As 2022 gets into its stride there are lots of theories about what’ll happen next with the economy, inflation, Covid, semi-conductors and all of those other numerous headwinds that dent consumer confidence. They are all going to play a part, but to what degree and in what combination is anyone’s guess.

Looking at the customer journey through the lens of the automotive retail sector and it’s fair to say that there are some interesting calls to be made over the next 12 months.

Let’s kick off with an easy one:

1: The test drive.
Can anyone reading this ever see a return to accompanied test drives? From the Ultimate Driving Machine to The Drive of your life, getting behind the wheel has been a critical moment of truth within the sales process. However, for many consumers the test drive has been similar to dentistry; something to be endured rather than enjoyed!

In our experience of running NPS feedback loops for a number of retail groups, in the last 24 months NPS scores, satisfaction around the test drive has improved by 24% and test drives are being offered in greater volumes than we’ve seen before, (up closer to 30% – in answer to “were you offered a test drive?) so there’s no evidence to support the idea that retailers are any less keen to offer test drives now they can’t have a member of their team in the car.

2: The nature of nurture
The traditional view of nurture and retention is to ensure that customers keep coming back to lessen the pressure on the marketing team to prospect, (in terms of costs and time), today it’s about ensuring that prospects don’t lose interest through their extended journey from enquiry to sale.

Keeping dialogue open with “customers in waiting” is going to be one of those project streams that will only grow in scale and importance in the next 6-9 months. It’s our view that the NSCs should be leading that charge but we’re already seeing leading retailers taking matters into their own hands with “their” customers, focusing on different facets including vehicle build updates, aftersales extended care packages and even finance extension propositions.

But what about those consumers who don’t go on to buy? Connections with them still need to be maintained, if they’re going to be enticed back in. In our experience that’s not happening as much as it could do. In a recent customer Re-engagement study, we found that 70% of the prospects who had enquired and had been presented with a set of cost to change figures, still had their current vehicle. However only 26% enquiries had an agreed next action.

So, there is a sizeable pool of unconverted prospects, (about which a lot is known) but there is no DMS-friendly process to kick start re-engagement. This is the one high-value process break, that once fixed would transform any business taking that step.

3: The need for more customer service support
Although furlough has now been rolled up, a lot of retailers are still needing to run hot and lean because there aren’t the new car volumes, (and therefore revenues) to staff-up to pre-pandemic levels. Add to that the impact of inflationary salary cost increases and there’s going to be even greater pressure to “work with what you’ve got”.
On top of this there’s also the headache of trying to recruit staff full stop into a sector that’s known for long hours and weekend working. This is evidenced by the number of vacancies we’re seeing across the sector. For example, Colin Pybus Recruitment have over 400 retail sector vacancies on their books at the moment.

Against this backdrop it is perhaps unsurprising that we’re seeing an increasing trend to outsource some key customer-facing services, such as customer contact.
We’re expecting to see this trend accelerate over the next 12 months, particularly in the area of lead and enquiry triage for those brands looking to bring in an agency sales model for new vehicles.

4: The Future’s digital and physical

On the broader topic of digital support, it comes in many forms and there are certain things that can be done really well and cost effectively with emerging technologies. For example, AI assistant tech for overdue and / or lapsed enquiries. This cuts cost per acquisition and it also allows customer facing team to spend more time on those touch points that are best handled by them; face to face or voice to voice. Be it a full “wants and needs” product qualification – something that is only getting harder as things like technology and powertrain options become more complex.

Or, where the human touch is also vital to maximise the good bits in the customer journey, (a vehicle handover for example) or mitigate the worst of the bad bits, a disappointing part exchange valuation – remember those? Or the unwelcome news that your new car’s arrival has been put back several weeks or months…

Getting this balance right is likely to be a key battle ground for brands and retailers as they continue to drive out efficiencies as they seek to maintain their bottom line performance.

5: Digital is still in deficit
Despite the digital tidal wave, digital leads still don’t fare that well when it comes to quality of interaction and outcome in a retailer.

We’ve looked at outcomes verses lead source, (digital, telephone and walk-in) across a number of different brands and retailer groups and for all the talk of “digital is the only game in town” or “it’s digital or nothing”, our data really doesn’t support that. For example, when we looked at telephone enquiries vs. digital enquiries for one retailer group, we found that when recording Agreed Next Action, 46.7% of telephone enquirers had one in place, while for digitally-derived leads that figure was just 27.6%.

Looking at other benchmarks shows that digital leads are also bottom of the pile. Let’s take vehicle presentation: If you walk in to a showroom there’s a 75% plus chance, that you’ll be offered a test drive, however if you enquire digitally, there’s more than a 50% chance you won’t even get the offer of a video presentation of the car.

So, it appears that the majority of digital enquiries (which are probably the majority of all enquiries) are not being driven closer to that moment of truth in the customer journey.

In summary, we’re sharing our thinking here, (admittedly underpinned by thousands of data and evidence points) with a view to helping you review, refine and enhance your customer journey strategy and the processes that support it.

However, when all is said and done, this is just our view, so, we’d love to hear from you about what you think!