By Chase Abbott, Vice President, Sales, Cox Automotive, Dealer Software Solutions

Half of a consumer’s decision to repurchase or recommend an automotive brand or dealer is based on trust. While dealerships and car salespeople have long suffered from a lack of consumer confidence throughout the purchase process, gaining trust most certainly is possible when dealerships act intentionally. A leading way to win over consumers is through a digital buying experience – if it is done properly.

Even with digital sales methods, dealerships need to bolster consumer relationships to meet their goals. Ensuring that the digital sales process is developed and grounded in trust ultimately benefits both the car buyer and the dealership. Here are five ways your dealership can build trust with modern car buyers.

Understand the power of digital
The year 2020 ushered in a new era of online shopping. Of course, customers were purchasing many items online before, with numbers increasing year-over-year. But prior to the pandemic, less than 2% of vehicles were purchased digitally. Think about that compared to other high-ticket items, like buying furniture or shopping for mortgages. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the number of new U.S. car sales completed online rose to almost 30%—a massive and sudden shift that dealerships simply can’t ignore.

The preference to purchase vehicles online is still gaining momentum today. More than three-quarters (76%) of car-buying customers are willing to consider a complete online purchase process. This movement toward digital or hybrid purchasing is not likely to dip back down to the pre-pandemic figure, and savvy dealerships understand that the sales process has been permanently disrupted. Having the right technology available is a necessary basis for initiating customer relationships, anticipating their needs, and building trust from the get-go.

Evaluate technology to ensure you have the right solutions in place
Whether your dealership has digital experience tools already in place or if you’re just getting started, it’s important to evaluate available technology so it is serving both your customer base and internal needs. With the right functionality, these tools can guide customers through the sales funnel, close deals with more efficiency, and increase profits.

Connecting those dots and getting the technology right ultimately impacts your bottom line. Dealerships surveyed earned 25% higher front-end gross profits and 24% higher back-end gross profits, compared to traditional leads. The right technology will meet customers where they already are in the sales process, providing tailored support that demonstrates your business recognizes their unique needs and boosts trust.

Use customer data to keep deals moving forward
Through responsible customer data usage, dealerships can target buyers with relevant messaging in spaces that are of most use for them, resulting in a win-win situation. Admittedly, it’s not easy to do. About half of dealerships say that it is a challenge to leverage data and systems to identify opportunities, while 86% of dealers agree that having accurate and complete customer data is a dealership priority. However, the right software and tools can assist.

Customer data can come from a variety of sources, including the consumer sharing it directly with the dealership, the consumer sharing it with a trusted third-party partner, or outside entities collecting it. Ideally, the dealership combines its own data with that of trusted partners for the most well-rounded view. The data can help your dealership understand the customer’s vehicle type preferences, budget, stage in the sales process, communication preferences, and more.

Your own data should provide the insights you need to offer personalized online user experiences like recommendations, specials, and fixed operations content based on their previous shopping behaviors. Customer data provides a 216% increase in lead form submission rates, based on a Dealer.com study of 524 franchise dealers who subscribed to Experience Optimization. Dealerships using Experience Optimization showed that customers were three times more likely to initiate a trade-in deal. Salespeople can use data to inform their approach to a deal and to better assure customers that they are being supported throughout their ownership journey.

Give customers control of their buying experience
Customers want to be in control of their shopping experience, so most successful dealerships offer a range of online and offline communication options to help make customers comfortable and enable open dialogue. Offering a hybrid experience that combines the functionality of brick-and-mortar operations with the convenience of shopping online is key for building strong relationship with a wide range of customers.

With this hybrid model, customers can do as much of the shopping online as they would like, and then come to the dealership when they’re ready. This level of flexibility helps bolster confidence and trust in the process. Two-thirds of customers say that they want to complete more of their next car-buying process online compared to their prior vehicle purchase. If a customer can purchase on their own terms, they’re more likely to give your dealership good reviews/referrals and remain a loyal customer.

Gather and utilize feedback from recent happy buyers
Consumers familiar with shopping online are overwhelmingly satisfied with their dealership experience, with 77% expressing this sentiment. Harness the power of your happy customers and make it easy for them to spread the word for you. Build the feedback-solicitation process into the car-buying experience.

This is especially important because 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business, and almost the same percentage trust these reviews the way they trust personal recommendations. More than half of shoppers say that the most important factor when choosing a dealership is the dealer’s reputation.

Building trust with the modern car buyer will help enhance and solidify your reputation. You can accomplish this by understanding what car buyers want, utilizing technology to your advantage, giving customers the ability to shop online, and then seamlessly moving the process forward.

Author: Alissa Frey

Digital Dealer