In challenging retail environment, killer customer service is key to success: J.D. Ney

The combination of the fallout from COVID-19 and subsequent inventory shortages have created a really unique opportunity for dealers in the area of improving customer experience, in particular digital retailing, says an industry analyst.

J.D. Ney of J.D. Power, which works with various industries seeking consumer insights, advisory services and analytics, said the dealers that focused on great customer experience, despite the challenges caused by COVID, have done well.

“Our sales satisfaction index study last year showed the brands that have the best and most advanced digital retail tools and are leveraging them are seeing some really positive returns in terms of their overall sales experience numbers,” said Ney, who is J.D. Power’s Director, Canadian Automotive Practice Lead.

Ney outlined four “macro trends” that drive a positive customer experience.

He said the first is channel preference, which essentially means there is a great customer-facing process in place, regardless of how customers are interacting.

“Whether (the customer chooses) to walk in the front door or I’m sitting on my laptop or I’m on the go, there should be an easy, intuitive, simple and satisfying way to do (business with the dealership),” said Ney.

He described the second one as outsized digital expectations.

“Whether it’s fair or not, dealers and auto manufacturers are having their experiences compared to some of the best in the business, like Netflix, Amazon and Apple,” said Ney. “Those leaders are creating a new set of expectations for customers around their digital experience. Traditionally, the car business hasn’t been awesome in this space, but increasingly the questions what customers are asking is ‘if I could have a great online retail experience (with other companies), why can’t my car company or dealer do that?’”

He said the third one is an “all-encompassing umbrella” involving customer experience and expectation and focusing on twin themes of immediacy and minimal friction.

“The brands and the dealers that can serve their customers best, while demanding the least of them are the ones that are going to win out going forward,” said Ney. “The message across sales or service is ‘take a look at what your customer’s journey is like from beginning to end and then look for specific pain points.’ There are increasingly ways to move past a lot of those older operational requirements by effectively using the various technologies and resources that are out there.”

The fourth one is frontline evolution.

“We’re not saying the role of the salesperson at the dealership is going away any time soon, but it’s got to change, something that looks a little bit more like product consultation and process facilitation,” he said.

He said digital retailing had already been “part of the mix” of buying cars before COVID, but the pandemic accelerated the process.

“Certainly, we were talking to clients about it before, but when all of a sudden dealerships were closed for months at a time I think that’s when a lot of dealers said, ‘I think we have to find a way to sell cars online,’” said Ney.

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