Marketers and advertisers today, more than ever, need to better understand the wants and needs of their target market. The automotive industry, in particular, is extremely competitive, and an automotive association needs every edge it can get to maintain and grow its customer base and gain an edge over its competitors. The key to being successful in this endeavor is understanding the customer journey and using the information detailed in that journey to figure out exactly what you need to do to deliver an experience that keeps customers loyal.
In essence, having a deeper understanding of the customer journey will enable automotive brands and dealerships to better provide an outstanding customer experience. And with consumers today placing much more focus on experience rather than price, this is critical.
What is the Customer Journey?
The simple definition is that the customer journey is a roadmap of every single interaction a potential customer has with your company. This starts with the customer first discovering your company, either via a commercial, an online website or social media page, or a visit to your establishment and then ends with the final purchase. There can be plenty of interactions in between, and it is up to you to create a customer journey that results in top-notch consumer experience and, of course, the purchase.
Any part of the customer journey that is not up to par can result in that customer or client going somewhere else, so that’s why understanding the wants and needs of your target market is so critically important.
Breaking Down the Customer Journey Into Each Interaction
Every time a customer has an experience with your brand, through any particular channel, it’s an interaction. You need to figure out every possible interaction (mapping the customer journey) a customer might have with your brand so that you can specially tailor each one to ensure that the customer is happy and continues on the customer journey to the final destination (the sale).
Put yourself in the shoes of one of your customers, and list all the ways you might come into contact with your brand. Common interactions (also known as touchpoints) might include:
- Marketing—print, online, social media, radio, etc.
- Review Sites
- Product Reviews
- Customer Service
- Sales Personnel
- Your Website
- Social Media Pages
- Your Dealership
- A Call Center
- Product Support
There can, of course, be other touchpoints along the way, but you get the main idea. Each of these touchpoints must provide the consumer with a satisfactory experience—if not, you risk having the customer journey come to an end before completion.
[Read: Micro-Moments Signal a Shift in Auto Buying Behavior]
Building the Customer Journey Map
It can seem like a daunting task at first, but building the customer journey map will help you achieve your goals, reinforce your brand, and maintain and grow your share of the marketplace. At its fundamental core, the customer journey map you build will, in fact, be the ultimate marketing campaign, encompassing all points of your organization, strategically designed to add value to the customer experience.
Subsequently, you’ve got to design your customer journey map by first strongly focusing on the customer’s point of view. Of course, this means you should have at least conducted some ample marketing research in order to better understand what your target market wants and expects from your brand. Without this important information, your customer journey map will be sorely lacking.
Assuming you do have your research well in hand, you should have a deep understanding of the customer’s experience. If your target market demographic is segmented, you’ll have to design customer journey maps with specific demographics in mind, but many of the touchpoints will likely overlap since they essentially focus on delivering good customer service.
Consider consumer behavior, how your product makes them feel, what they think of your brand, and how economic and technological forces are reshaping the consumer market. The automotive industry in particular needs to be aware that millennials now represent nearly half of all car buyers, and so dealerships and dealer associations must be able to anticipate the needs of this demographic for the next 5 years to be successful.
It is also important to know which marketing channels are most likely to serve as touchpoints for your target demographic—again, millennials are more apt to utilize digital means for interaction throughout many steps of the customer journey. The automotive industry needs to adapt to the current state of the market to remain relevant.
Putting Yourself in the Shoes of Your Customer
Research can certainly tell you a lot, but sometimes hands-on experience and walking in the shoes of your target demographic can be an eye-opener too, serving to give you a deeper understanding of what your customers experience firsthand. And the best way to do this is to be a customer yourself. Put together a focus group of different employees from within your own organization, and go out and visit other dealerships. Browse their websites. Engage with them on social media. Research reviews on their service shops. Speak with salesmen and customer service representatives.
Do all this, and you’ll have collected a wealth of data to add to your research and really fine-tune it. Your focus group can relay their collective experiences and detail what parts of their journey were exemplary, and what parts were lacking. And you’ll have gained some valuable insight into why your customers either choose one brand over another.
