The digital age has empowered consumers with a wealth of information. Where once automotive dealers shouldered the weight of the customer journey from start to finish, that script has now been flipped. 

The buying process often starts online. In fact, research conducted by Assurant shows that up to 90 percent of vehicle shoppers begin with online research and know what they want and how much it will cost before they walk into your dealership. So, what does this mean for you, and how can you adjust to this new dynamic? 

First and foremost, you need to continue to gain a better understanding of your customers. To that end, Assurant, a leading global provider of vehicle protection products and services, surveyed 1,411 U.S. vehicle owners. We identified the following five mindsets and attitudes that you should keep front and centre when it comes to your customers. 

By understanding these needs and expectations, you have the opportunity to create a better customer experience and build long-term relationships that will support the success and growth of your business. 

1. Earn my trust. 

Despite being empowered by online research, with so much information at their fingertips many consumers are unsure of what sources they can trust. What’s clear from the Assurant research is that relatively few consumers think visiting multiple dealerships is the solution. Consequently, dealers are facing a trust gap with potential customers even before they visit the dealership. 

To address this, you should concentrate on how you can build trust with customers. This can include offering the right balance of information through your own digital channels, as well as validating the customer’s online research. Leveraging your knowledge and expertise on the showroom floor will help.  

2. My time is valuable. 

By 2020 the customer experience is expected to outweigh price and product as the primary brand differentiator for customers. To that end, just about half of the respondents in the survey who bought or leased vehicles from dealerships indicated they did so from those that showed they cared about the customer beyond completion of the sale. 

So, what exactly does this customer experience look like, and how can it be improved? 

Start by looking at forecourt-level data, like customer survey feedback and current sales practices, to understand where the experience may be breaking down for customers. You’ll likely learn that spending too much time and effort visiting and negotiating at the dealership is a pain point for the customer. 

To resolve this issue, consider streamlining the process by taking advantage of mobile technologies and videos that educate customers before they reach your showroom. This can help make the buying process more enjoyable and efficient for both the buyers and sales teams. 

3. What’s the total cost? 

Research shows that anywhere from a third to half of customers report dissatisfaction with post-purchase expenses, such as insurance and maintenance. 

Consequently, you can respond by highlighting the role of a vehicle warranty and/or service plan in saving buyers money. Key to this includes providing information on total costs in the online shopping experience to better set expectations at the dealership. 

4. Earn my maintenance business. 

This is particularly important as the vast majority (85 percent) of the respondents believed they’ll spend less on vehicle repairs and maintenance than the national average. Consequently, dealerships need to provide transparency around the “real price” of automotive ownership, to build trust and help earn the customer’s maintenance business. 

The research also showed that many customers don’t use dealerships for service and repairs because they believe they’ll be overcharged. However, those who felt their dealerships were trustworthy said they would gladly take their cars back for servicing. 

5. Tell me about your vehicle protection products. 

When customers research ancillary products to their vehicle purchase online, there isn’t always enough upfront information about the benefits. Despite this, they are still often open to buying a vehicle warranty and/or service plan. Of those respondents who were offered a vehicle protection product, 40 percent purchased one. And of those who purchased, 42 percent said they’ve used it with 62 percent indicating they were “very satisfied”. 

The key is to make sure you are offering vehicle warranty and/or service plans. Nearly half of the respondents said they weren’t presented an opportunity at the time of purchase. This also illustrates the importance of having a well-trained F&I team equipped with the right educational resources in the dealership and online. 

While the digital age has upended how dealerships have traditionally done business, it has also created significant opportunities. By engaging with customer research preferences, embracing online platforms and continuing to build relationships with customers post-sale, you can provide a new level of transparency and build better customer experiences that will enable you to grow your business. 

Access the full report here