The modern consumer has access to more information than ever before, and that’s dictating change in the auto industry. At the dealership level, consumers are bringing knowledge to the table, taking ownership of the transaction. Overland Park, Kansas-based VinSolutions is helping bring such dealerships up to speed to this new environment with an engaging suite of technology solutions that consolidates back-end systems and streamlines processes. Brian Skutta, vice president and general manager, explains how the customer is changing, and what his company is doing about it.
What do modern car buyers bring to the transaction that they didn’t previously?
Brian Skutta: Two key dynamics define the modern car buyer: access to information and the need for engagement across multiple devices and mediums. Today’s car buyer oftentimes knows as much, if not more, about a particular vehicle than the dealer does, thanks to third-party websites like AutoTrader.com and Kelley Blue Book, as well as the manufacturer and dealer websites. This information allows for a more informed consumer who knows what they want and knows what a fair deal looks like. The days of driving on a dealer’s lot to find your dream car have been replaced with a revolution of digital resources. Today’s car buyer could be an existing customer sitting in the dealer’s database, a research junkie searching customer reviews, or a friend of a friend who learned about the dealership via social media. Dealers need to be prepared for each unique customer and interact with them via their preferred method.
What has that changed at the dealership level?
Skutta: Nearly everything. Most notably, the consumer is in the driver’s seat of the transaction. With increased access to information comes increased competition, the end result of which has an empowered consumer and dealers that are reinventing themselves to differentiate from their competitors. Specifically, that means reengineering the customer experience from beginning to end. If the dealer does it right, [they can] retain that customer for life.
Where are these changes seen?
Skutta: Dealers are focused on the in-store experience—the showroom itself, the presentation and friendliness of the staff, and working in partnership with the customer to get them exactly what they want as efficiently as possible. A tactical example here is the time to put a deal together. In the past, this could take hours due to vehicle selection, negotiation, and paperwork. Today’s advanced dealers are working hard to reduce this process to as little as one hour by focusing on customer-friendly processes and utilizing technology within the dealership experience. Dealers are also looking at both the online experience during digital customer interactions and the offline experience when the customer visits the showroom.
How else is the distribution end of the automotive industry changing?
Skutta: As part of the focus on efficiency and differentiation, dealers are embracing transparency as a way to build rapport with their consumers and establish trust. Some examples are “one-price” or “negotiation free” business models that remove the anxiety from the shopping process for consumers. In addition, many dealers have embraced third-party information and resources to educate the consumer about their vehicles, their price, and why the consumer should buy from their dealership. By embracing the market knowledge and brand awareness of a credible third-party resource, the dealer is able to educate the consumer about their deal and break down the stigmas that have previously defined the car-buying process.
How is VinSolutions helping dealers with these challenges?
Skutta: Better technology and consumer connections. In our early stages, about seven years ago, we saw that the average dealer had 8–10 different software systems, with 8–10 different log-ins, and the data across those systems didn’t connect. We created an integrated platform under a single log-in and put it on the Internet as a cloud-based solution—for significantly less money than the cost of multiple systems
What do you do better than the competition?
Skutta: We’re more consumer-focused. Our integrated platform and sister company relationships within the AutoTrader Group allows our dealers to engage with current customers and prospects in ways only we can provide. Our motto is “Make Every Connection Count.” Every consumer is different, and dealers need a software tool that can speak to all of them over time. The car shopping and ownership cycle is long, meaning dealers interact with customers at a lot of different points, all of which are important.
How important is mobile in your business?
Skutta: Mobile is of paramount importance. We are seeing a big shift in mobile usage not only amongst consumers, but also within the dealership. On the consumer front, we are set to launch a new responsive-design website early in 2014 that allows us to render a single site on any device, because the site intuitively resizes and repositions itself to the device. It also provides for better search-engine optimization, because we’re not running two sites. For dealership personnel, we are making all of the core functionality within our CRM available across all devices, both for core execution and customer presentation.