Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wholesaling With Wormholes
by Brian Steinmetz

Well, they’re not the same wormholes you saw in Interstellar, but these wormholes provide nearly instantaneous direct paths from your parts counter to the customers you are trying to reach. I’m talking about targeted digital wholesale marketing – sending customized email messages directly to the parts purchasing decision-makers at a dealership’s wholesale customers.


For years, automotive dealerships have used targeted digital marketing to reach out to their retail customers (“We were glad to have you in for an oil change last month! Come back for 10% off your next one!”). With some small adjustments, this technique can also serve dealerships that are contacting their wholesale customers (fleets, independent garages, or body shops). Unlike retail customers, individual wholesale customers purchase large volumes of parts, which means wholesale targeted marketing can yield significant returns.


But it needs to be done right. How do you create your strategy?


An effective targeted digital marketing strategy is typically part of a larger customer relationship management (CRM) initiative. However, the digital marketing provides a unique feature: the ability to directly track impact. This tracking takes the form of monitoring delivery rates, open rates, and click-through rates for your marketing initiative as a whole, as well as for each individual customer. Knowing which customers are actually opening the marketing messages will produce a list of hot leads for a counter salesperson to follow up on.


Electronic delivery also allows you to customize messages for different recipients. Your active customers could receive one message, thanking them for their continued business with a 5% discount on product line ABC, while inactive customers that you’re trying to recapture could receive different messages, like a 10% discount on another product line.



“Sounds great. But does it actually work?” Yes, it does. One automotive OEM that employs this wholesale direct digital marketing strategy consistently sees positive outcomes. For every month that these messages have gone out, roughly 7% of their “inactive” wholesale customer base (those that had not purchased parts in 90 days) came back to the dealership for their first parts purchase in a while. Active customers who received these marketing messages became inactive at a lower rate than others. Taking a larger view of the situation and evaluating the OEM’s entire wholesale customer base, the customers who received the messages purchased more parts year-over-year than customers who didn’t receive messages.


Bottom Line: Targeted direct digital marketing to wholesale customers has the potential to yield huge returns on investment, when paired with a well-planned CRM strategy. The ability to deliver to your wholesale customers a tailored message cheaply, quickly, and easily is one that we all can access; we just need to build a plan and then send a ship through the wormhole.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Service Lane Technology: Up Close or Impersonal? What Do Consumers Really Want?
by Meredith Collins

Do consumers really want Service Lane Technology? We examined this important question as part of a recent focus day on Service Lane Technology (SLT) solutions. During the day, OEMs and SLT providers discussed where the technology is headed. While researching this topic, we also held a focus group with customers who had been exposed to service lane technology, in order to gauge their perception of it. The general sentiment of this group – which consisted of people in their late thirties and older – was that SLT could be a good thing, but only if the dealership uses it properly. That is, these customers still want their interactions to be personal; they expect a certain level of human connection.


After watching the footage from the focus group many, many times, I realized that these people shared a common idea of what a service experience should be like, and how technology can help provide it. I understood their feelings – yet their concerns didn’t reflect at all how I feel about Service Lane Technology.


For example, they want their Service Advisor to know their name; to know their children’s names. I don’t care if my Service Advisor remembers me. They want hand-written MPIs, as this demonstrates a “personal touch” and “extra attention”. I want an MPI that I can easily read, preferably one printed from a computer and emailed to me. They think it’s rude when their Service Advisor fails to make eye contact, and instead focuses on entering information into his tablet. I don’t care if he’s paying attention to me; I want him to be paying attention to my car.


So, what is driving the difference between my expectations of the service lane and the focus groups’? Why is my view of technology and customer experience so different from theirs? The answer: a generation gap.


Millennials – which I’m going to define as anyone under the age of 30 – have come to view the customer experience very differently from the generations before them.


I think there are two key points here:
  1. Millennials don’t need, or even want, to have a personal connection while in the service lane. We aren’t necessarily looking for the MyGuy experience. Rather, we want our service or repair to be efficient and quick, causing minimal disruption to our lives.
  2. We are also significantly more comfortable with the use of technology. We grew up with it; we don’t remember a time when it didn’t play a significant role in our lives.
With this in mind, I think that SLT is the key to providing millennials with efficient, streamlined service. Think about it: I rely on my smart phone to complete several important tasks every day. I trust it to do my banking, pay my utility bills, order an Uber, repay friends for splitting an Uber, navigate around Boston, etc. These apps aren’t particularly new or revolutionary, but the point is that I actually use them. In fact, I am completely reliant on them. People in earlier generations, however, are less likely to trust the technology to make such important transactions.


This may explain the disconnect between reactions of different groups of consumers in the service lane. Millennials are more comfortable having technology replace old processes. So, not only will millennials trust SLT, we’ll be turned off by the failure to use it.


Our research into SLT has determined that it is undoubtedly the way of the future. Not long from now, every service lane will have some form technology, and the entire service process will flow smoothly from scheduling to check-in, to write-up, through the service itself, and finally post-service. The biggest unknown is how quickly dealers will adopt SLT.


Up to this point, they’ve been slow to make changes, as there is pushback from service departments that are comfortable with the way things are. I argue, however, that SLT adoption needs to be a priority for dealers. More and more millennials are becoming car owners and are choosing where to service their cars. Even though the older customer base may hesitate to trust technology in the service lane, an increasing customer population will expect it.


Bottom Line: The next generation of customers is here. We want dealers to have technology solutions in the service lane to make the time we spend there more streamlined and efficient. Lack of technology may mean lack of our business.