Sustaining the future of dealership profitability has never been more challenging. With the catalytic events brought on by COVID-19, operational changes to implement automotive digital retailing have become a necessity to satisfy customers and retain profits.
Taking a holistic approach unites the digital and traditional components of store operations and often means restructuring long-held beliefs. Outdated behaviors and processes constitute change and employees play a significant role in any plan towards auto retail digital transformation.
Gone are the days when the dealership was merely a physical space that employees occupied during regular business hours. Today’s always connected, instant access environment has blurred the lines between the physical dealership and the place where leads and sales actually happen.
The blurred lines between professional and personal in automotive digital retailing.
Professional and personal lives often run in tandem – for employees and customers alike.
As the distinction between professional and personal life dissolves, and the dealership becomes truly digital, employees are communicating with customers in unprecedented ways.
Employees must develop their “digital fluency” to improve customer rapport.
To accurately reflect their staff’s changing work experience, savvy retailers have begun to implement an entirely new working environment – the digital workplace.
The digital workplace.
The digital workplace (or digital dealership, if you will) encompasses all the technologies people use to get work done in today’s consumer driven retail environment – both the ones in operation and the ones yet to be implemented. It ranges from your HR applications and core business applications to e-mail, instant messaging and enterprise social media tools and virtual meeting tools
By integrating the technologies that employees use, the digital dealership breaks down communication barriers and transforms the employee experience by fostering efficiency, innovation and growth. This positions your organization to meet the needs of the customer head on, without skipping a beat.
The key to success lies in the effective implementation of a digital workplace strategy capable of driving true cultural change.
Adapting to the shifting retail landscape is challenging.
There are many moving parts and they’re moving more often than ever before. Running concurrent processes smoothly is paramount.
The need for the traditional components of great customer in-store experiences is still prevalent:
- Happy, helpful employees
- Clean, welcoming environment
- Respectful interactions
- Overall delightful experience that customers can’t wait to tell others about
Merging the digital dealership approach with customer expectations signifies auto retail digital transformation.
Whether we want to admit it or not, disruption and change are constant. Wrapping your head around a digital dealership strategy might make your brain hurt but during this era of great transition, I find it best to break down challenges into bite-sized pieces.
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5 tips to improve internal infrastructure and integrate employees into automotive digital retailing.
1. Hiring Process
The pandemic has “forced the hand” for car dealerships to drive down the digital path. The muscle memory for traditional practices must transform to meet the needs of the customer.
Changes in staffing and downsizing were part of the initial reaction to COVID-19 and now that we are moving towards normalcy, staffing needs are shifting – you need a stronger digital team.
Re-evaluate staff. Digital retailing is here and becoming even more prevalent, which means hiring people who are the most comfortable and effective in the digital space is fundamental to success.
The goal is to ensure your new hires are digitally fluent. What process improvements can be implemented to ensure this?
- In the recruiting process, submission of a video where they demonstrate their ability to use technology. If they can produce a video, it’s a realistic job ability preview of what you can expect.
- Re-skill and re-deploy. Incorporate training programs to support your staff’s digital fluency. Fine tune their ability to understand digital communications and insulate them so they have the best outcomes.
2. Employee Engagement Process
Employee engagement is about first improving your workplace and culture so that employees feel more connected and dedicated to the organization’s goals and values.
In essence, employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization.
When employees feel engaged, they care about the company and they do their best work to achieve the company’s goals.
Companies with highly engaged workforce are 21% more profitable. (source)
When employees are engaged, their #1 objective is to contribute to the company’s success. Employee engagement is not about employee benefits or bonuses, it’s about being part of a successful business.
Every retailer has experienced challenges trying to effectively communicate via their website and social media. An engaged employee is more prone to participate in these online communication efforts.
The following three types of employee engagement will help you think through how you’ll approach your own employee engagement model.
- Content Brainstorming: Schedule collaborative meetings and initiatives on topics your customers want or need to know about.
- Content Calendar: Save time by planning what your month looks like to your prospects.
- Best Practice Huddle: Share stories, experiences and achievements that improve the company’s and employee’s performance.
- Social Media Channels: Done right, employee-created content gets very high engagement. People enjoy peering “behind the scenes” of a dealership. Customers connect easier when they see happy employees serving happy customers.
- Social Customer Service: In a 24-7 world, customers can reach out at any time. Designated employees can field customer concerns quickly and provide solutions within customer-preferred platforms.
- Social Selling: Salespeople can make the most of social media and generate their own lead pipeline. Leveraging a powerful social media network can have tremendous results.
- Social Media Amplification: Employee engagement in the specific marketing campaigns, events or promotions supports your goals.
- Social Proof: Employees are considered “people like me” by consumers. When employees advocate for their employer, it adds a layer of comfort for buyers.
- Social Recruiting: Top talent finds its way to you through your employees.
3. Lead Handling Process
FACT: It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got 100 or 10,000 leads if you’re not converting them effectively.
Poor lead process = poor closing ratios = poor performance.
Employees play a crucial role in lead handling – they are there to effectively execute your process. If the process isn’t effective, sales performance nosedives.
Today’s consumer has a seamless experience expectation. Consumers display so-called omni-channel behavior and seek experiences that are as easy, fast and frictionless.
In automotive digital retailing, we already know where customers go to get their information online – OEM website, 3rd party sites (including online rating sites) and the dealership’s website. They also seek information from friends and family offline, and all of this is mish-mashed together during the 3-6 month car shopping journey.
When a lead comes into the store, the consumer will still have questions and it’s critical to meet them where they are, answer their questions and facilitate an easy buying experience.
If your lead process requires customers to…
- Use old-fashioned ways of communicating
- Spend many hours at the dealership
- Suffer through outdated technology
- To start their transaction over once they’ve come into the store – after spending 14 hours online researching for the last 3 months…
…there’s a pretty good chance you’ll lose them.
4. Social Selling Process
79% of salespeople who use social media as a selling tool outperform those don’t.
Integrating social media within the sales process is a great idea but as many salespeople and their managers have learned, it’s not easy. There is a specific skill in connecting with people and building value that makes the magic happen.
Buy-in and support from the top down is essential.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Customers buy from those they know, like and trust.” Social selling strategies expand on this approach, build rapport with the prospect and often lead to a sale.
With automotive digital retailing becoming more accepted, it’s imperative to incorporate a social selling process within operations. Training and development are key to this process that increases dealership performance.
5. Human Resources Management Process
Automotive digital retailing will many times require culture change and that will need to be led, at least in part, by HR.
But in this new structure, HR will need to act a bit like marketing. Let me explain why…
- Using social media to attract talent requires skills in the use of social media.
- The employment application process must transform from its current computer-oriented state into a human-oriented experience. For example: Applicants might like to fill in a few fields and then have access to a live person through chat or maybe even a live person via video. This is a common practice in customer service. Why wouldn’t we provide the same kind of attention to people who want to work for us and lead us into the future?
- Customers are expecting employees to have digital fluency. Training and development of customer-facing employees secures how your dealership is represented and showcases employees’ skills in digital communication.
- Employee advocacy (leveraging employee social capital or personal brand to highlight culture to prospective employees and customers). This will need HR’s valuable input and recommendations.
- Social media compliance. A written policy for employee use of social media should be in place before any movement is made towards social selling and employee engagement.
These tips are not everything you need but they are enough to get you started on assessing your current situation and how employees will fit into your automotive digital retailing strategy.
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