John Hiester, dealer principal of Hiester Automotive Group, and Matt Arnold, senior regional vice president of auto finance at Ally Financial, talk about how dealerships can effectively leverage digital options to keep in touch with customers and create content that improves customer satisfaction.
All Ears Podcast | Using digital tools to keep car buyers engaged
Automotive News Hi, everyone, this is Jackie Charniga with Automotive News. And welcome to the All Ears podcast. This podcast is sponsored by Ally Financial and is produced by the Automotive News Content Studio. In each episode, we delve into topics important to executives in automotive retailing, which have allies leaders to offer actionable solutions for dealers and others to successfully navigate transformational changes in the industry. Today, we catch up with John Hiester, dealer principal of Hiester Automotive Group, and Matt Arnold, senior regional vice president of auto finance at Ally Financial, to discuss methods dealerships use to keep car buyers and service customers engaged. We chat about how dealerships can effectively leverage digital options to keep in touch with customers, capitalize on its customer database and create content that improves customer satisfaction. Hi, John, Matt. Thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
John Hiester Wonderful. Glad to be here.
Matt Arnold Absolutely wonderful as well. Looking forward to our conversation this morning.
Automotive News Great. So let's get started. So, John, what are some customer service ideas and techniques that a dealership might employ to keep car buyers and service customers coming back to the store?
John Hiester Jackie, I think it's real important to recognize who our consumers are and what their behaviors are. In our area, a large percentage of the people have gone to working from home, and the nice thing about that is if they can work from home, they can work from anywhere. And what we're seeing is they want to get out of the house. So traditionally, we were trying to get them in and out of service as fast as we can. Now we want to concentrate on creating experience for an environment that's inviting to them. We need to step back, you know, every day I walk in to get a cup of coffee at Ashley's Harvest Moon Bakery. I see three or four people sitting around working at stations. And that's one of our concentrated efforts now is to create a waiting room area that is conducive to working from our business. I think the basics are still important. We still got to deliver on promised times. We've got to make sure that if we tell them it's going to take an hour and a half, if it's done in an hour and 20 minutes, that's great. But if we told them it takes an hour and it's done in an hour and 20 minutes, then they're going to feel stress and anxiety and the experience won't be great. So those things are important. And I just think we we've got the other side of that is there's the ones that aren't working from home. We've got to make it convenient for them, too. And that may mean going to their house or their place, their office to pick the vehicle up and bring it in and service it. One of the transitions we made several years ago is to half of our staff. Our sales staff is product specialists, which means they're not commission base. They're graded on how many times they demonstrate a vehicle, so they have no problem going to a person's house, even if it's an hour away to demonstrate a vehicle. So we've changed our scripts in the way we do things to make that convenient so we meet the needs of the new consumer.
Automotive News Sometimes getting car buyers and service customers back to the store means bringing the store to them.
John Hiester Absolutely. I think more now than ever.
Automotive News Matt, is there anything you'd like to add?
Matt Arnold Yeah, I think John nailed it there. You know, consumers want to be touched in different ways. I think what we've all gone through over the last year and a half with the pandemic has changed customer expectations. It's changed the way that consumers look at things. And you know, what John's talking about is is having a broader relationship with the customers and doing that from making the dealership a destination point, providing them an opportunity to work while they're there. All the things that they have learned how to do while we've gone through all this. So I think what it boils down to is is that that relationship that the consumer wants with the dealership continues to evolve and will continue to evolve. And you know, they want to feel like the dealerships invest in them. And by making it, as John said, that destination point the opportunity to be able to work at the dealership, all those things changes the experience that makes them want to come back to the dealership, want them to come back and be a part of the overall organization.
Automotive News So let's talk about the availability of digital options and how that might play a role in that relationship. When it comes to communications and scheduling tools, how are dealerships employing these methods to keep customers connected?
John Hiester Jackie, before the pandemic ever hit, we developed an app that a consumer can download on their phone. It's a valet app. And the idea was that if instead of having a consumer have to come into our business to get service, they can actually schedule an appointment on the app. We we come and pick it up, bring it into the dealership, diagnose it. They can authorize it on the app and we bring it back to them and they pay for it on the app. And and we've had a lot of success with that. And you know, your first question was about retention and there's not a better retention tool we have in our organization because once a consumer gets used to not having to come get their vehicle serviced, it's it gives you a durable competitive advantage over your your competitor. You know, if they don't offer it and that consumers thinking about a new vehicle, you know, they're probably going to stay with you because they've got used to the service you provide. That's just one example. There's a lot of examples, certainly, you know, the way you advertise. The way you market and the way you communicate with them, it's it's very important.
Matt Arnold I think the service department is the one connection point that each consumer has with the dealership that continues to build all the way through the vehicle experience. And you know, from my perspective, having that digital communication is important to me. You know, I talk to my kids all the time. They're both millennials, and they like communication via texts. I would prefer communication via an email. And then as John is trying to bridge that with the app, I think is important.
John Hiester I think a really important thing for dealerships today to do is to test the digital products they have. What we see from time to time. You know, you mentioned online scheduling. You know, if if a consumer goes to or your online scheduling tool and there's no time available for two or three weeks, chances are good they're going to look for someplace else that has times available. So it's more important today. Not only is it important to have digital options, it's important to make sure that your digital options are easy to use and and meet the needs of your consumers. It's easy to get lost, you know, you just download it and you put it out there and you don't monitor it. And next thing you know, you're your customer volumes down. So it's it's important that we're conscious of that.
Matt Arnold It's about testing and learning the different things that you guys are trying to put out in the marketplace, right?
