The COVID-19 pandemic is changing things for not just us and our families, but also the auto industry as a whole. Showrooms have shuttered across the country. Leads are dwindling. Even service bays are running with skeleton crews as more and more drivers ditch the office to begin working from home. And while the situation may feel overwhelming, it’s comforting to know that we’re in this together, and we’ll get through it together.
One key to making it through this difficult time is understanding what your dealership can and cannot control. Here are five things dealers should be doing to both adapt to the current ordeal and plan for the future:1. Prioritize safety
Right now, protecting customers and staff should be the top priority. In addition to enhanced sanitation methods, dealers can reduce coronavirus risks by helping customers reschedule appointments, closing waiting rooms, ensuring service technicians are wearing adequate protective equipment and many more tactics to help keep communities safe.2. Communicate clearly and often
With things changing so quickly, every day seems to have its new revelations. You may feel like you addressed issues in the beginning, but you will need to continue communicating throughout this challenging time.
Your customers should know your new policies, store hours, what services you are or are not currently able to provide and how you are keeping the environment safe. That includes updating signage around the dealership, the hours listed on your website and social media pages, your info on 3rd-party sites like Autotrader and your auto-responder template.
Your employees are your dealer family. You should communicate with them often so that they know what’s happening with the dealership and what’s expected of them. Consider how you can be respectful of and flexible with staff who may be juggling kids at home, dealing with loss in their family or friend groups or stressed about food security. Err on the side of over communicating with them to hopefully ease some of their anxiety.
3. Adapt and innovate
Innovation and finding new ways to do things is the name of the game now.
This is the time to drop your expectations of what’s normal - find what works for your dealership today not last year. You’ll be implementing new processes and standards for cleanliness in the dealership, how your staff deals with customers, your hours of operation and much more.
To best serve those who are interested in buying a vehicle, you may have to shoot video while walking around your showroom, find ways to give virtual test drives and deliver cars to doorsteps. Anything to make the process easier for your customers should be your dealership’s top priority.4. Strategize your marketing
People still need cars – whether or not they’re coming into the dealership right now. That means people are putting more effort into the online research phases, using their extra time to dig deep, find their perfect vehicle and identify which dealership they want to purchase from once the time is right.
Time spent online is skyrocketing
According to Eyesafe Nielsen, screen time has risen to over 13 hours per day and media consumption is up 60% due to COVID-19 and home confinement as of March 2020. With more time spent online and media consumption on the rise, digital advertising is more critical than ever in reaching our audiences.
Automotive search trends are rising
The recent decrease in automotive search volume is beginning to reverse course according to the latest Google Trends data. While vehicle shopping searches have been down in recent weeks, there is still significant volume in this area, and it’s important to maintain a presence for those in-market consumers researching their options online. With 81% of purchasers spending up to 3 months researching before purchasing a vehicle, reaching auto shoppers now is critical to driving sales in the coming months.
Lower competition means better results for advertisers
Many advertisers have decreased digital advertising investment or paused advertising altogether, and this presents an opportunity to increase your share of voice at a lower cost. With less competition and increased ad inventory, many advertisers are seeing a decrease in costs. It is also important, from a branding perspective, to maintain loyalty among current customers and drive interest from in-market shoppers. Messaging should be adjusted to minimize hard-selling tactics and show genuine care and concern for customers and the community during this time.5. Prepare to hit the ground running
Eventually, the quarantine will end, stay-at-home restrictions will be lifted and business will begin to pick up. It’s critical that you utilize this time to sharpen the skills of your employees – now is when your Internet Sales department or BDC should take their skills, especially in lead management, to the next level.
The dealers who focus on their growth during these times are the stores that will develop an early edge as we emerge through the other side.
Here are just a few critical questions to ask yourself as you prepare to train your staff for the next wave of customers:
- Am I providing an exceptional online experience for my customers? Now is a great time to look at your website from the customer’s perspective and decide if it’s easy to navigate, if the information is up-to-date and accurate, if you’re able to answer questions conveniently and if you have comprehensive videos that inform and entertain.
- How well does my staff use my CRM? Do they understand your lead sources? Do they know where to find lead details? Don’t just assume – take a look at recent leads and how your staff followed up with them. Look for opportunities to coach them on better behavior. Take the opportunity to find out if your team is really logging everything in the CRM. Dive into the weeds, as they say.
- Are my follow-up processes and email templates in the CRM effective? Do they look professional, personal, focused? How are the templates for that first critical 72-hours of follow-up? How does your long-term follow-up look?
And someday, before too long, customers will be filling your dealership showroom. That doesn’t mean everything will return to exactly how it was – for instance, you may be carrying on some of the safety processes for many coming months, and new abilities and technologies you started to fully utilize out of necessity, like virtual vehicle tours, may see their way into standard business practices. But that isn’t necessarily bad; in fact, an abundance of new safety measures and processes may be wiser investments in the long run.
Our automotive industry will recover and thrive again soon, and we will be there for you every step of the way. If you do need assistance with assessments, training or digital marketing during this challenging time, please reach out to us.