Dealers should look at bridging the gap between their physical and digital showrooms and their businesses should move to reflect the way consumers want to engage with them.
Richard Peers, Microsoft business development lead, told members of the AM Executive Breakfast Club in London, an exclusive quarterly meeting free for any franchised dealer senior management, that many companies are looking at enabling customers to interact digitally with physical premises, whether checking into a location to access a promotion or using augmented reality applications to interact with new cars.
Peers also said dealers might still be wondering about the relevance of social media on their bottom line since it has become a buzz word over the past couple of years, but he raised the point that Twitter, Facebook and customer review results would start to appear on search results.
He said: “When customers are searching for your brand the natural search results will now be showing all relevant top comments from social media sources.
“The good and bad customer experiences will be on display for all to see.”
This adds a further element of pressure to dealers who are looking to not only manage their digital interactions with customers online, but also to make sure they have a presence there to keep their search ratings at the top of the results.
Dealers raised the issue at the meeting that much of this development and technology was out of the price range of most automotive retailers.
However, Peers said the technology was getting cheaper and Cloud computing was reducing prices.
He also talked about Natural User Interface (NUI), which he described as “technology getting out of the way”.
Microsoft is heavily invested in this area with its Kinect product, which will be boxed with every Xbox One entertainment system this year.
It’s also possible that Microsoft will be looking for businesses to use the technology in meeting rooms for events such as conference calls and board meetings, using voice or gestures to interact with data.
Peers said: “Voice is a powerful part of the new technology piece.
"It’s the same for cars.
"In an ideal world customers would love the world of the smartphone and car to join up.
"There is a new move by manufacturers to move towards integration of the two.
"It’s already happening with BMW’s iDrive or technology like Chevrolet’s MyLink.”
Manufacturers face the difficult task of ensuring their infotainment systems are compatible with iOS, Android and Windows operating systems.
Applications will no longer have to be included as a factory-fit option, but the smartphone functionality will be pushed and optimised to be used through the car.
Peers said banks were now looking at dealerships as an example of how to make their branches more welcoming to customers and their families.
He said some retailers were looking at using near field communication (NFC) technology to provide the “something extra” that can help physical premises interact with customers’ smartphones.
Consumers were also changing the way they buy.
Payment was a transaction business but, according to Peers, it is now an information business.
Google and the banks were now fighting over payment-based information and how they can use data about a consumer’s purchases to build a profile.
Q&A with AM Executive Breakfast Club members
Question: New innovations in technology could alienate our core customer base of people aged 55 and over.
How can we make sure we move forward to prepare for the next generation of customers without alienating our current customers?
Peers: “If you stand still as a business, you’re dead.
"You have to make the change, but you are the best judge of your demographic.
"You have to make sure your business is reflecting what your customers are actually doing.
“There will come a point where you can choose to get ahead of the pack and there has to be some education from the business to the consumer too.
“Microsoft has a very broad range of customers and we interact with them in different ways, whether that’s Xbox, Windows Phone, Windows 8 or Surface.
Even if you have a 60-year-old customer faced with new technology, there will be a way to strike a chord with them.”
Dealers: Click here to get information on free membership of AM's quartely franchised dealer management networking event, the AM Executive Breakfast Club.