Tammy Linkfield, senior vice president of Ally Financial Central Region, and Kelly Stumpe, CEO of The Car Mom, discuss developing customer trust amid current inventory concerns and strategies dealers may use to improve their long-term customer relationships
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Jackie Charniga: Hi everyone. This is Jackie Charniga with Automotive News and welcome to the All Ears podcast. This podcast is sponsored by Ally Financial and is produced by the Automotive News Content Studio. In each episode, we delve into topics important to executives in automotive retailing. We tap Ally’s leaders to share their expertise and knowledge to help dealers and others successfully navigate transformational changes in the industry. Today, we catch up with Tammy Linkfield, senior vice president of Ally Financial Central Region, and Kelly Stumpe, CEO of The Car Mom. We'll be tackling developing customer trust amid ongoing inventory concerns and methods dealers may use to improve long term customer relationships. Hi Tammy and Kelly. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Tammy Linkfield: Thanks Jackie, nice to be here.
Kelly Stumpe: Hi Jackie. We're so excited.
JC: Ongoing inventory issues combined with a host of new players and new models in the marketplace have left a lot of consumers reconsidering their options while shopping for a vehicle. Tammy, how might a dealership use this as an opportunity to attract new customers? And what role can developing customer trust play?
T: Thanks Jackie. Interesting times for sure. No doubt the supply chain issues, as all of us have experienced as consumers, but specifically to the automotive industry availability of both new and used vehicles has most certainly presented challenges to customers and to dealers and the dealers aiming to provide a product that satisfies the customer's transportation needs and with all the bells and whistles that customers are used to enjoying. And I think as many of us as consumers really of anything, what we've commanded in this wonderful world of information, resources everywhere is transparency throughout any type of a purchase process. I think we're all creatures of curiosity and having that knowledge base is super important. So specific to the automotive industry and the supply chain issues and availability or lack thereof of certain types of products has, as I mentioned before, presented very specific challenges. I think what we're hearing from dealers, much of that outreach even pre-pandemic starts with the online exploration process of customers and dealers even becoming more sophisticated with their online storefront. We've heard from dealers over the last few years of the critical importance of that online storefront to engage potential and existing customers from the onset. It really starts there with that online storefront and engaging customers through that process.
JC: There are certainly a lot of elements of the sales and purchase process that can build or break trust with shoppers. I'd love to ask Kelly, what do you think about what areas dealers could be using in terms of their sales process to really attract and retain a customer?
KS: I think that now we have our customers coming in so much more educated than they ever have been when it comes in terms of the product. I really think a way to build trust in the sales process is kind of right at the beginning with that needs assessment. I think giving customers a bit more credit for how well-researched they are on the vehicle, knowing what they want, and then also having the patience and understanding of you're asking these customers to make purchases on cars that are not on the lot in some new car cases. I think as an automotive industry, we've always known the importance of you have to show up, you have to drive the car, you have to feel it. And now we're telling customers, okay, you can't do any of that. What are we doing to meet them? This car's not here, but here's how this process is going to look like. And if you do place an order on a vehicle, here's how often I'm going to update you. I think going off what Tammy said that it's, everything's online. These customers are so used to doing not just things in the automotive industry, everything in their aspect. If I'm ordering something, I'm tracking it every day to see where it is and where it's coming. I think putting a little bit more transparency in our ordering process is super important. And I know a lot of it falls on the manufacturers and not on the dealer, but it's weekly updates of even saying, I don't have an update, but I wanted to let you know I checked in on it and here's what it's looking like. I think that would be huge for just giving them more peace of mind about this crazy car buying market right now.
JC: It’s a really interesting point that you've made about not having vehicles available to be sold, but really trying to get customers to understand what the process is going to be like. There's a lot of information that exists online, but F&I information isn't always available in the same way, so I'd love to ask about that. What dealerships could be putting out about the F&I process that would really build trust or get them excited about a process of buying a vehicle that's not yet available?
TL: I would just share just kind of observations over the last few years that pre-pandemic and then during the pandemic specifically, the online shopping or I'll call it the exploration stage or discovery stage of the vehicle shopping process really ramped up definitely more than a few years ago for sure. And that practice of going to six or seven dealerships before they actually landed on one, that obviously was significantly reduced. And so that exploration of just landing on a vehicle, was already present as far as the online shopping experience. But then to your point, Jackie, one of our observations through the pandemic was the critical importance of taking that next step through the sales process that's inclusive of finance and insurance products and putting that out there on the online storefront and at least allowing the customers the ability to see what their options are exploring so taking that exploration part of the vehicle selection process and transitioning it even further into the sales process into F&I. And so, what our observations were where a lot of dealers were investing very heavily in that next part of the evolution of their online storefront to make that information more transparent and more open to customers through that. Lots of work still to do for sure, but dealers definitely saw where that was the next natural step in the online storefront process.