John Hiester Absolutely.
Automotive News So when it comes to creating content for customers such as service department videos or sending those online appointment scheduling links, I'm interested in your thoughts on how important it is as we're talking about different ways to reach customers to get that social media or inbox connection.
John Hiester You know, I think it's it's it's a very important. I think that that on two fronts. One is transparency is is the name of the game. Today we've got to, you know, if you can, if you bring a vehicle in for service in and we find an oil leak, the ability to take that video of that oil leak and send it back to them creates a trust in that consumer. You know, when you talk about customer retention, if I believe you and I trust you, I'll continue to do business with you at the point that I don't, I stop. And also, more importantly, when you talk about digital content to the consumer, I think one of the things we're really concentrating on is not over communicating with our customers. You know, if you're constantly just trying to sell them things through digital communications you're not really building a relationship. You're just like Walmart, you're you're sending them an ad. So the more you can do to serve that consumer -- if it means they got a recall notice, well, taking the time to show them how major of a recall that is, if it's just a little clip on their seatbelt, they see it, and maybe they can rest easy knowing that, you know, the three days it's going to take to come in and get it done aren't going to be putting their family at risk, if that makes sense.
Automotive News I'm curious, I want to ask this question, and Matt, hopefully you can jump in as well. Do you have any suggestions about how a dealership can maintain regular communications with that customer that is effective but not intrusive?
John Hiester Yeah, I think you've got to bring value, right? It starts with knowing your consumer, knowing their behaviors, knowing what they want, and then bringing value to their life in some way. If you think about your digital content comment, sending them links to videos that that maybe explain things on the vehicle that they've purchased or the vehicle that they are, or however you're trying to educate them. I think that the more value we bring to the consumer, the more relevant will be in the new era, in the new automotive business.
Matt Arnold In talking with dealers, the video content and that personal connection with the customer is something that's just expanding. People want to have a relationship that's not just about business, you know, as we talk to dealers along the way, it's how do you get that personal connection? And you know, as John said, it could be information about their vehicle, information about vehicles that they're interested in articles around the automobile industry, but more importantly, taking that that connection point in the right type of communication stream. You know, what are we talking to people around their birthdays or anniversaries, holidays and other things? And how do you make how do you how do you use digital? To make the relationship just beyond a business relationship, and I think that's what John's talking about and and in that video content that that that I see when I get messages from from dealers is very, very important. And it brings that that connection point to, here's my car. Here's what's going on. And I think that brings a lot of credibility to the dealership along the way.
Automotive News I also wanted to ask about knowing your customer. And I think a huge way of doing that is leveraging the information about them that you already have. You know, customer relationship management is key to a dealership's marketing strategy. So I'm curious, how might a dealership create, maintain and capitalize on its customer database to build long term awareness and loyalty?
John Hiester So I think relevant content, right? I think that that, you know, to your point, the serums designed to tell us, you know, if we if we're professional in the way we put our notes in the system, it should and just educate us about who the consumer is and and to the more information you have in there, the more valuable it is. And I think that having employees that value relationship to the point where they can go in there at any time and look at, you know, put cues in there to tell themselves that, hey, look. So Paul's getting ready to have a birthday so-and-so's kid is getting ready to get their driver's license. Somebody in the family is getting ready to graduate from college. And the more you do to establish that relationship, that is non selling. In other words, hey, just, you know, congratulations on your your the graduation or whatever it may be. The more that we can do, the better off we are. And I'll tell you thinking about it. You know, if if as a consumer, you have a relationship with somebody in the dealership, whether it be the salesperson or sales manager, whoever it is, and that consumer reaches out to you for information on something being able to shoot a quick video that has you in it. That's personal and not just, you know, a text or an email, but a video that shows you, Hey, Matt Arnold, this is this is the vehicle you're asking about. Here's some of the features on it, and I look forward to working with you and you being in the shot. I think, you know, those are some other things you can do through your digital. That'll make a difference.
Matt Arnold John, I think you nailed it. That personal connection, it's you have a conversation with them, I guess, through traditional means. Maybe somebody calls in, but then you take that connection point to that personal side with a video and you address the concerns that you already talk with them about. I guess maybe I'm showing my age a little bit when I say traditional communication, because digital is that traditional communication of of of how we're doing things today. And you have to be professional along the way to understand what part of the digital experience each consumer wants to wants to participate in.
John Hiester Yeah, a cool example: Somebody that that's actually in the automotive business with an association bought a vehicle from us and they used our valet service for the first time. And he was so amazed that the person that delivered his car back to him took a video of him dropping it off at his house and putting the keys in his console where he had suggested we leave them. And he said it was just such an awesome touch. And I think people appreciate that type of content. So I think we need to get better at that.
Matt Arnold The automobile business is a sales focused business, but so many dealers today are celebrating customer retention, customer satisfaction at very high levels, even higher sometimes in the sales increases. Because as they as they tell me, the retention of the customer is one of the most profitable pieces of business that can have it definitely cost a lot to bring in a new customer, but the relationship they can build with an existing customer and retain it is something that that really celebrated among the entire dealership and when when all the when all the employees and you know, all the salespeople in the service, people understand the importance of that customer connection, then, you know, really kind of transcends everything.
John Hiester Matt, at the end of the day, if the consumer feels like they matter to you, you will matter to them. So we have to just make sure that everything we do demonstrates the them how important they are to us.
Matt Arnold Absolutely.
Automotive News All right. That's it for this episode of the All Ears podcast on behalf of Ally and the Automotive News Content Studio. Thanks for listening!