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Putting car dealers in the social media fast lane, guest opinion

Parham Saebi, head of client services at Arvato UK & Ireland

Engaging with customers through social media has become the norm for companies across a range of sectors and car retailers should be paying close attention to the approach of businesses in other sectors.

Fashion and telecommunications  businesses are among those now reaping benefits from integrating these digital channels into their customer service functions.

According to McKinsey, these businesses are using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to boost the average revenue per customer contact by 7% year-on-year, through up-selling, cross-selling and reducing customer churn.

Despite the opportunity and shifting consumer habits, the automotive industry is failing to realise social media’s full potential as a customer service channel.

Research carried out by Arvato, alongside that of digital analytics specialists Socialbakers, uncovered that only 30% of automotive brands have a dedicated customer service account to engage with customers.

And just 12% of Twitter queries directed at automotive brands were responded to in the last three months of last year, with Facebook generally ignored as a service channel.

Having the right channels in place and being more responsive is clearly important, but this is only the first step to achieving the benefits of integrating social media with customer service.

The key is to nurture positive interactions with customers.

McKinsey found 71% of consumers will recommend a product to others following a positive social media experience with a business.

To achieve this, automotive firms need to focus on engaging with customers in a proactive, personalised manner.

The good news is that car dealerships and OEMs can learn the hard-earned lessons from other sectors. Here are three:

Support business milestones

Maximising the buzz around a product, or service launch is an essential way to boost the sales pipeline.

When consumers ask a question, or react positively to a business milestone on social media, brands and dealerships need to be ready to respond in a useful, engaging way that increases the likelihood of a purchase or a successful upsell.

This could involve offering a test drive, directing the user towards information on accessories and support services.

But, critically, it must be delivered in a manner that is personal. Standard, mass responses are far less likely to resonate.

Achieving this requires a skilled community manager, ideally armed with monitoring tools that analyse consumer behaviours and the content, tone and language of their posts.

But, more broadly, it requires flair and a willingness to adopt an informal tone on social media.

A high growth, Spanish telecoms provider uses community managers to monitor for posts on Twitter and Facebook and reach out to consumers proactively, sharing offers and useful information, using language that demonstrates proximity and confidence.

This frequently prompts customers to tell others in their network about the quality of service they receive, which has helped build brand awareness in what is a highly competitive market.

Be on the front foot with complaints

The same principles should be applied to managing complaints.

Fast, personalised responses to direct and indirect complaints prevent churn and can help reverse negative customer sentiment.

In this situation, brands also need to demonstrate empathy and a readiness to take responsibility when something goes wrong.

If a user’s issue is ignored, or handled badly, in such a public forum, it has the potential to damage a brand.

Fast fashion retailers, for example, need to be experts on this front.

Most deal with a volume of queries that equals their usually substantial order book, and must ensure customers receive quick, personalised responses during their busiest periods.

One global retailer experienced more than 100,000 orders in a single day, leading to 1,650 conversations on social media.

While this retail brand will have to handle more online enquiries than any franchised car dealer or automotive brand, the sector can learn from its example.

Automotive businesses should look to forecast enquiry and complaint peaks, whether that that be a new vehicle registration period, or model release, and invest in a social media customer service function that can be upscaled quickly.

This way they will always have enough resource to deliver fast, tailored responses that encourage loyalty and safeguard brand reputation.

Be relevant

Ultimately, the key to achieving genuine engagement on social media is to identify what consumers are interested in and reach out proactively in a relevant and meaningful way.

Community managers at the Spanish telecoms provider do this by tapping into trends and engaging with key influencers to boost brand awareness.

For example, the brand took a song by Spanish songwriter Carlos Sadness and gave it a fresh twist using its own unique content.

It then built the adapted song it into social conversations about his upcoming concerts, eventually gaining acknowledgement by the musician on Twitter.

This approach helped the operator gain over 350,000 new clients in just three and a half years.

For car dealerships and automotive manufacturers, replicating this could be as simple as tapping into the excitement around a community event or engaging in relevant conversations with tips on what to look for in a second-hand car, the best options for leasing a vehicle or how to drive in the snow, for example.

Looking ahead, as more consumers buy or lease their cars online and become more comfortable engaging with automotive brands through social media and web chat, integrating digital channels into customer service operations will become increasingly key.

By delivering positive, personalised interactions at each customer touchpoint, firms can open the doors to new commercial opportunities and protect market share.

Author: Parham Saebi, head of client relations, CRM Solutions at Arvato UK & Ireland

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