Disrupting the status quo

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Millennials will soon be your biggest group of customers. Are you ready to serve them?

The first production Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908.

This is the car that everyone remembers because it was, and remains, a symbol of change. It represented a transformation of a way of life and an industry that we had never been witness to before.

Fast forward 100 years, and we now see the introduction of Uber (or Uber Taxi as it was first called). The launch of Uber just seven years ago represented a significant transformation not only in how people interacted with taxis but created a huge shift in the mindset of the customer.

It was all about a better service, and for the most part, it saved people money. It really was a win-win for the consumer. And so it prompted people to start thinking: “Hey if it’s possible for Uber to create this kind of model for the taxi industry, what are the possibilities for other industries?”

History is sprinkled with dozens of examples of industry shifts or disruptions and they all seem to have something in common. More often than not, they are a reflection of changing societal values and or emerging technologies — or both.

The Model T was a product of the industrial revolution and the “American dream,” while Uber, a century later, can be said to be a product of the digital revolution and more specifically, a product of a shifting digital mindset.

The connected generation

No current generation exemplifies a shifted mindset more than millennials. Millennials, who are most often defined as those born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, have been connected to the Internet all their lives.

They don’t know life without it. My friend Steve Carlisle, CEO of GM Canada, refers to millennials as “Digital Natives” and the rest of us (us being Boomers and Gen X’ers) as “Digital Immigrants.”

The Internet has literally shaped how millennials socialize, find information, and buy products, where as we have had to consciously decide to adopt this technology into our daily lives. As recently as two years ago, millennials were written off by retail experts as “not worth your marketing efforts.” “lacking in purchasing power” or “not interested in buying cars.”

This observation could not have been further from the truth. In fact, millennials currently hold the second strongest retail purchasing power, second only to the Baby Boomer and, get this, within two years, millennials will surpass the boomers as the generation with the most retail purchasing power.

A closer look at the millennial generation reveals some very interesting buying behaviors. For example, they don’t seem to respond to advertisements the same way that other generations do.

This may have something to do with the value that they place on authenticity, which unfortunately most ads seem to lack. Brand loyalty? There is plenty to be had by millennials when the right brand attributes are present. This includes allowing them to engage and purchase on their own terms. It also means having a presence and actively engaging customers on social media, giving back, being transparent and to a large extent, offering self-service when possible.

A lost opportunity?

The last decade or two have given rise to some truly transformative business models. For example, Netflix has revolutionized on demand video, Apple Music makes the world’s library of music available at your fingertips, AirBnB has taken “hoteling” to a whole new dimension, and Amazon will ship to your door in less than 24 hours.

And think about it — Netflix doesn’t own movies, Apple doesn’t own the music, AirBnB doesn’t own hotel rooms, and Amazon doesn’t own any of their products (well, except for Kindle).

Suffice it to say, it’s not about what you sell, but what you offer. So, this begs the question: What about the automotive industry?

Sure there has been plenty of innovation within the vehicles themselves to make them safer and more connected. But what about innovating ideas regarding the way customers interact with dealerships and buy/service their cars?

Sometimes we all need to take a closer look at the world around us and ask ourselves if we are living up to the current standards or better yet, are we exceeding them? I think it’s safe to say that there is room for growth and improvement. Plus, it’s not just millennials that want transparency and an easy efficient buying process. Everyone wants it because we know we can get it. We only need to take a glimpse at the new business models popping up every day to understand what the market wants.

These models are, after all, a reflection of shifting needs and wants of consumers.

Change starts today

Changing the status quo in your business starts with disrupting it. How do you do this? As a digital immigrant, you just need to make a change.

It’s not really important how big that change is because the real goal you are accomplishing here is the shift in mindset from the existing “maintenance” mode to a far more innovate “change” mode.

Once you are in change mode, the possibilities are endless. You will start to look at your business in a new light and ideas will practically start dropping into your lap. It’s building up the momentum that can take a little effort in the beginning. Here are some starting points to explore:

You the consumer: You buy things too right? Think about some of the businesses that you love doing business with. What is it about them that you love? Is it the level of customer service? The product itself? Or maybe there is an “X” factor that you can’t quite put your finger on.

Have you ever experienced the “WOW” factor? I did back when I opened up my daughter’s first Apple MacBook. I had been suspect of their “simple” mantra, but when I opened up that box and followed their one-two-three set up procedure, I was truly impressed.

Here was a company that from soup to nuts provided me with a spectacular customer experience and stayed true to their mantra. The packaging, the set-up, the user experience — it was really that simple. Suffice it to say, I was “wowed.”

Your customers: The daily interactions between you and your customers can be one of the best sources for ideas. Each time you have an interaction with a customer take note of one thing that could have been done to make that interaction a little smoother or more enjoyable for them. That one thing could be technology based, process driven, or maybe something very minor.

Other companies: Why not borrow a concept from a well-known brand such as Google or even Disney? The company doesn’t have to be related to automotive at all. In fact sometimes an unrelated business can provide you with a new perspective.

Stay connected with millennials:
An easy starting place may be to look at how “millennial friendly your dealership is.” Do you have meaningful connections with customers on social media platforms? Do you offer self-service options during their buying experience? What about focusing on advertising less in favour of an authentic experience?

Maybe it’s more about supporting a cause that is important in your community than running an ad on the radio or in the local newspaper.

Regardless of what approach you take, the time to change is now.

As Henry Ford said so many years ago “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

You need to give people something different than what they might expect to really stand out in today’s marketplace. This is after all what drives our world forward and what makes it exciting to come to work every day.

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