By Richard Yarrow
With customers new to the dealership, there is a long pathway to travel before they will become an advocate of the business. The process begins well before they’ve picked up the phone or emailed an enquiry to the sales team. If they have a poor experience online and simply can’t find what they need from the dealer website, they’ll move on.
Auto Trader’s market research director Nick King has spent the past four years talking to dealers and developing ‘best practice’ masterclasses on how they can improve their digital forecourt. He explained: “Your website has to be fantastic. It needs multiple, good-quality images, great descriptions. You’ve got to sell yourself and make people trust you before they will look you in the eye.”
A user-friendly website is also important. That means a contemporary design, clear navigation, up-to-date listings, a finance calculator and clear contact details. All will help prospects feel engaged and positive about your business.
King said having a website that’s optimised for mobile devices is fundamental because customers’ patience has shrunk.
“We used to be happy to sit and wait for a modem to load a page, now it’s about three seconds or people will move on,” he said.
“It’s the same if a site is too fiddly because it’s not responsive. People will talk about this stuff and share these experiences.”
Replying quickly online is also key. King said the industry standard is four hours or less. His research has found only 36% of dealerships meet that and, of the rest, the majority don’t reply at all.
Similar research by Motors.co.uk for AM was slightly more positive. In a blind test, 42% of enquiries emailed to dealers received a reply within four hours and 23% within one hour.
The fastest responses, both from franchised dealers, were received within four minutes. But in both instances the dealer asked the customer to call.
However, 39% of the enquiries were not responded to at all. And one in three of the responses were of poor quality, such as not specifying the vehicle the enquiry related to or failing to offer an alternative if the car had already been sold.
Inadequate responses aren’t going to foster the customer’s trust in the business and put them on the pathway to advocacy. That’s an issue the industry knows it must tackle, to the extent that some manufacturers, such as Mazda, put dealer margin at risk if leads are not followed up within a specified time.