The Asbury Automotive Group dealership chain recently set up a system that allows people to use their mobile phones and other computer devices to schedule online service-department appointments.
But fewer than 10% of customers are doing so.
“Most still are likely to pick up the phone,” says Bob Murray, Asbury's director-operational marketing. “I don't understand that, because we have all these technology tools. But we are moving in the direction of online appointments.”
It's sometimes hard to estimate the speed at which customers adapt to dealership's new communication-technology offerings. But in the case of online service appointments, eventually they will get there, says Jack Simmons, Internet trainer for Cars.com.
It's better for a business to offer such an online service and wait for customers to adapt to it, rather than scramble to put it in place after belatedly learning of customer demand, he says.
Clearly, overall use of smartphones has exploded. Dealerships are among the businesses that are making themselves mobile-friendly.
“Almost all of our customers are using mobile devices, so we need to as well,” Murray says.
Asbury customers primarily use their smartphones and computer tablets to email a store, get directions to a dealership and check out vehicle inventory.
“Set yourself up for that, and you will see a huge increase in customer traffic,” Murray says.
An estimated one in two U.S. adults will own a smartphone by the end of this year, says J.D. Rucker, TK Carsites director-new media.
Many dealerships assume shoppers plugging into the new technology are Millennials in their 20s and 30s. But it is much more than just them, Simmons says. “It is across all age groups. It is wrong to assume it is just kids.”
Roland Perez has designed several apps for the Cavender Auto Group, where he is e-commerce director. “The basic functions are the best,” he says at a conference session titled “Mobile Strategies to Reach Today's On-the-Go Shopper.”
“I found that the less on the app, the greater the use,” he says. “People are interested in inventory, used cars, specials, phone numbers and directions to the dealerships. We just added live chat for mobile and saw an increase in sales.”
Perez has set up a system in which QR-code window stickers are on all cars on Cavender lots. Consumers, especially after-hours shoppers, can use their mobile devices to scan the codes. Assorted vehicle information is downloaded including photos, available rebates, price, fuel-economy rating, specifications, options, a list of similar vehicles and a click-call phone number.
“It also tells me the date and time when someone looked at the car on the lot,” Perez says.
In the St. Louis market, Asbury tested a mobile app that makes it easier for service customers to rate the repair or maintenance work, then post their reviews online.
The customer-satisfaction reviews, both their in overall positive tones and numbers, were encouraging, Murray says. “We had 100 reviews in 60 days at our Lexus dealership. Last year, they had 23. We're now rolling this app out to all of our nine markets.”
He urges auto makers to get up to speed with their customer-satisfaction surveys, which sometimes can be long and cumbersome. “Only disgruntled customers are going to fill out a 37-question survey.”