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Impactful customer support can improve car-buying process

Kristin Naragon offers insight into how automotive brands can help make the car-buying experience less frustrating for shoppers

From the trope of the slimy used car salesman to the often aggressive negotiation tactics, there’s long been a stereotype that the automobile sales industry is one of the lesser-loved experiences. And though the explosion of online car sales throughout the 2000s seemed to provide a smoother experience for many customers, that utopian view of car-buying has begun to slowly diminish once again due to the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain shortages.

In the earlier days of the pandemic, many automakers cancelled semiconductor orders because of the uncertainty they were facing. But when the economy gradually began sloping upwards again, getting access to those materials proved exceedingly difficult because the chip suppliers had already allocated existing resources to consumer electronics manufacturers. Customers are feeling the impact of this now more than ever; with the inventory shortage making it harder to find vehicles, new car prices remain high and buyers have less negotiating power than in the past, causing US new vehicle sales to fall more than 20% in Q2 2022 compared to the year before.

Together, the supply chain disruptions and the chip shortage are frustrating consumers by making it difficult to find the products they want. When this is further complicated by product information that’s either outdated or inconsistent, paired with a lacklustre online shopping experience, it adds fuel to the fire. This is potentially fatal for business, as shoppers are already discouraged by high prices. They may take their frustrations out on the brand if it cannot provide them with a satisfying car-buying experience, leading them to buy a product from another manufacturer.

Daimler is aiming to take 25% of sales online by 2025. Volvo is aiming for 50% over the same time period

That’s why it’s more important than ever for organisations within the auto industry to create a compelling product experience across every channel to ensure the smoothest customer experience possible. That means not just standardising product information online, but also creating a consistent and accurate shopping experience across websites, mobile apps, and brick-and-mortar stores.

Consumers have a vast array of options when it comes to buying a car, both online and offline. The sheer amount of choice that exists in the auto industry means that if a consumer is given the chance to check out a competitor, they’re going to take it. Actually, two-thirds of consumers would stop buying from a brand, or go for an alternative product, due to one bad product experience on any channel. With all these disruptions in the automotive industry, there may be factors impacting the customer experience that are entirely out of a brand’s control. The key is to focus on aspects that are within control.

Be transparent

One way to ensure an unsatisfactory experience is to overpromise and underdeliver. Any educated buyer in the market for a vehicle is aware of the chip shortage and issues afflicting the industry right now, so by staying transparent and honest about any shipping delays, missing pieces, or replacement parts keeps a brand and its customer on the same page.

The key here is to be upfront with the audience; if shipping dates are pushed out for months, customers need to know right away and be provided as much information as possible from the get-go. That way, their expectations are set at a realistic standard and they’re able to develop a sense of trust with the organisation.

Ensure information accuracy

With prices, supply, and labour constantly in flux, it can feel nearly impossible to keep product and stock information up-to-date and accurate for customers. But it’s a crucial step in the process of establishing a relationship with the consumer; especially within the auto industry, it’s important to establish trust early on by providing the right information.

Many organisations utilise a Product Information Management (PIM) tool, which essentially provides a central repository of product information that can be updated and scaled as needed. Instead of manually updating price changes and stock updates for every product across every channel, a good PIM tool allows teams to seamlessly provide up-to-date and accurate product information no matter how quickly or frequently the tides change.

Include as many visual assets as possible

Buying a car online is never going to be the same experience as buying in person, but there are ways to bring the physical experience to the digital world. Including visual elements such as photos, videos, size comparisons, price comparisons, and more can enhance the buyer’s experience by allowing them to better visualise the automobile without physically being on the lot.

This is especially true with modifications; if there is a piece or part of the vehicle that won’t be available, find visual ways to demonstrate to the consumer what the replacement piece looks like, how it will impact their driving experience, and how other shoppers have accommodated the changes.

Renault virtual showroom guru
Renault launched an online retail platform offering virtual showroom vehicle tours

Offer personalised experiences across every channel

The automotive industry includes a vast array of products and services, and the type of information that a shopper is searching for will likely depend on the type of product they’re looking for. Someone in the market for a heavy-duty truck that can tow equipment and cross intense terrain is going to want to consider different factors than someone looking for a simple, safe option for their teenager’s first car.

Offering the ability to easily filter and search through products based on a variety of factors can provide a wonderfully personalised experience for consumers, but requires product information across all SKUs to be accurate and up-to-date. It’s much easier said than done, but if an organisation can provide this kind of hyper-personalised experience, it can exceed shopper expectations and provide a 1:1 experience through the digital world.

The car-buying experience has had a bad reputation for some time, and the chip shortage and supply chain disruptions seem to only be furthering that negative connotation. To stay competitive in this omnichannel world, brands need to create a seamless and consistent customer experience across every touchpoint shoppers may come across. That’s not happening with out-of-date or inconsistent product information and lacklustre product experiences on each channel. For all players, it’s pivotal to take the wheel of what they can control and drive customers to success despite the industry-wide disruptions by steering them towards a personalised, accurate, and compelling car-buying experience.

About the author: Kristin Naragon is Vice President of Global Marketing and Strategy at Akeneo

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