Eight Steps to Deploying Omnichannel Digital Strategies in Automotive Retail

Customer habits are changing and so too is their behavior when it comes to automotive retail. Influenced by online experiences delivered by companies like Amazon, digitally-savvy customers are at the forefront of new demands and expectations that are also influencing older generations. These consumers research, compare, choose, and buy their cars without stepping foot in a car dealership. Instead, they use numerous digital devices, technologies and channels.

Car retailers are now aware of the importance of gaining access to their potential customers in the earlier stages of their purchase journey, and that means being present and prepared to engage in the various channels they use during the first steps when they are still pondering which car to buy.

Developing an omnichannel strategy needn’t be an arduous task, but it does need careful planning. Here, we will guide you through the key steps to deploying an omnichannel digital strategy.

1. Research new ways to appeal to buyers

Car buyers are getting used to buying other necessities online. They now expect automotive retailers to use the same levels of innovation and personalization that they experience in other services. Automotive retailers must carry out the same research that other industries do to understand their customers and deliver the best experience with a stronger online presence over multiple platforms and media. This will help them develop new digital AI features, such as virtual assistants with the use of Conversational AI, and virtual test drives, that will boost the customer experience.

2. Readjust and upgrade the sales operations model and organizational structure

Delivering new omnichannel technologies requires valuable efforts that can affect an entire business and sales model. Automakers will need to find or train skilled staff that can work with these technologies and upgrade their core processes to include integrated customer contact management that can channel requests through any device.

Given that omnichannel processes require collaboration between business units, automotive retailers will need to restructure parts of their organization to reduce silos. The proper incorporation of predictive and analytical AI technologies in operational models can provide insights that allow automotive retailers to make better-informed decisions and become more profitable.

3. Manage channel boundaries

Avoiding customer frustration is a must in every industry but, with auto-related processes being renowned for testing customer patience, it is important to guarantee that technologies make buying cars as easy as possible.

The consumer journey takes place over multiple devices, and this means that dealers risk losing user preferences and data as they switch from one channel to another. It is important to bridge channels and deliver seamless omnichannel experiences so that if a customer initiates a configuration on an app, configures it with a virtual assistant, shares it on social media and proceeds to schedule a test drive online, all the necessary data and history is stored and interconnected so that the user does not have to fill in forms and information repeatedly.

4. Improve online visibility and delivery

A primary step is to improve their visibility on online platforms through digital advertising that uses data for real-time ads and allows targeted messaging. Content can be tailored according to the clicks that users make to access the website so that they are directed to landing pages that showcase the features the customer wants. From here, the customer can be guided by smart AI-driven assistants and chatbots through the next touchpoints of their journey.

5. Provide cross-channel customer touchpoint management

We know that the ideal customer journey combines both digital and physical channels. Automotive retailers need to ensure that consumer transitions between channels are seamless at every touchpoint. Each customer interaction regarding a vehicle purchase is an opportunity to create personalized experiences from the insights gained from previous interactions.

Consumers can view VR test drives on cars that they have digitally configured and share their ideal car with their friends and family on social media. They can then initiate the purchasing process at any time of the day with a virtual assistant on the automotive company’s website, and the collected data and personalized vehicle can be processed so that the vehicle can be dropped off at the customer’s home for a real test-drive.

These experiences can only be delivered with technology integrations and by leveraging data to create a rich and connected interaction via physical and digital channels that are consistent with the customer’s past interactions. The website should also be integrated with customer reviews, social media channels and third-parties so that content can be seamlessly combined to move customers swiftly through the purchasing process.

Additionally, customers want to speak to a brand as if it were a person. Even if they communicate through different channels, they want their physical experience with the store to be an extension of their digital experience. This also means integrating the digital experience into the physical stores. Customers must be able to configure their cars and search for models at a store and have the offline experiences brought to them beyond the store walls.

6. Deliver quick and efficient transactions

Customers want their purchases to be carried out swiftly, and new technologies must guarantee speed-of-service and delivery in the customer journey. It is not just the consumers who want these processes to be carried out quickly and efficiently. 80% of dealers say that the ideal sales and financing process should take two hours or less compared to the four hours or more that it takes today.

Auto retailers can reduce consumer transaction times quicker by using the right digital tools. For example, the use of virtual assistants and chatbots improve worker productivity by producing quick answers to easy queries and end-to-end processes, and by collecting and storing customer information that does not need to be re-asked further on. The fact that it can also be done simultaneously, without having to handle one customer at a time reduces operational costs and time.

Other features include automating processes, and the ability to complete credit application and financing paperwork online and ensuring that waiting times for test drives are reduced to a minimum. The latter means that dealers must guarantee better online scheduling tools and facilitating pick-up or home delivery services over multiple channels for a test drive.

Speed and ease of delivery is a feature most consumers and retailers must strive for when deploying new technologies, albeit to optimize the customer journey, but also to speed up the arrangement and distribution of new software for corporate use.

7. Build and leverage analytic capabilities to generate insights

Technology provides the opportunity to learn more about customers by analyzing their preferences, habits, preferred devices, the language of choice and favored features. This allows dealers to communicate more effectively and make compelling offers. Leveraging this data for upselling and offering tailored upgrades that align with a customer’s preference can drive revenues and increase brand loyalty.

AI can analyze large quantities of data and make accurate predictions and automated personalization based on location, demographics, and user history.

8. Engage with the consumer throughout the customer lifecycle

Retailers can Integrate technologies beyond the sale and throughout the ownership experience. Leveraging personalized data also provides automakers the opportunity to continue interacting with a customer after a purchase, establishing a long-term relationship over the life of the vehicle while persistently learning more about the buyer to present new offers.

Many industries continue to provide personalized communications and offers after an initial purchase. Automotive retailers must increase engagement through their add-on services and using assistants can provide reminders to bring the cars in for regular checkups while continue to build rapport and lifetime customer value.

An aspect of customer-first, omnichannel capabilities beyond the initial purchase phase, is incorporating apps and an always-on connected car, that collects information that can be used to provide tailor-made customer recommendations, build loyalty, and maintain engagement with the brand after the initial purchase and throughout the car ownership.

Conversational AI in Automotive: delivering omnichannel capabilities that boost engagement

Leveraging the right digital technologies can transform an automotive business. However, auto retailers need to choose technologies that fulfil the personalized, omnichannel, multilingual, analytical, and end-to-end capabilities that customers demand.

Fortunately, these technologies already exist and have been proven to boost efficiency and increase customer engagement. Businesses are incorporating solutions like Conversational AI into their digital transformation strategies to seek a competitive advantage in the market.

Conversational AI allows retailers to increase engagement and long-term customer loyalty by providing personalized assistance on multiple touch-points of the customer journey and through any channel.

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Joel Plazzotta. Director Strategic Partnerships at Artificial Solutions, joined the company in 2008 and has over 10 years of experience in AI.