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Will poor customer comms cost car dealers in 2019? Guest opinion

Brett James, business development director at Force24

Efficiencies – or more specifically, inefficiencies – have long dominated the automotive industry’s headlines.

I remember a piece in the FT back in 2016 which shone a critical spotlight on inefficient traditional buying channels, and warned that digital disruptors were changing the face of the market beyond recognition – primarily because Britons are happier to shop online than any of their European neighbours.

Of course there’s more to it than that – the challenges facing dealers are multiple, and complex, and the hunt for efficiency stems from far more than this step-change alone.

There are varied economic influences to contend with, for instance.

But in some ways, this is all irrelevant because the underlying fact remains the same – most dealers need to up the efficiency ante, and fast.

This constant eye on efficiency is, however, perhaps to blame for many continuing to rely on traditional communication techniques.

Batch and blast email marketing techniques are quick and easy to distribute to the masses for example, and surely some level of conversation is better than none? Isn’t it? Well, in truth, no, because a generic message to all understandably falls flat, and the send is just a broadcast, not a conversation-starter, which means the exercise has invariably been for nothing.

Surely, at a time when there is so much focus on the numbers, things need to change.

This ‘hit and hope’ mentality is not going to pull people in off the streets to test drive new or used vehicles. It won’t generate sales. It won’t heighten satisfaction levels.

Customers are savvier in their research and buying behaviours. They expect to receive a better experience from brands. And they’re more acutely aware than ever, of being on a mass mailing list – that’s if they even receive any emails in their overcrowded inboxes.

Many dealers will realise all of this, but a move away from traditional, outdated marketing techniques perhaps feels risky.

Who has the time to be more creative or more strategic? Who has the budget to invest in a more intuitive, technology-driven approach to marketing when margins are already being squeezed, and all eyes are understandably on the forecourt? But what is a forecourt without footfall? And the right footfall at that.

Consumers seek personalisation – which incidentally is far more than an email which says, “Hi John”.

They want to feel that a brand understands them. They want to receive information about cars they actually have a desire to own, when they’re actually in an active buying cycle.

They want to learn about the benefits of related products that could genuinely enhance the pleasure or performance they get from their cars.

They would welcome helpful reminders of when their service is due, rather than blanket sales pitches from dealers simply selling the benefits of a service executed by them.

And if they do most of their communicating via their mobile, consumers may prefer SMS to email, or a call, when the time is right.

CRMs and dealer management systems go some way to storing all of this data so that marketers can start to build up this level of insight.

But then what? Sending the right message, to the right person, via the right channel, at the right time, is nigh-on impossible. It’s certainly time consuming.

Technologists have therefore ploughed millions of pounds into addressing this mounting challenge, over the past few years.

And vendors from different sectors have started working together, to ensure truly-integrated platforms with data flowing seamlessly between the two.

It has consequently become easy to create highly-segmented lists and multichannel journeys, designed for every customer on an individual level.

The technology can incorporate email, social media, PPC, SMS and direct mail campaigns – depending on what will work best and when – and it can even send customers to a bespoke microsite which contains only the content they wish to see, with no clunky data capture forms or irrelevant information to disrupt their browsing.

Every interaction is logged and lead scores calculated in real-time, so that sales and marketing teams can work closer together and dealers begin to have the luxury of prioritising calls based on who is most engaged.

Admittedly an investment in marketing tech requires budget, but the money saved in email wastage alone, will soon mean money is saved.

And the granular level of reporting clearly evidences ROI with the metrics that matter – bottom line impact, not an email open rate.

This isn’t a time to be afraid of the ‘robots’.

We’re not talking about automation to replace the jobs of humans. We’re talking about technology to release these all-important people from the shackles of marketing admin, to help them sell more units.

We’re talking about clever algorithms that can triangulate data that would otherwise take weeks to compute, in order to generate ultra-personalised customer journeys and power thousands of humanised conversations with only a few clicks.

Customer comms needs to change in car dealerships, but innovation is helping that happen, with ease.

Author: Brett James, business development director at Force24

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