What Do Car Buyers Today Really Expect?

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Few industries have gone through as much change over the past couple of years as the automotive industry. The COVID-19 pandemic turned the industry on its head by changing the way many people buy cars practically overnight. The good news for the industry is that customers’ research and buying habits have changed right along with these industry shifts.

So what do consumers today want and expect when it comes to buying a car? To answer that question, the Just the Fax podcast team brought in Lindsay Rodriguez, Executive Vice President of Team Velocity. Lindsey and Co-Host Bob Grill took some time to discuss the question.

A Different Customer Experience

Nearly three years after the pandemic began, automobile manufacturers are continuing to struggle to keep up with consumer demand for new vehicles. Most of the cars on many dealerships’ lots today are pre-sold or inbound inventory, which changes the customer experience. Customers today can’t just walk around a dealership, look at hundreds of cars, pick out the model and color they want and drive home. Fortunately, many buyers have adjusted their expectations to reflect this new reality.

A couple of years ago, Lindsey said, most of the manufacturers she met with did not have a person dedicated to ensuring a positive customer experience. Now most of them have appointed a high-level manager or even executive who is tasked with monitoring the customer experience from start to finish — and all the way until the customer buys another vehicle. In this way, they are looking at current customers as future opportunities.

Higher Levels of Personalization

Tech companies like Amazon have changed consumers’ expectations when it comes to a personalized shopping experience, making personalized recommendations based on your past buying history. And while some people still find it a little unnerving that the internet seems to always be one step ahead of what we are thinking about buying, for Millennials and Gen Z, this is their norm. The automotive industry lags behind in offering this kind of personalization to customers. For the most part, dealerships treat every customer the same.

Instead, dealerships should pay attention to where customers are in the buying cycle. When is the last time a customer set foot in your dealership? What is the likelihood that a customer will buy their next vehicle from you based on what they’ve bought in the past? This kind of information is in the DMS — it’s just a matter of finding it and using it to create more personalized customer experiences.

Digital vs. Human Interaction

While many consumers have adapted to the new world of online car buying, not all of them want a digital experience. Many still want a real human interaction. But it doesn’t have to be either/or — it’s a combination of digital and in-person or telephone interactions, based on what each customer wants. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your dealership isn’t in the car business — you’re in the people business. Figuring out what kind of experience each of your customers wants and then providing it to them can lead to having those customers for life.

Think of Google as the new “first phone call” with a car buyer. Responding to internet inquiries with exactly what customers are asking for and making sure that pricing information customers receive online is consistent with what they receive when they talk to someone at your dealership builds customer confidence. Inconsistencies here can frustrate buyers and send them to your competitors.

Make Invisible Customers Visible

Buying a car is the second largest purchase most people make in their lives, right behind buying a home. So it makes sense for dealerships to learn everything they can about their customers’ buying patterns and behaviors. Amazon again leads the way here. When customers buy one item, it recommends other items that they also might need along with it. Dealerships need to figure out how to do the same thing, and it all goes back to creating a personalized customer experience.

As Lindsey put it, the goal is to make invisible customers visible by tracking their online behavior so you know as much about them as possible. This is the key to figuring out what car buyers today really want and meeting their expectations.

Want the rest of the details on what car buyers today really want? Listen to the full conversation between Bob and Lindsey on Just the Fax.

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