Smarter social media engagement can drive customer loyalty

The customer remains king and the internet is increasingly where he exercises his ‘royal prerogative’ – especially when it comes to buying cars. It makes sense therefore for ambitious car dealerships to look far more closely at how their customers and prospects are interacting with them via social media channels. They must use these new channels to develop a better understanding of them and ultimately to build customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Aligning Customer eXperience Lifecycle Management or CXLM, with social media programmes to engender a ‘customer centric’ model is, according to sector analysts such as Ernst & Young and Tata Consultancy Services, both an opportunity and a challenge for the automotive retail sector. There is not just IT-inspired hype, we believe there is a genuine opportunity for dealers to align CXLM with their social media interactions with customers but they must approach it with two-way communication in mind for concrete success.

First up, they need to buy-in to the CXLM premise and agree that a customer retained long-term will be worth significantly more (through several cycles of repeat business and servicing) than tracking down and winning brand new customers.

Automotive OEMs may well be running digital advertising campaigns online, but regular ‘online sociability’ by dealers offers many more ‘touch points’ with the customer as management consultancy McKinsey has pointed out. The appeal of social media, is that car dealers can converse with their customers inside a ‘digital comfort zone’ that they are very unlikely to unsubscribe from.

Dealers grounded in traditional soft-sell/hard-sell models of customer engagement, for whom the intricacies of social media are not natural, will need to think again. The view that social media interaction can contort and weaken sales messages needs to be junked also. Even dealerships that have established social media plans will probably need to revise them to bring them into line with CXLM goals - the two must be firmly aligned.

There is work to do here: social media big-hitters like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, are constantly being refreshed. New features are being added by each channel and new links to other channels are being forged all the time. Dealers will need to keep abreast of their chosen channels and have a plan to take advantage of new features as they go mainstream.

Social marketing can support dealers’ efforts to build market awareness relatively cost-effectively. It doesn’t cost much for dealers to invite customers to become friends and contacts on social networking platforms, or to create interest groups that connect them into relevant interest groups like car restoration in Porsche’s case, localised traffic reporting – tapping into preferences that target customers express in their social media profiles. People reveal a great deal about themselves in their chosen social media channels. New additions to family, a new job, adopting new outdoor pursuits or moving to a new area are all goods triggers for you to be in touch.

CXLM is predicated on taking the longer view, and should recognise that a customer’s attitude toward their recently-purchased car will change over time. They may immediately like some of the new car’s driving characteristics but be indifferent about others extolled by OEMs and dealers alike. Again, customers may share this information through their social media postings, providing near real-time ‘field data’ on satisfaction levels associated with a new model. OEMs may well be running their own sentiment-based data analyses based on what people are saying about new models via social media so get them to share their findings with you.

Customers are likely to be wary of interaction that seems impersonal, inappropriate, or plain pushy. Dealers who post marketing guff posing as friendly entreaties will miss the opportunity. They'll just get bounced and a valuable source of feedback will be cut-off. This means that dealerships have to think creatively about what they can offer. Showrooms, for instance, may be an asset to be factored-in to CXLM programmes as ‘clicks move to bricks’. For example, social media channel-based feedback can help determine the right day and time of the week for best take-up of family-friendly showroom events - providing vital opportunities for customers to deepen their link to you.

Savvy dealers should also review the data they already get access to. Can any of this be usefully shared with customers, providing valuable insights into car manufacturers’ product plans and new model timelines?

It is worth also thinking about the opportunities created by the Connected Car of the near future. There is no doubt that the Connected Car has the potential to offer up a mix of data which will help establish a better understanding of drivers and (probably) their passengers through their ‘infotainment’ consumption and driving habits for example. It might also be able to relay its operational data direct to dealerships, creating an opportunity for them to offer preventative maintenance, ahead of a potential more expensive and more inconvenient break-down. We believe people are willing to give up data privacy if they see a concrete benefit from doing so. Provision of preventative maintenance services is one good example of where the benefit will be clear to some of your customer-base.