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How can the automotive industry offer customers a more engaging experience?

Buying a car is a big deal. For many customers, it’s one of the most significant purchases they will ever make, so the decision requires a good deal of thought.

It’s only natural, therefore, that this impacts their buying behaviour. Unlike picking up a few groceries or impulse purchasing a new dress, a big ticket item requires careful consideration – and this makes the automotive purchasing journey unique in many respects.

To understand exactly how customers research and buy vehicles, and how this affects automotive brands’ engagement strategies, Black Pepper Software conducted an original survey of 1,000 UK adults. Here are the key findings from our study:

Change the channel

Online research is an incredibly important part of the automotive customer journey, even though the majority of deals are finalised in a showroom. Our research found that almost a third of users (32%) research online before purchasing in a dealership, while almost a quarter (23%) research both online and in the showroom before buying from a physical location.

Therefore, a joined-up approach to customer service is essential, as buyers clearly prefer to take cues from several channels before finalising their decisions. In fact, only 17% admitted to conducting their research purely in a showroom.

But many automotive brands are not fully capitalising on the opportunity to embrace digital interactions. Almost half (44%) of customers want physical dealerships to get better at recognising their online value, while 42% wish that vehicle websites would recognise them as a regular showroom visitor.

If the end-user is viewing the experience holistically, the brand or dealer they are buying from should do, too.

The value of the salesperson

Something else our study revealed is that customers looking to purchase a car truly value input from a salesperson. A quarter of car buyers like to ask lots of questions before committing to a purchase; a fifth like to have an in-depth conversation with a salesperson; while 18% appreciate a personal demonstration. Even among those who prefer to be their own guide, 12% like a quick chat to make sure they’ve made the right choice.

Expert product knowledge is clearly an important part of the pre-sales conversation, yet not all automotive companies are giving front-line staff the technology needed to enrich their service.

At a very basic level, connecting employees to operational information such as a model’s specifications and capabilities can allow them to answer queries more effectively; at a more sophisticated level it can be used to show potential buyers how their vehicle can be customised, to demonstrate features in the showroom, and to validate their decision with third party reviews and customer feedback.

Personalising service at every stage

Bringing greater digital functionality into the physical purchasing experience not only enables salespeople to make the experience more engaging; it allows them to make service more personal.

At the moment, badly targeted and generic communications are a bugbear among many automotive customers, with 16% turned off by too many irrelevant emails.

Collecting and utilising customer data not only allows the sales process to be more tailored and relevant to the user, it can also play an effective role in aftersales marketing. From teaser videos to maintain a buyer’s excitement ahead of delivery, to servicing and upgrade opportunities based on when, where and what model of vehicle they purchased, leveraging digital capabilities can create a personalised service that begins before the buyer enters the showroom, and lasts a lifetime.

Increasing automotive customer engagement

It’s telling that just 8% of customers think automotive companies offer a better customer experience than other sectors – fashion, travel and grocery, for example. With high value purchases come high expectations, and there is more that the vehicle industry can be doing to engage and excite potential purchasers.

As the data we have shared demonstrates, a compelling customer journey brings together the best elements of digital and physical, through leading-edge technology. Automotive brands must take a step back and look at what their current user experience looks like – and bring IT into the conversation about how they can innovate it into something even better.