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Confident Customers Hold Key to Dealership Recovery in 2021

Customers adjusting to COVID-19 want to know dealerships are taking their health concerns seriously. Interested buyers still are using their own disinfecting wipes to clean the car’s high-touch surfaces before they test-drive it – I’ve seen it firsthand.

As we excitedly flip the calendar into 2021, there are many lessons to apply from a challenging 2020.

Given that the auto industry ground to a halt not long ago makes the pandemic recovery one of the strongest comebacks the sector has ever seen. In fact, many plants and dealerships are back up to pre-COVID 19 employment and production levels.

Despite the new year’s hopeful outlook, many variables impacting the customer experience will remain. How we, as an industry, adjust to these challenges will make all the difference.

If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s the power of connection. It’s less about what you’re selling, and instead how you make people feel. This sentiment is the true secret to retaining a health-focused customer base that has more options and paths to purchase than ever before.

Below are three ways manufacturers and dealerships can maintain customer service excellence to fuel a strong 2021 recovery:

Raise Your Used-Car Game to Overcome New-Car Shortages

As the pandemic barrels into the new year, customers may have a hard time finding a new car. Months of production stoppages and supply-chain slowdowns have left many dealerships without new models.

Unsurprisingly, this low inventory may frustrate customers looking to treat themselves to a shiny new vehicle.

As more customers look to your used inventory, consider enhancing your certified pre-owned program. When the pandemic first hit, many dealerships were forced to react quickly and chose the first vendor who pitched them a disinfectant without carefully considering the right solution. As we enter 2021, it’s time to reassess your reconditioning programs.

As customers have adjusted to the pandemic, they are not just seeking but demanding confidence that dealerships and suppliers are taking their health and safety seriously.

You may think “sanitized stickers” are a good visual for customers to see on a vehicle of interest, but they’re not being trusted.

Interested buyers are still using their own disinfecting wipes to clean the car’s high-touch surfaces before they test-drive it; I’ve seen it firsthand. This isn’t a knock on the dealerships, but rather an indication of where we are today as a health-conscious population.

Focus on bolstering your cleaning processes and show customers exactly the products and ingredients you’re using. Choose trusted reconditioning partners and patented, protected products that you can talk up to your customers.

The 2021 customer is looking for transparency, trust and a top-of-the-line experience.

Putting Health (and Safety) First

OEMs always are ahead of the curve regarding the implementation of safety features, i.e., high-speed alerts, temperature check, pedestrian and bike detection, hill-start and hill-descent assist, back-up cameras and blindspot monitors.

However, the pandemic has inspired a different kind of customer: One demanding healthy vehicle interiors.

Industry-Voices-bug (002).jpgNaturally, OEMs have shifted some attention to antimicrobial coatings on new cars coming off the production line. As new research downplays the risk of COVID-19 spreading on surfaces, suppliers should be looking to implement airborne protection measures inside their vehicles. Ventilation systems can harbor germs, bacteria, viruses and other dangers.

Explore programs and products that are specifically designed to eliminate these types of pollutants and contaminants from the HVAC system.

This approach will restore your customers’ confidence that you’re not just looking for an easy fix, but that you are focused equally on 2021 growth and customer health.

Turning Trust into Dollars

In the dealership world, there are many ways to monetize customer trust at scale – the first step is earning it.

A 2017 study by software provider MAXDigital found nearly 70% of dealers said their customers had a high level of trust in their salespeople, while a 2016 Gallup poll showed just 9% of consumers expressing a high level of trust in car salespeople.

Dealerships can bridge this disconnect with outside-the-box solutions that improve the relationship between sales associates and customers. The pandemic organically opens the door for cleaning products and processes.

Many dealerships are offering complimentary cleaning and disinfecting services, while others have discovered a way to attach fees to recoup some of these product and service expenses on the service drive. Although customers are willing to pay for such services, you must be transparent about what the fee covers and how the customer benefits.

Troy Blackwell NuVinAir COO.jpegWhen it comes to earning customer trust, seeing is believing. Create some well-executed marketing videos that describe how you’re going the extra mile for customers on the reconditioning and disinfecting side of the house.

If you don’t have anything to showcase, that’s a problem. Be proud and strategic when sharing your reconditioning efforts with everyone who comes through the door.

By raising the bar on your own standards while considering the evolving needs of your customers, you can convert that trust into a long-term, loyal relationship that results in return and referral business for years to come.

Troy Blackwell (above) is chief operating officer of NuVinAir Global, which offers a patented, HVAC-focused cleaning process and proprietary product line to automotive businesses.

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