The Future of Automotive: Omnichannel Customer Experiences in 2021

May 21, 2021
12:00 am

Price points are high in the automotive industry. Very high. And that means buying a car can be an emotionally fraught experience for consumers. With so many options on the market, it can be hard to even know where to begin, let alone make the right choice.  

Now though, thanks to technological advances and the wealth of information available at our fingertips, it's started to become much easier. In fact, there’s such a wealth of information available online — whether that’s content like reviews, videos, or forums — that 61 percent of time spent on car research is now happening in the digital realm. 

These days, customers enter dealerships armed to the teeth with information. Enough to help them make an informed purchase.

A new omnichannel automotive consumer emerges

Some buyers are even prepared to skip the dealer altogether, with 45 percent of consumers willing to buy online.  After all, you can buy so many other products online — from tonight’s dinner to new furniture — why should buying a car be any different?

With more and more options for customers appearing throughout their journey, the auto industry faces a challenge: modernizing the customer experience for today’s digitally savvy buyers. 

The answer lies within omnichannel experiences. By implementing an omnichannel automotive experience, companies can break down barriers between channels and bridge the digital and physical worlds to create an experience that’s flexible enough to personalize each and every car buying customer journey to best suit a person’s needs.

Let's take a closer look at the omnichannel approach and the evolution of automotive customer experience (CX).

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Omnichannel customer experience in automotive

First, it’s important to understand what omnichannel automotive CX is and how it differs from the multichannel approach of previous automotive marketing trends.

Multichannel CX uses various channels to build awareness and engagement, eventually driving customers to dealerships to complete their journeys. However, and this is a key point, the experience across those channels is siloed in a multichannel approach.  

The problem is, that simply doesn’t cut it anymore. More and more car buyers are coming from the millennial and Gen-Z demographics. And, according to Deloitte, even the older generations are adopting the “Millennial mind-set” to embrace digital. Automotive retailing today serves audiences immersed in technology and smart devices, and they expect a connected and consistent experience.

That includes offline, too. 

It’s true that most buyers seek information online, but they don’t always stay online — 35 percent use a mix of more than 10 different touchpoints combining both online and offline. 

Omnichannel automotive experiences integrate all the various physical and digital ways you engage with customers into one coherent whole so that the customer experience remains consistent regardless of where and how they interact with you.  

This continuity is crucial in building successful customer relationships.

Bridging the physical and digital: technology in automotive customer engagement

Given the benefits of an omnichannel CX, it’s no surprise that car sales businesses are now leveraging technology to marry physical and digital experiences throughout the customer journey.  

Engaging the connected consumer

Twice as many consumers start their research online versus at a dealer (a massive 95 percent of buyers get their information from digital sources when buying cars). This shows how important it is to maximize your digital content to provide the necessary information upfront, everything from model features to pricing, and finance options to inventory availability.

Customers can interact with your brand via other digital means, too — for example, by getting their questions answered in real time through live chat or chatbots, which can provide customized recommendations or access to further information.  

Customers can even supplement information with the rich visual experience of online video, or with interactive tools that allow customers to build and price their vehicles online, choosing everything from exterior and interior options, packages, and accessories.  

As the journey progresses and customers engage with you further, the data can be leveraged through analytics to create better targeting, engagement, and visibility. 

However, despite all the information available at their fingertips, 71 percent of consumers still want to see and test drive the car physically. Enter the dealer.

Auto dealer trends and the future of car dealerships

With so much content available online, the car dealership’s role is changing.  As a physical extension of the online experience, customers may visit your dealership at different points of their journey.  That’s an opportunity to show your omnichannel automotive credentials and have your salespeople help customers continue their journey where they left off online.  

To do this, you need to integrate your customer touchpoints, whether across the web, phone, or in-person.  This way, you don’t lose valuable customer information as customers move through their journey, and the customer builds trust while avoiding the headache of repeating themselves. You can use all-in-one customer experience platforms to store customer data and interaction history, creating a holistic, unified view of your customers and empowering your teams to provide a continuous customer experience.

Another way to bridge the digital and physical gap is through virtual tours. Using video chat, your salespeople can walk customers through all the different features of a vehicle they’re interested in.  

screenshot from automotive group Dilawri on virtual tours, example of omnichannel automotive
Example of using virtual tours for car buying from Automotive Group Dilawri

You can even take digital tours a step further with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.  The recently launched BMW Virtual Viewer and Audi VR Experience allow customers to personalize and interact with cars, whether at the dealer or from home.

Dealerships can help make the whole experience smoother, too, by digitizing processes, such as the often tedious paperwork.  Or, as with Hyundai’s mobile app, allowing customers to arrange at-home test drives or dealer visits.

Inspired by trends in automotive direct sales, some companies now allow you to buy online. Nissan@Home, for example, lets customers manage their entire journey online, including purchases and maintenance.

And that’s important, because even after a customer has made a purchase, companies must continue to engage them — something that’s incredibly important for customer retention in the automotive industry.  

Continued customer service 

Beyond the buying experience, 53 percent of customers rate their service experience as influential in their journey.  Gen-Y buyers especially value a good dealer experience that involves continued service after the sale.

Omnichannel automotive engagement is a great way to keep in touch with customers and ensure convenience, helping to build your relationship over time and increase brand loyalty.  

For example, the MySubaru app provides service reminders and monitors vehicle health for customers.  Loyalty programs also work well, such as Ford's Fordpass, that give rewards and product offers.  These apps have the added bonus of providing rich data to help tailor experiences to your customers.  

The changing face of automotive retail

With the high cost and commitment of buying a car, simply having information, no matter how rich it might be, often isn’t enough. Customers still want to experience the car before buying it.  As a result, the physical CX will continue to play an important role — even if this role evolves as technology advances further.  

The real opportunity for automotive customer engagement though is through omnichannel, allowing you to cater to consumers’ need for flexible and seamless online and offline experiences. With that in place, you’ll be in a far better position to compete in the future of automotive retail.


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