The customer experience needs to always be top of mind at dealerships.

Customer expectations have changed over the years, and shopping and lead-generation have shifted more online.

Dealers who adapted to these changes thrive while the ones stuck in old ways are being left behind.

We are at a point where what happens online and what happens in the dealership are equally important. In order to connect the two, the customer-relationship management system can help in a variety of ways.

Why Online Matters Now

Every dealer is in a different place as far as adapting to the online dealership experience.

Some dealers only do the bare minimum online and have a stock website that doesn’t speak to the customer. These dealers are hoping the customer finds what makes them different instead of putting it out front.

Others differentiate themselves and put a budget and process in place that lets them capitalize on creativity and drive individual brand.

The best dealer website makes the customer experience foremost and serve as a resource for the shopper to search for a car and get time-consuming paperwork out of the way.

Online, dealers have the ability to give customers the options of searching for the vehicles in a controlled environment, structure payments, submit for a cash offer on their trade, apply for credit, view aftermarket programs and accessories and save the work they have completed.

The Dealership Still Matters

With all these capabilities available online, the customer still needs to come to the dealership, as the process of buying a vehicle sight-unseen online and having it delivered remains in its infancy.

If a dealer offers these online capabilities, the most important thing is to recognize work the customer has already done.

In too many situations, customers know the car they want and filled out forms online, only to walk into the dealership and discover no one has any idea who they are, what they are doing there or what they are looking for. (Customers typically are 57% along in the buying cycle when they choose to contact.)

This is why it is important to connect what’s going on online and in the dealership. Dealerships need real-time visibility into customer’s actions on the store’s website and the ability to tie that action to activity in the CRM. That way, when they come in to close the deal, everything is done quickly and efficiently.

Using the CRM

The technology and data collected are important for connecting the digital and the physical. Engaged and alert dealers use technology to make this connection.

Data is the key to a great customer experience. It unlocks so many customer insights. Having access to customer data allows dealerships to personalize each customer experience.

That means understanding what they are looking for, where they are in their unique customer journey and what their current circumstances are in terms of what they are looking for.

Having access to this data is only possible with the right technology in place. At a dealership, using a CRM can help grab that data. Until recently, the CRM did not offer dealers the ability to view customers’ activity online, leaving the dealer with a void in the customer-engagement process.

Today, CRM software gives much data on each customer, including purchase history and conversations.

This allows dealers to both acknowledge previous conversations and use what was entered online to their advantage by filling in what was previously unknown.

All About the Customer

When used correctly, online and dealership activity can help dealers proactively pursue leads rather than wait for the customer to come to them. Connecting the online dealership with the physical facility is a basic form of operating a successful dealership in today’s climate.

Times change, and so does technology. What matters is how we adapt to change. But the customer experience will always be the driving factor.

Mo Zahabi is the director-sales and product consulting at VinSolutions, a Cox Automotive brand that integrates systems and tools to deliver a full view of the customer across a dealership.