Americans are increasingly going online to begin – and sometimes complete – the car buying process. A new study from data company Freckle IoT found that a significant majority, 59 percent, of Americans now do part of their car buying journey online. The report, entitled, “Freckle IoT Path to Purchase: U.S. Automotive Footfall Report,” covered the fourth quarter of 2018.

“Targeting the correct core audience has never been more important as market pressures weigh heavier on automotive dealers nationwide,” wrote the report’s authors. “Technology and specific shopping behaviors seem to be interjecting themselves more predominately than ever, making consumer data vital for success.”

Expectations of Instant Responses

The rising prevalence of the Internet as a tool has significant implications for auto dealers. Vehicle shoppers, particularly younger ones, are engaging in searches for vehicles at all hours of the day, and they expect nearly instant responses from the dealerships they reach out to. Customers may be reaching out via email, Web forms, telephone, text, Facebook, mobile app or more. Regardless of which channel they choose, they want fast and reliable results. To try and keep up, dealerships are having to struggle to pull all their communications platforms into a centralized location to ensure that they’re meeting customers demands.

Multichannel Marketing

Multichannel marketing is the practice of interacting with customers via multiple channels, directly and indirectly, to sell them products and services. It’s customers who are driving how they get information from your organization. Along the way, customers will develop a preferred way of contacting you – though they won’t always stick with the same channel – and you need to ensure that you’ve built an equally robust customer support response regardless of channel. You also need to ensure continuity: for example, if a customer calls you the first time and texts you the second time, you’re aware of the previous call so the customer doesn’t have to explain herself all over again.

“Because a shopper can move seamlessly between several different channels while ‘interacting’ with a dealership, they expect their preferences to move with them,” wrote Shoshana DuBow for Digital Dealer. “At the most basic level, when someone communicates with a dealer via email, they expect a follow-up phone call to be based on that previous conversation, even though it was on a different medium.”

Centralize Your Tools

It’s no longer enough that you’re giving multiple communications channels the attention you think they require. If they’re operating in a siloed manner, disconnected from one another, you’re limiting your success. It’s vital that all channels find their way to a centralized communication “nerve center” so they can be considered part of a broader view of the customer journey and not just a collection of unrelated contacts. You also want to make sure these communications are part of your outbound marketing efforts. If they’re not, you’re missing opportunities to sell. This kind of centralized communications for inbound and outbound contacts is often referred to as “omnichannel marketing.”

There are software platforms that can help achieve this. Busy contact centers have been doing this kind of omnichannel communications and marketing for years, so it shouldn’t be difficult to adapt other customer support tools to the auto retailing industry. According to Deloitte, any software solution for omnichannel support and marketing should be able to engage customers during their research phase; manage cross-channel customer touchpoints; maintain efficiency during transactions; align store formats with digital experiences; and engage customers throughout the lifecycle of their relationship with you.

These omnichannel tactics are necessary for auto dealers to move forward in an industry that is poised to provide the ultimate customer experience and achieve growth for the long term.