Over seven million hits on Google when searching for “digitalization” illustrates that digitalization is omnipresent nowadays – no matter the industry. However, “digitalization in the automotive industry” with 155,000 hits and “digitalization of the automotive dealerships” with 7,140 results are rather limited.

If digitalization, in general, does not present a new phenomenon anymore, why are automotive dealers still talking about a revolution, and what does it mean for the customer experience in store?

Digitalization and direct sales models change the tasks of an automotive dealership

In the context of digitalization, automotive dealerships face two essential challenges, primarily caused by changing customer expectations. On the one hand, customers are looking less for the physical contact at their dealerships and expect more digital touchpoints, forcing the dealers to integrate themselves more and more into the digital world.

If the customer opts for stationary contact though, the customer experience at the dealership has to be seamless and unique in order to exceed customers’ expectations. Taking into account the current evolution of direct sales models from OEMs (i.e. online sales of pre-configured new cars at Mercedes-Benz), it becomes obvious that dealers will play a different role in the sales process in the future.

Nevertheless, they will remain an indispensable contact channel for customers, as the purchase of a car is one of the most expensive acquisitions in life.

Customers expect a seamless and holistic experience at the dealer level – offline as well as online

As a customer, I wish for a comprehensive, high-quality consultation at my dealership. I also expect that my queries are processed and clarified in a fast, transparent and smooth manner throughout the digital and physical contact channels.

Especially in cases where I need a short-term service appointment, my request should not be linked to a lengthy follow-up process and physical contact with the dealer. In this case, I expect customer-friendly, value-adding applications (i.e. a service app with an online appointment feature), in order to contact my dealer through every channel possible on every device I like.

The same holds true for the actual sales process of a car. Given the high financial investment I am willing to make, my needs should be appreciated by a personalized service and offer, instead of pushing me through a standardized, non-personalized sales process funnel.

Digital tools and new contact channels support a 360-degree customer view at dealership level

Regarding interpersonal experiences at the dealer, the service quality in the sales and aftersales processes are key for keeping customers committed and loyal to the dealer. In the worst case, a lack of quality may result in a change of dealer or even the brand. Innovative store concepts and new expert roles at the dealer level are sustainably fostering the customer experience during all physical contacts with the dealer and the brand.

But how well does the dealer actually know me as a customer? With the introduction of tablets, virtual reality, augmented reality or video displays, a first step has been taken towards digitalization of the dealerships.

Yet, these digital tools and technologies alone do not support the dealer in getting a holistic customer view, which is necessary to provide a service according to customer needs. Thus, in the wake of the digitalization, the need for a holistic customer view between sales and aftersales is continuously growing that makes the integration of fragmented data in sales and service necessary. However, many dealers cannot yet meet the process requirements, as their IT landscape is fragmented and outdated.

Agile IT infrastructure as a strategic lever for an integrated view of customer data

Due to a variety of single data sets stored in isolated systems, as well as rigid process-driven thinking in sales and aftersales, dealers often just have a very vague impression of their customers. In order to improve this condition in the long-term, isolated data sets needs to be integrated within the sales and service processes. In addition, a collaboration between Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and dealers to share data will become critical.

Dealers need to understand that they won’t be competing with OEMs (i.e. direct sales,) but rather redefine their role in order to fulfil the dealers’ decisive role in sales and after sales processes to 100% customer satisfaction. In this context, agility and a change in mindset are important levers to meet internal and external requirements at the dealership level.

Especially concerning new, innovative sales concepts, the objective should not be to regard information technologies as cost drivers, but as strategic levers in the long-run. New technologies will help dealers to automate processes and free up time for a more sophisticated personal dialogue with the customer. Digital tools supporting the sales and service processes at the dealer – such as a mobile service handover – will already significantly improve customer experience.

Furthermore, an omni-channel customer support becomes key to improving the customer experience throughout the digital touchpoints across email, social networks and websites with automated dialogue systems such as chatbots.

Digitalization of the physical customer contact requires sustainable change management

The integration of dealerships into the digital world requires more than the sole implementation of digital tools or process automation; it requires a cultural rethinking of customer management.

A lot is about changing traditional working methods and processes, for example handling digital processes as well as rethinking the process-independent mindset and actions at the dealer. In order to ensure this, just considering technology is insufficient. It requires a rethinking of existing roles, responsibilities and KPIs at the dealer.

Moreover, it also demands an efficient evaluation and usage of customer data, with the help of analytics generating data insights. Hence, digitalization also means encouraging OEMs and dealers to fulfil the expectations of the customers in the best possible way online and offline.

Customer experience 4.0 at dealership level is both online and offline seamless and unique

In the context of digitalization, automotive dealers are undergoing a phase of repositioning. By translating structures and processes for the digital era as well as fostering a cultural change of mind at the employee level, dealers are preparing themselves for future customer and data management changes. A sophisticated customer experience 4.0 is seamless, well integrated and personalized – both offline and online.

In our automotive customer experience blog series, we take a closer look on chances and challenges of OEMs, dealers and customers. The topics range from sales concepts of the future to digital omni-channel services to analytics as the driver for revenue and customer satisfaction.