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Maritz: Car Shopping a Lonely Journey, Dealers Missing Opportunities

November 26, 2013

ST. LOUIS — According to a new study by Maritz Research, the automotive industry is missing an opportunity to build long-term customer relationships, with one in five customers never hearing from their dealer immediately after their purchase. The study also found that 75 percent of in-market customers were never contacted by dealers who already know them.

“It’s clear that dealers who focus on a single sale miss the bigger picture of the customer journey,” said Chris Travell, vice president of strategic consulting for the Automotive Research Group at Maritz Research. “People will buy numerous vehicles in their lifetime, so staying in touch with them throughout the ownership of their current vehicle — not just after making the sale — will put a dealer in the right place at the right time to assist customers with their next purchase.”

The Automotive Customer Journey Study polled more than 4,200 car buyers on what they think, feel, want and need when it comes to purchasing a new vehicle, as well as what they need to hear as owners throughout their journey.

The following are the study’s key findings:

Dealers aren’t thinking beyond the sale: After dealerships closed the deal on a new vehicle, one in five people said they were not contacted right after the purchase. “We never heard from the dealer after the sale; no service offers, no purchase follow-ups, nothing,” said one respondent. “Everyone always calls right after you buy a new vehicle when there should not be any problems. No one ever calls 12 to 36 months later asking if everything is alright.”

More customers are in the market than you’d think: One year after purchasing a new vehicle, 40 percent of customers are already thinking about their next purchase, even if it is a few years away. “A purchase anniversary follow-up … would have been a big plus. Maybe we are ready for a new [car] and perhaps a call would help us decide,” said one consumer.

Dealers should communicate more, as long as it’s relevant: One in five vehicle owners received too little communication. The study also found the longer someone went without contact, the more dissatisfied they became and the less likely they were to buy again from the same dealership. “Too little contact may mean the dealer doesn’t care about [my] satisfaction … more personalized customer service would help promote loyalty for the product and dealership.”

Dealers need to use the information they have: Seventy-five percent of customers were never contacted by their dealer or manufacturer when they were actively looking or thinking of buying a new vehicle, despite the dealer knowing when the lease was up or the finance term was over. “I would like someone to contact me closer to the end of my lease to discuss options for a new lease and prices,” one respondent said.

Communication changes over time: Customers expect to hear from the brand and dealership throughout the ownership of their vehicle. The desired communication changes over time, whether they’ve owned the vehicle six months or six years. “I wanted them to contact me, just to see if I had any complaints, problems or input,” a respondent said.

More and more, prospective buyers go online to research potential purchases and read reviews of others’ experiences. Some avoid dealerships altogether. Because of this, the customer is more prepared than ever and expects the relationship with a dealer to provide them value.

The good news is consumers want a stronger relationship with their selling dealer, with 62 percent of those not contacted after their vehicle purchase indicating that they would have liked to receive some form of communication.

“This increase in communication doesn’t mean more direct mail,” Travell noted. “Customers want information that’s helpful to them depending on where they are in their ownership lifecycle. It’s about the right type of communication at the appropriate time.”

To help turn a lonely customer journey into one with more support and contact, Maritz Research has developed a new solution — Maritz Connect — that leverages existing customer relationship management (CRM) data and helps bridge the gap between customers’ attitudes and behaviors. Slated to be released before the end of 2013, Maritz Connect will enable companies to understand what their customers want, need, think and feel in order to have an ongoing, two-way conversation.


  1. 1. David Ruggles [ November 29, 2013 @ 06:35PM ]

    This flies in the face of common sense. Every dealer I know is in contact with buyers to coach them on the CSI survey that will come in the mail. Most dealers I know engage in a variety of direct mail campaigns. Mail is contact. Telephone calls are contact. So are emails. It is possible consumers don't understand this and aren't thinking of it when asked the survey questions. Maritz should know this. With all the dealers using CRM systems, these stats just aren't possible.

    This is not to say the industry doesn't have issues based on the turnover of sales staff in the business. But these numbers make no sense.

  2. 2. Michael Allenson [ December 03, 2013 @ 01:41PM ]

    Thanks David for the post on our Customer Journey study. In fact you raise very important points about what OEMs and dealers are doing today to communicate with customers versus what consumers are looking for in communication from their dealer and the OEM that made their vehicle.

    I posted a blog just this morning on several of our Maritz blog sites on just this issue. The paragraph below is pulled directly from my post: “So, are the OEMs and dealers really not contacting customers? Let’s answer that question a little indirectly. There is little doubt that pretty much all customers have received a CEM survey ostensibly to check on their satisfaction. It is also quite likely they have received a variety of emails or direct mail pieces from the OEM and dealer CRM systems.” So in regard to your point, we at Maritz do understand that this customer communication is happening, but that begs the question why is there a disconnect?

    Customers are looking for more engagement, not one-way dialogue. We have to recognize that a customer’s feelings toward the dealer and the OEM and needs from them don’t just center on transactions with the dealer (vehicle purchase, delivery or a service visit), but evolve all throughout their customer journey. We need to continue to make sure our processes are working, but we also need to focus on the customer journey to make sure we are there when they need us.

    We believe there are unmet needs and an opportunity for dealers and OEMs to better engage customers, which will lead to stronger relationships and increase customer loyalty.

    Please feel free to read today’s blog, which gets into more detail on solutions, in its entirety.


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