Digital Retailing: How to Improve Customer Experience and Sell More Cars

May 1, 2020 John Kehm

In an era where your dealership’s engagement with prospects and customers increasingly takes place online, how much thought have you given to the customer experience that takes place in your “virtual dealership?” 

Whether it’s during the COVID-19 shutdown or afterward, consumers are going online to research, shop for and buy cars, as well as to interact with dealers for needs like scheduling service appointments. This means dealership customer service will take place increasingly online, creating new challenges and opportunities for dealers as they work to grow consistent customer experience across their entire enterprise.

In this post, we’ll share tips for assessing and improving your virtual dealership customer experience, including:

  • Ensuring that your online dealership tools are as integrated as possible with your other operations
  • Expanding the scope and capabilities of your virtual sales operations
  • Connecting fixed ops to your virtual platform

Integrate Your Online and Offline Dealership

We’ve recently discussed the growing importance of your dealership’s Business Development Center (BDC) in virtual sales, but it’s important to recognize its impact on the overall virtual customer experience. The BDC is a critical interaction point between the virtual car dealership and traditional dealership operations – meaning it needs to be connected to not just the showroom sales staff but also marketing, F&I, service and other critical customer touchpoints.

The value of integration doesn’t end with cross-department communication.  Car dealerships need to ensure the insights collected in each of their data management systems, including their CMS and DMS, are able to be compiled and analyzed in a single environment to allow for data-driven outreach and marketing. For example, if you have a customer looking at new 2020 models on your website, does your marketing system get that information? 

One other important integration point between the virtual and traditional world is the way in which your dealership teams communicate with prospects and customers. More than ever, it’s critical to ensure your dealership culture values sensitivity to customers’ preferred communications methods – email, text, phone or otherwise – and that your engagement with them is consistent in respecting their wishes and preferences.

Improving the Virtual Car Sales Process

Customers who have spent months doing their shopping online through Amazon and consuming media through Netflix, Apple and other services that leverage predictive analytics to offer personalized customer recommendations have been trained to expect a virtual dealership customer experience that is centered on their own wants and needs. They want to be recognized, they want to receive personalized information and they want you to suggest what’s best for them.

As you review your virtual customer experience, it’s worth considering whether you’re offering online shopping capabilities and marketing messages that today’s consumers expect:

  • Can they shop and compare options over multiple sessions without having to start over?
  • Are you giving them “you might also like” model suggestions or options based on the information they’ve provided you either directly or indirectly about their wants and needs?
  • Are they engaged with real-time inventory information – especially into used cars, which are expected to play an increasingly important role in the foreseeable future?
  • Do you have robust video options and the tools needed to use video as part of the sales and service process? 
  • When following up with online auto leads, how much does your BDC agent know about the shopper with whom they’re engaging? Do they have the insights they need to be truly helpful by suggesting an appropriate product or offer?

With 92% of car buyers researching online before they buy, ensuring these touch points are connected will be critical even when physical sales and foot traffic returns. Dealers who ensure they have the tools and automotive digital retailing solutions  they need to adapt to changing consumer demand will be better equipped to survive for the long haul.

Virtual Fixed Ops? Why Not?

The very name “fixed-ops” implies that your service, parts, collision and other operations are real-world, as opposed to virtual, operations. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t critical interactions between them and your virtual car dealership operations and that you can’t find ways to use digital tools to improve your dealership customer service functions in these areas.

For instance, if your customers can’t come to you, are you offering to deliver to them, as so many businesses today have begun doing? Can you differentiate yourself with parts and accessories service in the current COVID-19 environment in a way that helps your auto dealership build strong customer relationships that last after things have returned to normal?

Online service appointments are nothing new, but how about online live service updates? Some of the same tools that assist in sales can also help improve your fixed-ops virtual customer experience. For instance, transparency breeds trust. For some customers, a video chat with the service consultant and repair tech that allows them to see the problem the tech has discovered may make them more comfortable with remotely approving a significant repair quote.

While physical car sales will eventually and inevitably return to the dealership , consumer buying habits will undoubtedly be impacted in the immediate aftermath of COVID-19 and beyond. The virtual customer experience you offer in your virtual car dealership today can pay dividends in your online and offline relationships with your customers for years to come. 


If Mastermind can help you work through the best path forward for your dealership, please contact us.Explore additional resources related to auto sales during – and after – COVID-19

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