In their fixed operations, dealers are putting into practice a variety of lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, according to panelists at the Cox Automotive Experience, a series of online presentations running Jan. 25 to Feb. 4.
“Service now is about options for the customer,” says Josh Aaronson, dealer principal-Island Auto Group, based in Staten Island, NY. The group is No.52 in the WardsAuto 2020 Megadealer 100, with 31 dealerships and almost $1.2 billion in revenues.
According to the panelists, the options dealers are providing include what’s now a familiar menu of pickup and delivery and sanitizing customer vehicles, as well as a couple of new approaches where dealers get more value from customer data than what comes in from the service department.
“That’s how we’re operating now,” Aaronson says in a session Jan. 25. “Over 60% of customers are never arriving at the dealership,” he says, due to pickup and delivery, as well as the ability to pay by phone or online.
Customers who prefer to come in can also visit a dealership for service, drop off their car, get a loaner car and check themselves in and out via kiosk “without talking to a human being,” if that’s their choice, he says.
John Malishenko, chief operating officer of Germain Motor Co. of Columbus, OH, says his group is now promoting its new service capabilities to all 1 million customers in its files, as the bulk of them haven’t been in to experience service since the pandemic started last year.
“The vast majority have no idea of these capabilities, the things we can do,” he says. The first step was for the group to merge all of its customer data from its various Dealership Management Systems and Customer Relationship Management Systems, from all different brands and suppliers, into a single, cloud-based database.
That was “not too easy, or inexpensive,” Malishenko says. But now that the database is set up, communications are sent to customers consistently across the group and automatically, based on business rules set up by the dealership group, are key to where a customer is in their ownership life cycle.
“We can talk to everybody, all the time,” he says. Germain is No.64 in the WardsAuto 2020 Megadealer 100, with 17 dealerships and revenues of almost $1.1 billion.
Damian Mills, CEO of Mills Automotive Group of Raleigh, NC, says customer data from the service department can be used to cross-sell other dealership goods and services, and also to provide a competitive advantage over newcomers such as Carvana that don’t have as many profit centers or as many different ways to interact with the same customer.
“We may have a customer who comes in with a Toyota, but they also have a Ford F-150. We can service Vehicle A, or Vehicle B. And by the way, we’d like to purchase Vehicle A, if you’d like to upgrade, or just if you’d like to sell,” he says in the panel discussion.
Carvana and similar companies are “not concerned with the database of fixing the cars or selling the parts. They’re only concerned with that one transaction” – that is, the used-car transaction, Mills says. Dealerships can turn those broader customer relationships to their advantage, he says. “We need to speak to the people who already know us.”
Mills Automotive Group has 15 dealerships, mostly in North Carolina, plus one each in West Virginia and South Carolina.