Getting Involved Online

I have a question for the dealer principals: How involved are you in your dealership’s online efforts? Your involvement – or lack of – may determine whether your store is wasting money with its Web initiatives.

I have a question for the dealer principals: How involved are you in your dealership’s online efforts? Your involvement – or lack of – may determine whether your store is wasting money with its Web initiatives.

You should set the tone for how the dealership is represented online. That includes design of the Web site, helping develop the online processes and determining which vendors to use.

The role you play online is not much different than the role you play offline. Unfortunately, on most dealership Web sites, dealers often are a forgotten asset.

As I was growing up at the dealership with my brothers and sisters it was always fun to see the way customers responded to meeting my father, the Dealer.

The customers seemed to appreciate the role he played and, when all was said and done, he was the one they had to count on to back up their purchase with good service and support. Even today, when I visit our family dealership I hear customers ask, “Does Mr. Kain still come to the dealership?” Our response? “Everyday!”

For several great reasons it matters to customers and dealership employees that you maintain an ongoing presence at the dealership. Does this matter to online shoppers? You bet it does. All consumers need to feel comfortable that you will be willing to stand behind their deal.

For some reason, at a lot of dealerships, the role of the “Online Dealer” has become the responsibility of someone besides the dealer. Most often the responsibility is placed in the hands of the Internet Manager that earns their income from selling vehicles but does not understand the overall operation of a dealership.

Where to start?

I suggest you start with experiencing your online dealership firsthand. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and shop online at your dealership. See if your Web site is a reflection of your offline sales and service departments.

Click around and see how easy or difficult it is to accomplish normal tasks such as finding a new or used vehicle, checking on accessories or scheduling a service appointment.

Also, look for ways to differentiate your store from the competition.

And, make sure online customers have a clear path to lodging complaints or concerns to yourself or your management. All in all, everything your customer experiences offline they should experience online. Create a checklist of things that need to be included or changed on the site.

Once you have your checklist call a managers meeting and review it with the team. If nothing else, you will have clearly identified to your management that you are paying close attention to the site and you expect customers and prospects to benefit from everything your dealership can offer online.

Be the customer

In the offline world you don’t not have the capacity to mystery shop your dealership firsthand. But on the Web, it becomes much easier to shop as often as you like.

You can create free email accounts using Yahoo.com, GMail.com, Hotmail.com and many others. This provides you with the anonymity you need to gauge how your team responds to your needs.

Conduct a mystery shop yourself for each department every month and review your personal experience in your meetings. Talk about keeping your team on their toes.

Also, check out your competitor sites and see what you like about them and what you want to bring over to your own site. See what it’s like to do Live Chat, Click to Call and Text Messaging and see if your site can do better.

Manage the relationship with the Web site builder

When you designed and built your physical store, you likely were involved in each step of the process. As a result, the facility meets or exceeds the needs of your customers and prospects.

Approach your Web site with the same perspective and engagement.

Another idea is to involve your department managers and have them own their piece of the site. Make sure what they design meets the business needs of the entire dealership as well as their department. I have seen clever applications designed when dealers do this. You just might find this is a fun process. Not only that, you’ll be in much better position to make your site a powerful selling tool.

Last piece of advice

Respond to online requests from time to time personally and see how customers react. I think you’ll find even the most cynical of online shoppers like communicating with the boss. Stay involved, lead the charge and before long you’ll be the best online dealer in the market.

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