-45 minutes for the F&I Manager. If every customer was informed about the turnover process and options available prior to meeting the F&I Manager, time in the business office will be reduced and we can avoid these bottlenecks that negatively impact the customer experience.

By the time the average customer sets foot into your store they are well researched and informed regarding what they would like to purchase and their trade value and are looking for a great experience.

Leverage data: To identify top opportunities for improvement, listen to what your customers are saying. Analyze your CSI surveys and online reviews and look for common themes. Speak to your customers about their experience, take their feedback on board and proactively look at ways you can tweak your processes to improve.

Delivering an exceptional customer experience is the foundation for increasing loyalty, retention and quality referrals. We must have an unshakeable focus on not just meeting customer expectations, but exceeding them.

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