Automotive retailing is putting a ton of focus on the customer’s digital experience. But we can’t forget that close to 90% of buyers still want to visit the showroom, even though their journey starts online. Your customers are your showroom VIPs – and you have to make them feel that way on the floor to win the sale and repeat service business.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes for a minute. You begin your journey to buy a new car. You talk to your spouse, mom, dad, sister, neighbor and perhaps a colleague. You figure out what you want. You do online research. You are fully aware of the monthly payment you can afford, and you’ve selected the dealership with the vehicle you want. In short, you’ve done your homework. Now it’s test drive time and you’re excited about your appointment – and probably a little nervous.
What do you expect when you walk through the showroom doors? How about a personal greeting, a salesperson who knows exactly the work you’ve done online, your car of interest parked right outside and ready for your test drive? Well, come back to reality.
The common realities customers experience when they arrive are far from that ideal scenario. The problems start the minute they pull into your lot and can’t figure out where to park or which door to enter.
When they do enter, the showroom is often a graveyard. The receptionist is absent or on the phone, salespeople are huddled around a desk and managers are in their offices. It’s as if no one knew customers were coming. But, they had appointments, right?
On the flip side, customers are greeted but the salesperson has no idea of all the work done online. No knowledge of the vehicle of interest, preferred monthly payment or trade-in vehicle. Customers are back to square one – and they are not happy with your store.
You can make your customer experience the outlier and gain an incredible competitive advantage in the process. Your customers are your showroom VIPs. Here are some tips to give them that experience:
- Hang a concierge board. This is simple but genius. Hang a board prominently in your showroom that lists every appointment for that day with the customer’s name, appointment time and vehicle of interest. This immediately signals that you are prepared for them and all that work they did online or over the phone didn’t disappear into a black hole. A little bit of recognition goes a long way.
- Prepare your receptionist. Provide your receptionist with a list of all expected guests for the day with appointment times and vehicles of interest. Even better, prep a folder for each guest with printouts of any work they’ve done on your website and/or using your digital retailing tools. Now when a customer enters, the receptionist can pull the appropriate folder and physically show the customer your store is ready for them and is excited to get started with the test drive.
- Get your manager involved ASAP. Your sales manager should be aware of every appointment and prepared to greet customers as soon as they enter the showroom. This makes customers feel important and also promotes manager awareness of the deals happening in the showroom. But wait: Are your managers are too busy to greet customers? What’s more important than greeting customers in your showroom who are ready to buy? A personal greeting makes customers feel welcome. It should be a quick interaction – just a few minutes – to say hello, introduce the salesperson or product specialist and let the customer know the manager will join them after the test drive to complete the sale. This warm welcome also breaks down barriers so customers don’t feel like the manager only appears at the end to hammer them into signing a deal.
- Use a standardized pre-appointment checklist. The checklist should include as much information about the customer as possible, including all the steps they’ve taken online, and all concerns highlighted during the journey. This will not only shorten the buying process, but also open up opportunities for a needs assessment. For example, a customer may have concerns about the size of a trunk. This is a natural opening for a conversation about why the customer needs a larger trunk (maybe they’re an avid golfer) and how the product specialist can help. Every conversation builds rapport which leads the customer farther along in the journey.
- Have the vehicle ready. Do I hear ‘duhhhh’ out there? Sure, it sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it doesn’t happen. Take the time to inspect the vehicle before the appointment. Start the engine to make sure you won’t have to jump the vehicle in front of a customer. Yes, we know a dead battery is common when a car sits for a while, but the customer doesn’t. Make sure it’s clean inside and out and that everything is working properly. The final step is to bring it around to the front of the dealership so it’s ready and waiting for the customer. You can even put a sign in the window with the customer’s name for another welcoming touch.
The customer experience is a hot topic in our industry, but we have to remember it’s not just the online experience that counts. When the vast majority of customers still want to come into the showroom and test-drive a vehicle before buying, how they’re treated at your physical store is as important as your virtual store. Use these tips to show customers they are the VIPs on your floor.
Tiffany Peeler (pictured, left) is vice president-sales & operations at Proactive Dealer Solutions, a provider of training, software and BDC solutions for the automotive industry.