Data driven chat: putting car dealers in the fast lane to sales success

By Anne de Kerckhove, CEO, Freespee

The last few years have proved particularly turbulent and challenging for a number of sectors, and the automotive industry has been no exception. According to a forecast published by Cox Automotive, the second-hand car market is set to shrink by 3.7%, to 7.86 million transactions by the end of 2018. In fact, KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey 2018 claims that up to half of UK car dealerships will close by 2025. Three-quarters (75% of respondents said that between 20 to 50% of the bricks-and-mortar automotive retail sector could disappear in just seven years.

Long gone are the days of the car salesman standing on the forecourt, and car buyers now shop in a radically different way. Social and technological advances have meant that consumers are now able to access copious amounts of information – from model reviews to price comparisons, all within a few seconds – or rather, a couple of taps of their smartphone. This generational shift has meant that second-hand car dealers are now having to appeal to an entirely new audience, which has evolving needs and expectations.

Add to this mix the looming uncertainties and concerns around the market for diesel cars, and to a larger extent Brexit, and it’s no wonder that dealers are finding themselves under increasing pressure to innovate and keep pace with online marketplaces. In this increasingly competitive landscape, car dealers must find ways of keeping their economic model sustainable in order to survive.

**Driving the buying journey online **

As vehicle e-commerce websites continue to take over the role of the dealership showroom, an increasing number of second-hand car dealers have now taken their forecourts online. In fact, as classified advertisement and community websites such as Gumtree continue to rise in popularity, dealers are also taking to these platforms to sell vehicles. In 2016, the site hit 16 million monthly unique visitors.

With more and more car dealerships making the transition to online platforms, second-hand car dealers have the opportunity to transform the way they do business. However, they face stiff competition, meaning that effective and successful online customer experiences are now firmly at the heart of developing a competitive edge. Now, second-hand car dealers must look to artificial intelligence (AI) powered technology and data-driven insights to improve the customer experience and boost sales.

High-value customer conversations

Buying a second-hand car, like any other high-ticket purchase, is not a decision to be made lightly. Cars are complex products with multiple variables. As a result, potential customers may have various technical questions that will need answering before they even consider viewing the car, let alone taking it for a test drive. With this in mind, it is important that dealers are at hand to answer any queries quickly.

Customer engagement technologies such as live chat and contextualised conversations allow customers to interact with dealers 24/7, meaning that dealers can respond in real-time to any questions they might have and provide a higher level of customer service.

By using live chat analytics, as well as engaging with potential customers, dealers will be able to track the online customer journey – which will help them paint a clear picture of which pages the customer has viewed, showing their browser interest and intent.

Pre-chat surveys can also enable dealers to route customers to the right department – as not all visitors will want to go straight to a salesperson. Some may need to speak with a customer service representative, or someone who has more technical or relevant knowledge to answer a particular query. Sending a caller straight through to the right person will help ensure a positive customer experience.

In addition to this, by opening lines of communication with customers, dealers can not only provide support throughout the buying process, but also benefit from the opportunity to upsell and generate additional revenue by offering warranties or additional products and services.

**Technology is the chequered flag **

However, the customer communication technologies of today have the ability to go far beyond that of online chatbots. Using dynamic phone numbers to specific product pages and campaigns can also help online car dealers – as customer calls about a specific vehicle can be routed to an agent looking after a specific audience segment. These handlers will be trained to answer queries on a specific car make or model, helping convert expensive car browsers into expensive car buyers.

Features such as a missed call notifier can also help improve the buyer-agent relationship, and a business’ bottom line. An issue affecting many dealers is having the time and resources to answer every single customer enquiry. If a call is missed, then a potential customer could be lost forever, but using the right technology will enable car dealers to call every single customer back.

Data-driven insights will also play a key role in ensuring that customer expectations are not only met, but exceeded, by dealers. Website analytics can provide invaluable understanding into the customer journey, and be integrated with customer-relationship management (CRM) tools to segment callers based on their buying interest.

These insights can help dealers establish which models are receiving the most interest, and what their customers are looking for when they purchase a vehicle. This valuable knowledge in turn will help dealers to run their businesses more effectively and invest correctly – in the vehicles generating the most revenue.

Second-hand car sellers that implement these new technologies into their communication strategies could see the efficiency and effectiveness of their marketing efforts vastly improve – with increased profit margins as a result. Effective technology-led, data-driven, enhanced customer engagement is set to be the key driving force for second-hand car dealers to create stand-out against competitors, and secure sales success in 2019 and beyond.

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