On a side note, it’s also very good marketing to see what the competition is doing. So when you visit other dealerships, be sure to see what they are doing to attempt to gain, retain, and grow their share of the marketplace. If it appears to be working, nothing says you can’t do it too—just do it better.
Make Your Journey Map Actionable
Each touchpoint in the customer journey should have a specific purpose. Any actual interaction with the customer at each touchpoint should have a means of identifying what the customer is feeling so that appropriate action can be taken. For example, a customer service rep should, of course, strive to help a customer with their issue. Another example is answering a question on a social media platform in a timely manner.
By identifying consumer behavior patterns at each touchpoint, you can better gauge what you can do to make each part of the customer journey better, for both your company and for the customer. The ultimate goal is to make each touchpoint a positive experience for the customer. If any particular touchpoint is failing to achieve this, then you need to invest more time on repurposing that touchpoint.
In the automotive industry, consumer experience plays a big role, so ensuring positive experiences throughout the customer journey is even more critical than in many other industries. And when you consider that the majority of today’s consumers are used to instant gratification, you’ve got to find a way to provide quick service at all points.
[Read: Price vs. Experience: What Matters Most to Consumers Today?]
Identifying Pain Points
Pain points refer to touchpoints that often result in a negative experience for the customer, or, at the very least, a somewhat frustrating experience. For example, a common pain point in the automotive industry is making appointments, waiting for service, or a lack of clarity on the cost of a purchase.
If you put yourself in the shoes of the customer, you may be able to identify other pain points in your organization, or at least know what other possible pain points might exist and ensure that you take steps to limit those at your dealership.
Embracing today’s technology can certainly go a long way towards reducing or eliminating pain points. For example, customers can make appointments via an app. Vehicle pickups for service appointments can also be automated. Digital solutions can be used to provide detailed explanations about any repairs that may need to be done. Automatic texts can be sent to let a customer know when their car is ready for pickup.
Key touchpoints should be digitized since that is how a majority of consumers prefer to do business today. Offering convenience, customer-focused, intuitive apps can really make a significant difference in the customer journey.
Building Your Customer Journey Map With a Clear Purpose
With all the data you’ve collected, you should be capable of defining a clear purpose for your customer journey. And, with a clear purpose in mind, you can begin to redefine each touchpoint to efficiently meet that purpose. Everyone will have a specific role and defined behaviors that enable employees to act purposefully and make the right decisions.
Those who deal directly with customers will have a larger role to play and may require some additional training. Role-playing different scenarios to see how employees react to different customer feedback can help you fine-tune their responses and set guidelines to be followed. Knowing how to read the customer, or at the very least, how to process customer feedback to make the best decision at that particular touchpoint, is a key component of future success.
If at any point, a customer has a negative experience, then it is clear that the customer journey map did not fulfill its purpose. This is unfortunate, but its also a learning experience. It’s an opportunity for more training events, either via role-playing or other means, at which employees can engage in a roundtable discussion of what might have gone wrong, and what can be improved upon. This is a healthy way to get employees to adapt to their roles and improve their performance overall.
On the same token, good performances by employees should be acknowledged and occasionally rewarded. This encourages employees to stay on the correct path and continue to perform their roles to the best of their abilities.
This was mentioned previously, but it will be discussed here in more detail since it is very relevant to the current marketplace. Digitizing touchpoints can be done in several ways, revolutionizing communication amongst your organization and customers.
With so much capability for automation, it’s a no-brainer to include this new way of thinking as part of your customer journey map. (And, let’s face it, it’s not a new way of thinking, but one that the automotive industry has been slow to capitalize on).
Developing apps and creating new systems can seem like a difficult task if you don’t have your own in-house marketing and digital development team. That’s why many regional dealerships and dealership associations outsource their state-of-the-art technology solutions. This provides two important benefits; you get an expert marketing and design team working to help you create and execute your customer journey map, and your employees can remain focused on their roles and the task at hand.
