Time relentlessly marches on, and it never stops to let anyone catch up if they’re not prepared. It often seems like the auto industry is moving faster than all others, and if you don’t start future-proofing now, you’re going to be left behind.
The vehicles themselves are changing, along with the way customers want to buy them. If you outline your roadmap now, you’ll be better prepared for every curve that comes your way in future. Here are some factors to consider.
Will we really arrive at an all-EV future as quickly as governments and automakers are predicting we will? That’s still up in the air, but electric vehicles are now a regular sight on our roads and you need to be ready – even if you’re with an OEM that isn’t yet offering them. Some things you should consider are:
- Install at least a couple of Level 2 (240-volt) EV chargers and offer them as a free service to anyone who wants to use them, including mentioning them prominently on your website. (You can install them within your fenced area so people don’t plug in when you’re closed.) Those who plug in will have some time on their hands. Invite them in for a coffee and to have a look around your showroom.
- Train people on information around EVs. Everyone should be familiar with the basics, such as electric vehicles versus conventional hybrids and plug-in hybrids; range anxiety; home charging and public fast charging; maintenance; available “green” rebates; and the types of EVs available. Even if you don’t offer EVs (but they may show up on your pre-owned lot), your salespeople will be able to confidently answer questions customers might have about whether they should go with gasoline or consider going for a plug-in.
This is more of an issue for the service department, but it’s important for your department that customers come in regularly so you can connect with them. Service visits could drop in future as more vehicles can have minor issues repaired with over-the-air (OTA) updates, or more people get into electric vehicles. Now is the time to prepare all departments for this.
- If you do offer EVs, work with your service department on their aftercare, both for new and used. A large number of consumers believe that EVs require very little or no maintenance. They don’t need oil changes, but they will eventually need brakes, safety inspections and suspension repairs, and some may need their battery coolant flushed as they age. They’ll also need tires, and they’ll have to be appropriate ones to handle the vehicle’s extra weight – which the big-box stores might not realize. Get your customers in the habit of coming back to you on a regular basis, even if it isn’t as often as with a gasoline vehicle.
- Right from the purchase level, emphasize the importance of bringing gasoline cars back to the dealership, rather than to a fast-oil-change shop. Vehicles are only going to get more complicated, and customers need to see you as the expert whenever they need anything done to them, even if it’s a simple item.
- If your OEM doesn’t include scheduled maintenance with the vehicle purchase, set up your own program and offer it as an F&I product.
This is the biggest of the big. The days of people walking in cold to see what’s in your showroom are already over. Now you need to stay ahead of how they’re shopping online and what they expect to see.
- Everything needs to be online. Shoppers want to see photographs of everything, a full list of specifications, and above all, the price. Transparency is everything. If any information is missing, they’ll just scroll to the next dealership on the list.
- Don’t trust your online commerce to someone in the office who’s pretty good with computers and has some spare time. This has become a job for professionals. Hire someone who’s qualified, or farm it out to a company that will do it right. Make sure they’re consistently updating your site and optimizing it for the latest devices and operating systems.
- You need to be on top of your social media presence, and also how to handle the feedback you’re going to get from it. It’s not an easy balancing act, but success depends on knowing how to do it right.
- Online commerce doesn’t close for the night, and people are going to be looking at your website 24/7. On your own site or on third-party marketplaces, use the tools that analyze customer input to put the right vehicles in front of them.
- Train your salespeople, using professional trainers if necessary, to become experts in online commerce. It requires a much different approach from sitting across a desk, and they need to be ready for it. Identifying good leads, following up the right way, having the appropriate sales pitch, getting them to the point that they’re ready to come in for a test drive – if your salespeople haven’t mastered this, they’re not ready for the future of automobile commerce. It’s up to you to make sure they get there.