You can’t satisfy today’s customers with yesterday’s service department. Are you equipped to give them what they want?
Today’s technology-minded customers expect a more-connected experience in the service lanes. Approximately 90 million Millennials are entering adulthood — and their peak autopurchasing years. Millennials are just the first of many generations who will grow up with sophisticated technology at their fingertips, and much of this demographic is making a rapid transition from alternative means of transportation to car ownership, thanks to auto technology catching up to their expectations.
This all means that your Millennial customers expect a modern, streamlined service experience. And your dealership simply can’t afford to deliver anything less.
There are many ways to do this, but let’s focus on three:
1. Build an Online Reputation
The days of driving across town searching for the perfect vehicle are gone. J.D. Power and Associates has found that, on average, consumers spend 11 hours researching online before they buy — and Millennials spend even more time online. They choose dealerships they can evaluate in advance. If you’re not online, you’re not on their radar. So, get online.
There’s more to getting online than just having a Website these days. Social media dominates a huge part of Millennials’ time online, which makes for an incredible opportunity for you. They already use social media to research purchases, ask for reviews and discuss issues they care about. To stay top of mind, you have to be a part of those conversations.
Take Mary Millennial, for example, a self-described environmentalist. As she scrolls through Facebook, a post about a dealership’s 100 percent environmentally friendly service department catches her eye. When she needs a 25,000-mile tune-up, where do you think she’ll go?
Online review Websites are another critical channel to engage; Bazaarvoice has found that 84 percent of Millennials say user-generated content, such as reviews, can influence their buying habits. And that influence goes both ways: Dimensional Research learned that 90 percent are more likely to buy because of positive reviews, while 86 percent would cancel a purchase due to negative reviews.
Fortunately, you can exert control over your online reputation. Monitor review sites and follow up with every review, even the negative ones; in fact, these can help you build trust. Millennials value responsiveness and improvement — and a few negative reviews prove the positive ones are genuine.
2. Speak to Be Heard
Dealers have experimented with many communication styles over the years, from direct mail to television. But, according to Pew Research Center, for the 85 percent of Millennials who use smartphones regularly, there’s no question: Mobile is king.
True, mobile-responsive Websites are an investment. They’re also non-negotiable. Recently, Google updated its search algorithm to heavily favor mobile responsiveness. If your site doesn’t display well on mobile, you rank much lower in search. And because two-thirds of Millennials use their smartphones to look up dealer information, according to AT Automotive, they won’t know you exist if they can’t find you on their phones.
Of course, there’s more to mobile than Websites. Text messaging is a huge opportunity to engage with Millennials. Customers who dread phone calls might prefer the convenience of a text when their vehicle is ready for pickup. And when they reply to tell you they’re on their way, you can get their vehicle ready to go the moment they arrive.
But text messages aren’t emails. Unsolicited texts will be considered spam at best — and an invasion of privacy at worst. If customers opt in, texting is powerful. Otherwise, forget it.
Millennials are increasingly suspicious of traditional sales tactics. Many of them will mistrust a technician or salesperson telling them they need service — but when that notification comes from the vehicle itself, it’s automatically more trustworthy.
Smart dealerships will sync their messaging with this moment. Your oil change reminder should arrive about the same time that the “change oil” light goes on — not a month before.
3. Deliver a Streamlined Experience
For Millennials, technology isn’t technology at all: It’s an appliance. They use technology just like how one uses a toaster — to accomplish tasks and make life more convenient. Your service department should do the same. With so many new developments and platforms, the learning curve can feel intimidating, but the payoff is well worth the investment.
The more headaches technology can iron out of your process from the very beginning, the better. With online scheduling, your customers can reserve an appointment without the hassle of connecting by phone. Ambitious dealers could go the extra mile with a custom mobile app for scheduling.
Once your customer arrives, don’t leave them waiting. Exchange your desktop computers for tablets so you can leave the desk and evaluate their problem right away. Tablets allow you to move around, call up paperwork on the spot and, most important, gain customers’ trust. According to research by J.D. Power and Associates, using tablets to perform service lane check-ins improves trust by as much as 30 percent.
As you work, technology keeps your customer up to speed and eliminates expensive surprises. Use this to your advantage and provide the clear, efficient communications your Millennial customers crave. If you find another issue with the vehicle after they’ve left the dealership, send a text and give your customer the option to accept or refuse service; another text notifies him or her when the vehicle is ready for pickup. (Remember: Text alerts should be opt-ins.)
Even with a seamless experience, competitive pricing matters. Still, Millennials are like the rest of us; price doesn’t trump everything, and quality of service matters. With the right mix of convenience and competitiveness, you’ll see Millennials coming through your door for years to come.
Work Your Millennial Magic
The industry is changing, but dealerships can optimize their practices to better serve digitally savvy customers — and they should. Engaging with Millennials on their terms is critical, and it’s just common sense.
After all, there are 90 million satisfied customers on the line. And that’s just the beginning.