KS: I just think building off what Tammy said, I think it's important to recognize that the consumers are going to be doing the research regardless. They're going to come in more educated than they were on those processes. So, you can either help them out in having to do it on your website, on your terms, with your information, or we can put more friction and less transparency into the F&I process and have them go to a different site and then have them tell you something else. I think just investing that to your customers is going to save time and just build so much trust and value.
JC: Following up on that Kelly, could you share some tips for dealerships focused on building long term customer relationships?
KS: I am so passionate about this. I feel like so much of my platform is assisting women and dealers through the car buying process. But then also, how can I get them to stay on my blog, on my YouTube channel, and on my Instagram page, because I don't want people to fall off once they're out of the market for a car. I’ve really taken that, and I've spent a lot of time creating a lot of content and resources around car ownership, car service, car maintenance, and just some of the fun features that are in our vehicles. I think social media is such a customer facing way to build value and trust and additionally it's putting out helpful resources. I would like to give the example of if you are a Nissan dealership, why not every Tuesday doing a tech tip Tuesday? And we're making our online platform a virtual owner's manual and showing every Tuesday how to use a different piece of technology found on one of these Nissans. And just really telling your customers now that you've bought this, we're going to support you, check out our YouTube channel, check out our Facebook page. We talk all about how to use the technology that's found on the car. And that's really the way that you can continue to, one, stay relevant in their lives and have customers who enjoy their car more because if they know how to use the technology, of course they're going to have better customer satisfaction. A lot of people know, there are so many customers who come in and discover, I've had this car for six years and I never knew it could do that. I think we could do a lot more to educate them. And I know that it can't always happen during the delivery process so let's just move it to post delivery process and have it online.
JC: I agree. I've definitely seen that on social media that people look at their vehicles like a secret or that they've hacked into something when that information really could be coming from the dealership.
KS: There's also a ton of events or themes your dealership could put on as well. You could host a car seat check; you could reach out to a local group of child passenger safety techs. You could do some teen driver content and talk about how you could prep teens. There's so much content to be created around cars that aren't just the buying and selling of them. I always say when you're creating content, you want to make valuable content that people want to consume, want to share, and want to engage with. Putting up a leasing special on your Facebook page every day. Not saying we don't need to do it, but I'm saying it's not a value add. It's not keeping people around. It's not building an audience or community like bringing value to a social media post would.
JC: Just one more question for you both. What might dealers do both during and after the sale to keep customers coming back? Tammy, do you want to start? TL: I'll just reiterate, a point that Kelly made previously is that continuous engagement with customers through any of their needs while they're exploring the vehicle purchase, selecting the vehicle, considering the finance insurance alternatives that are available to them, education on the product in and of itself, and the features and the bells and whistles. Transitioning to any service needs that might come up and really providing the full value proposition from the customer to the dealership continuously, not just when the customer needs it, but that continuous reach out from dealers to the customer so that the customer knows and has that connection with the dealer that they know the dealer's there to satisfy their needs with anything that the customer may have and that they can reach out in a myriad of different ways to connect with the dealership.
KS: I would just add when you build relationships with these customers, try to formulate a plan for what does it look like when you decide to upgrade your car and let them know you're there to support them. I think sometimes as dealers there's such a stigma around educating the customer on exactly what happens during a lease turn in, or there's such a stigma around “I don't want to tell them how to prep their trade too much.” Why would we not be creating content on, when you're ready to trade in, here are some recommended things you could do to increase your trade in value or when your lease is up, here's the process and here's exactly what it's going to look like. Or when you're ready to pass that car down to your teen, here's what we're going to do to make sure it's in tiptop service shape and let them know that you're going to support them through the end of the ownership and how you're going to be there for the end of the ownership. I think people want to be told where that funnel ends and how you're going to support them.
JC: That's it for this episode of the All Ears podcast. A big thank you to Tammy and Kelly for providing those insights. On behalf of Ally and the Automotive News Content Studio, thanks for listening.
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