8 Expectations that Guide the Ultimate Customer Experience

by Tim Copacia
EVP of Strategic Development, J.D. Power UnityWorks

This past January, I hosted a panel discussion with marketing leaders from three of the top 10 dealer groups as part of the 2021 J.D. Power Auto Summit. The subject of that panel was centered around how to meet and exceed customer expectations within the overall customer experience.

I have been an active proponent of customer focused marketing through the early years of CRM and Customer Experience Management. I have spent many decades in the automotive marketing world on the agency-side, trying to convince brands and dealers to see the power of a differentiated customer experience on retention, loyalty, profitability and local market distinction.

Let’s face it – all dealers sell similar high-quality products, so it is up to them to convince a new shopper to visit their virtual or physical storefront. I am thrilled to see that so many brands and dealers are rallying around the customer experience as a core business strategy.

Look for ways to stand out and surprise a consumer with something special. The little things go a long way.

In this article, I want to focus on the 8 pillars to a successful and differentiated customer experience. These are very specific needs that today’s consumers expect from automotive brands and retailers. To create an effective dealership customer experience strategy, it requires a keen understanding of customer expectations. You don’t just wing it. You need to work to understand how, you as a dealer, cannot only meet… but exceed those expectations.

Let’s get into the pillars.

Make it Personal
One of the most important components to building a strong connection with prospects and current owners is getting to know them. Just like any trusted relationship, the more personalized the interactions, the better. This means getting to know them on a personal level, as well as remembering them and making them feel special. There is incredible power in creating “made-for-me” moments. If you can use your customer’s zero party data to the fullest and provide relevant and timely communications, your customers will pay attention and keep coming back.

Be Transparent
Nothing hurts a customer relationship more than playing games and not providing what the customer asks for. The auto industry for years has hurt themselves by not delivering transparent pricing on new vehicles. Enduring consumer relationships are based on trust. If you break the trust, it’s tough to recover. Provide shoppers with “in-the-moment” information that will help guide them to a buying decision.

Provide Assurance
When consumers make a large purchase, they are looking for assurances to reinforce their decisions. Buying a new car every 6 or 7 years is one of those moments. This is an ideal time to instill confidence from the brand and the dealer. How you handle this could sway a purchase and seal the deal. Make sure your customers understand that you will take care of them and help them with any needs throughout the customer journey.

Create a Connected Experience
One of the most challenging aspects for auto companies is to connect the experience across marketing tiers, channels and screens. That is why a Chief Customer Experience Officer and an enterprise customer experience strategy is so important. We need to move beyond simple T1, T2 and T3 ad strategies to a tier-less omni-channel and mobile-first experience. This combines the power of data along with human interactions to help move a customer along the journey from acquisition to the next purchase. A highly choregraphed customer experience strategy can pay great dividends.

Ensure Security
Although customers are very open about their lives on social media, they are concerned about how their personal data is being used. It is important to protect consumer privacy and not compromise this valued relationship. Look for ways to demonstrate the value of personally provided data in delivering more relevant and timely communications. In addition to data, the pandemic has created entirely new sanitary and customer experience actions within the dealership to calm customer concerns. Be sure to highlight these key safety precautions and contactless services to prospects and current customers.

Be Human
Data is useful but earning trust through an authentic human relationship is even better. Look for ways to be both informative and interesting. Make each interaction mean something. Find ways to “wow” a customer with something that is unexpected. These moments in the past drove word of mouth advertising. Today a “wow” moment can even ignite a social media frenzy and make a dealership stand out from the rest.

Be Efficient
Providing speed and convenience have always been paramount principles within a strong customer experience strategy. Do what you can to help consumers save time. Provide focused choices and do your best to anticipate consumer needs. This is why companies like Netflix get such wonderful consumer ratings. Their data-driven algorithms and decision engines help consumers find preferred movie choices without scanning thousands of titles.

Provide Loyalty Rewards
Today, creating loyal customers who don’t just come back but become brand/dealership champions is more difficult than ever. Younger buyers are fickle and want to try different types of brands and products. One way to counter this trend is to not only provide a great product and experience, but also acknowledge and reward loyalty. Find ways to show you care and appreciate their business. Provide flexibility on how rewards can be used. Go beyond a free oil change. Find ways to surprise and delight. These types of unexpected rewards will help bring customers back time and again.

Evolving Customer Expectations for Tomorrow
Look no further back than the year 2020 to see how quickly customer expectations can change and why automotive brands and dealers need to respond immediately. When the pandemic dramatically impacted travel to showrooms and service bays, dealers had to do something. They enacted new sanitization services and contactless interactions to calm fears from the pandemic. In addition, digital retailing tools dramatically accelerated usage and adoption, creating new ways to manage most of the car shopping and buying service online.

I recommend continually monitoring the changing consumer landscape and mindset. Watch other company actions and successes. Conduct your own tests and learn scenarios to see if you’re meeting all customer expectations. If you’re not, fix them immediately. Time is precious, and there are too many brands, models and dealers to choose from. Embrace a complete customer experience strategy. Try your best to align to the brand’s efforts where possible.

Be transparent. Answer questions promptly. Don’t play games. Connect the experience across all channels and screens. Build a trusting relationship. Help guide decision making with focused choices and relevant communications. And look for ways to stand out and surprise a consumer with something special. The little things go a long way.