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 fun to see the way customers responded to meeting my father, the Dealer.
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 employees that the dealer maintains an ongoing presence at the dealership. Does this matter to online shoppers? You bet.
But at a lot of dealerships, the role of the “online dealer” has become the responsibility of someone besides the dealer. Most often it's in the hands of the Internet manager who does not understand the overall dealership operation.
Here's how to get started
To get involved, 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.
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.
Once you have your checklist, call a managers meeting and review it with the team. It shows you are paying close attention to the site and you expect customers and prospects to benefit from everything your dealership can offer online.
Be an online mystery shopper
In the offline world, you don't have the capacity to mystery shop your dealership firsthand. But on the Web, it becomes much easier to shop as often as you like.
Mystery shop each department every month and review your personal experience in your meetings. This will keep your team on its toes.
Check 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. See if your site can do better.
Manage the relationship
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.
Respond personally to customers
Respond occasionally to online requests personally. You'll find even the most cynical of online shoppers like communicating with the boss. Lead the charge and you'll be the best online dealer in the market.
David Kain, president of Kain Automotive Inc., is at [email protected] and 859-533-2626.
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