If you are anything like me you’re sick of hearing about COVID-19 and you may well be rolling your eyes at the prospect of reading yet another COVID-19 themed article….but hear us out – this one is not the normal doom & gloom about the challenges ahead, or espousing any unrealistic expectations that everything is back to normal. 

At AutoPlay through our conversations with dealers it’s been made clear that a lot of the franchise dealers we work with want to look to the future and move on past what was certainly a difficult time for the automotive industry in NZ.  That said something we’ve heard talking heads rather cynically trot out the old Winston Churchill line that “you should never waste a good crisis”.  

Whilst a little heartless towards the many people that have lost their livelihoods or struggled over the past 3 months the concept does have merit.  

At AutoPlay we were forced to work differently.  Like many businesses we had the challenge of maintaining relationships with our customers without being able to do face-to-face contact, and we had to find different ways of communicating with our fellow staff members when we couldn’t yell at them from across the office.

For dealerships we’ve heard a lot of talk of ‘right sizing’ for the future market – which is entirely valid but not what we want to focus on in this article.  During COVID-19 AutoPlay put a lot of effort into shifting our development to what dealers wanted during Level 3 and the early stages of Level 2.  Some of these like the Visitor Book were short term ways of addressing specific challenges, whilst others might have ongoing applications well after COVID-19 is firmly in the rear view mirror.  So what have we learnt from working with COVID-19?  It’s time to get out the crystal ball…

Embracing Video

Over the shutdown we’ve seen first hand dealerships embrace Skype/Zoom/Teams as a way to communicate with AutoPlay. Where we previously struggled to get the same level of engagement with dealers and brands over video chat when compared to face-to-face visits, during and post COVID-19 we’ve managed to run a number of online training sessions. With dealerships we’ve seen dealers re-engage with video as a communication medium and at a more basic level pay real attention to the information on their website and the way their vehicles are presented online.
+ What will happen in the future?
Many dealers will continue to focus on their online presence more and continue to look at video walk-arounds and recordings as a viable means to connect with their customers.
– What will remain the same?
In NZ in particular there is a large portion of the market that still prefer to deal with people over the phone or face-to-face. Whilst it’s possible retail presences will be consolidated its likely the experience of buying a car from a dealership will continue to be a focus for dealers in the next few years at least.

Contactless Technology

COVID-19 often meant you couldn’t be in front of your customer, and when you could you certainly couldn’t hand over a shared device to get customers to sign T&C’s etc. This forced the hands of many software providers to offer contactless solutions to help support dealerships to continue to sell cars.
+ What will happen in the future?
At AutoPlay we believe on of the stronger learnings from the COVID-19 experience that will stick with dealers in the future is the need to provide customers with alternative ways of connecting with the dealership. This doesn’t necessarily mean brand new technology, but rather applying that technology in different ways. At AutoPlay we are working on new ways of prompting Lead, Test Drive, Appraisal and Calendar Bookings to be completed by the customer – be it via web page “plug-ins” or SMS invites. Allowing the customer to complete as much of the process as possible from the comfort of their own home is a win-win for dealers and their customers alike.
– What will remain the same?
The sales process won’t change massively in the short term – the road-to-the-sale isn’t going anywhere soon. Although the method and location may change, the goal is still to move the customer through the road-to-the-sale process as efficiently as possible whilst ensuring you maintain a positive customer experience throughout the journey.

Making The Most Of What You’ve Got

We saw first hand that leads dropped off a cliff during COVID-19, and whilst the key KPI’s of Leads, Test Drives, Sales and Appraisals have all bounced back to normal (or close to) levels, theres still been an obvious focus from the dealers we talk to on making the most out of the leads you are generating.
+ What will happen in the future?
With sales it’s very easy to fall into the allure of targeting the newer leads that have come into the dealership. Lead conversion to sales generally sits between 20% to 30% for the majority of dealers. Coming out of COVID we’ve seen more emphasis on replying to leads faster, with better quality replies, and working leads more. The feedback right now is that the market is flying high, and whilst it’s possible that over the next 6-12 months there could be fewer leads dealerships and brands will demonstrate a renewed emphasis on not only basic lead management principles as a way to leverage the leads they do have, but mining their existing customers, lost leads, end of finance and appraisals as a way to generate more leads rather than waiting for customers to come to them.
– What will remain the same?
I’ve been told by many salespeople that sales is a numbers game. If you don’t have the leads in the funnel you won’t have the volume to convert to sales down the track. Dealers will continue to look at ways of generating new leads – whether that’s through new brand initiatives, utilizing additional tools and services or branching out how and where they advertise. This is a vital part of keeping a dealership ticking over but will need to be balanced against the need to fully squeeze the existing leads that have already been paid for in time and money.

At AutoPlay we don’t know the future….but with over 80% of the franchise dealer market as customers we have a pretty good understanding of the challenges dealers face in the pre-sale space and we are constantly working to improve our products and services to help dealers meet these challenges head on.