By Tiffany Peeler, Vice President of Sales & Operations, Proactive Dealer Solutions

As many as 52% of dealers report their dealerships are “highly virtual or completely virtual.” But how much preparation does the typical dealership put into building processes and training leadership for a true modern retailing initiative? Following are four techniques to fine-tune your dealership digital retailing process.

Simply launching tools on your website without proper preparation can worsen customer experiences and frustration among your valuable dealership staff. Unlocking successful digital retailing results comes from many angles, including staff training, process mapping, and marketing.

With that in mind, we sat down with someone who knows a thing or two about this subject: Mike Esposito, senior field operations manager for Southeast Toyota. He is heavily involved in training initiatives for digital retailing programs at dealerships across his region. We asked him to share his thoughts on the following four techniques for dealerships to fine-tune their approach to modern retailing to maximize potential and ROI.

Fine-Tune Your Dealership Digital Retailing Process

1. Plan before launching.

Digital retailing is about a whole new way of doing business. That’s why planning is key to success. Answering questions such as “How do we want to improve the guest experience?’ and “How do we get buy-in from the top and all the way through the dealership?” are the building blocks of a successful program. Get crystal clear on intent and goals now before launching.

“The biggest way to make this fail is to think the technology alone will deliver,” said Mike. “You have to look at the technology and your processes and goals to see how you can deliver the best customer experience. Don’t scramble after you launch a program. Do the work upfront for success later.”

2. Train your staff.

A sustainable program depends on properly trained staff. The ADKAR training method is a proven way to make new processes a permanent way of doing business. The acronym stands for the five outcomes employees need to achieve for a change to be successful: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. ADKAR is powerful because it first cultivates employee buy-in of new processes by explaining why they are needed and then the benefits to employees, so they want to embrace change.

Mike is also a proponent of the Kaizen continuous improvement strategy. “In this strategy, staff at all levels of the dealership work together to proactively achieve regular, incremental improvements to a process,” he said. “It’s great for building a culture where everyone is engaged and actively suggesting improvements.”

He went on to note that activating tools on your website without first preparing staff is a recipe for disaster. “This will hurt the customer experience because you’re setting up an expectation and failing to deliver. Customers see payments, trade-in values, financing options, and more on your website and then walk into your dealership, and no one knows who they are or anything about the work they’ve done online. That’s a disconnected experience that’s doing more harm than good.”

3. Dive into process mapping.

This is a terrific management tool to visualize the flow of work within a business process. The map shows the steps and people involved, making it easier to see where issues and inefficiencies can occur. It should also consider customer pain points and how the process alleviates them. The overall focus is customer-centric, not dealer-centric.

Customers today may shop online for a few hours, then call your store with questions and jump back online, send you a text, etc. Your map must account for this non-linear, multi-channel buying behavior with special attention to how all information becomes a part of a customer’s record.

“Customer expectations of the buying process have 100% changed,” explained Mike. “You have to look at your process both online and in-store to consider how to adapt to meet customer needs, then layer in the technology. Alleviating customer pain points should be a big part of your process— for example, time. We hear repeatedly that customers hate how long the buying process takes. Look at each step of your process and see where you can shave off time to make it easier and seamless. Maybe this means giving your salespeople tablets. Or getting rid of static lead forms. Analyze everything with what your customer wants always front-of-mind.”

4. Market, market, market.

Customers won’t know what they can do on your website if you don’t tell them. So you have to advertise your digital retailing capabilities. Banner ads, taglines, targeted email, or text campaigns work to get the word out.

As Mike said, “The easiest way to make digital retailing fail at your store is to turn it on and not tell anyone. Once it fails, it will be very hard for employees to understand or trust this process down the road. Your entire store needs to be committed and understand the “why” so that they can help communicate with customers and make this a success.”

The majority of today’s customers want to complete some of the steps of their purchase online – but simply plugging in tools to say you have them will do more harm than good. These four techniques can help fine-tune your dealership digital retailing processes to deliver great customer experiences and earn more sales.

About the Author

Tiffany Peeler is Vice President of Sales & Operations at Proactive Dealer Solutions, a leading provider of training, software, and BDC solutions for the automotive industry.

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This article was originally published in the Nov./Dec. 2022 Issue of Dealer Magazine. You can view the latest digital edition as well as past issues of Dealer Magazine here.

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