Bringing all the Touchpoints Together
While the ambassadors of each touchpoint have their own role to play, they must also be part of a cohesive unit. Consistency throughout the customer journey serves to reinforce the brand and improves the customer experience. Think of it this way—a customer may have positive experiences across several touchpoints, but one negative experience reflects on the whole brand.
More than half of American consumers will decide against a purchase after one bad experience with a company, and about a third will choose another company to do business with. On the flip side, consumers, and especially millennials, are more likely to spend more with a brand that delivers great service. So by now, you should realize that every single touchpoint is equally important, as is consistency amongst them all.
Ideally, the customer journey map will link each touchpoint to the next successive touchpoint, paving the way for a complete and satisfactory customer journey. So when designing your customer journey map, think of ways to lead the consumer to the next touchpoint—this reflects back to being actionable at each touchpoint. If you can guide the customer through continuous positive experiences, you exponentially increase your chances of completing the sale and retaining the customer in the future.
Each ambassador of a touchpoint can collect feedback, but one person can be utilized to assess and value feedback across the entire customer journey map. Monitoring overall satisfaction and assessing critical customer journey metrics can ease the process of improving trouble areas.
Several key metrics can be used to give you a better idea of your overall market performance. These include:
Net Promoter Score (NPS) — an indicator of whether or not your customers and potential customers would recommend your brand to another
Customer Satisfaction—It goes hand-in-hand with NPS; if the customer is not satisfied, they obviously won’t be recommending your brand. However, customer satisfaction can also be measured along different touchpoints, so it’s a good indicator of where exactly the customer journey map might be failing.
Retention Rate—How many of your customers continue to return for a newer model or to renew a lease? How many stick with your service centers? How many seek to purchase cars for growing family members? If they’re going somewhere else, then you aren’t retaining them, which means something, somewhere, is wrong. (You can also call this metric “Repeat Customers”).
Inventory Turn Rate—This metric compares the amount of inventory at a dealership compared to monthly sales. A fast turn rate means your doing something right, so keep at it!
Online Lead Response Time—This is an important one if you’re going to be digitizing some of your touchpoints (which you should). Responding in a timely fashion is important, because, remember, consumers expect instant gratification. They value their time, and if they have to wait too long for a response to a question, they will feel undervalued, which equates to a negative experience at that touchpoint.
Sales and Service—How many of your customers utilize your dealership for regular service on their vehicles? This is an important connection because it means that customers who continue to use your dealership for service are happy with their relationship with your brand. But its also important to note that customers often need to be introduced to your dealerships service center. Otherwise, you’re missing a key touchpoint in the customer journey map.
Social Media Interaction—So many people say that social media ROI is hard to calculate. That’s somewhat true, but only if you don’t know exactly what you are trying to calculate. Best to leave this one to the digital marketing and social media marketing experts. But that doesn’t mean you should be lax in your social media efforts—quite the contrary.
Social media marketing is more important than ever, with a hugely significant portion of consumers discovering businesses on social media and engaging with them when applicable. And review sites such as Yelp can be considered social media too, and definitely shouldn’t be neglected. You can bet that if a customer has a bad experience at your dealership, they’ll talk about it on Yelp, Twitter and other social media sites, so that needs to be monitored and responded to.
The customer journey map isn’t something that is easily developed overnight. It takes a great deal of research, planning, and trial and error. But it is definitely a worthwhile endeavor.
You and many within your organization will likely experience their own sort of journey as the customer journey map is developed, but that will only serve to solidify everyone’s role as a key player in providing the ultimate customer experience. Every person, at every touchpoint, is an important part of the team—it’s like the old saying about the weakest link in the chain.
But you can’t have any weak links, because a weak link can mean a negative customer experience. So training is, of course, essential, as is listening to and responding to customer feedback. There is no more room for antiquated salesmanship protocols in this new and evolving marketplace.
The competition is fierce, and they are quickly grasping the same concepts you’re reading about now. The only question is who will be first to implement the customer journey map successfully?