It’s been an interesting week already. Yesterday, I was able to participate in in the Waterloo Region Social Media Summit, hosted by the Small Business Center. The day was full of great information from the generous and talented speakers (to see the stream use #socbizwr). What was telling that in the course of these 24 hours, I’ve listen to Joe Thornley, CEO of Thornley Fallis (@Thornley) keynote at the summit talk about the need for senior leadership in social, returned home and caught this compelling discussion/debate with @tedrubin and @jasonkeath in IBM’s webcast debate the ROI of social media and the need for senior level engagement and leadership (watch here). http://youtu.be/29i4L0mui2U
Today, as I scanned my reader, I came across this great presentation from Sandy Carter, VP Social Business Evangelist at IBM sharing information from IBM’s CEO survey. What’s nice about this short presentation is the key takeaways and the excellent examples of CEO’s that have embrace social to engage with their customers and how they are empowering their employees to do the same. Both are worth your time.
When we lasted visited our story, Joan and I were heading back to our home town from a day of work and meetings, still missing that key ingredient to making an informed decision for our impending car purchase.
Having determined that the one dealership in London did not have the model we were interested in, we head out to the second dealership, conveniently located along the route home. What I haven’t shared to this point, is that we have a 3 year old dog at home, that insists upon sharing his dissatisfaction with us if we’re out too long or he’s not feed at a respectable hour. With the weight of the day and the impending mess at home, we were anxious to get the test drive under our collective belts, get home, relax and discuss the purchase.
We arrived with anticipation at the dealership, and to be fair, explained that we would not be purchasing today, but wanted to test drive a particular model. The person who greeted us was less than welcoming and we were ushered to a sales representative. Our representative, even after being told what we wanted, insisted on going through the process (even handing us a pamphlet of the car we’d already thoroughly checked out). After a firm but determined reiteration that we were here for a test drive, we were told they’d check. Minutes later our rep confirmed what we already knew, that they had the models on site and he’d have one brought in from the back for us. Twenty minutes later, we were in our car and heading home, still without having a test drive. During that period we were ignored, nor given any updates on the status of our request, despite the rep walking past us a number of times.
There was one more hope, on the route we were taking was another city, Woodstock, that had the same car manufacturer. We’d make a quick stop there and inquire. We arrived and finally were given the opportunity to test drive a vehicle. Having done our test drive, the rep proceeded to try and sell. We’d gone so far we agreed to wait to chat to the Business Manager to discuss the options, etc., twenty minutes later, we learned the business manager was still tied up. We left explaining we’d use the online application available. To make a long story shorter, we ended up purchasing the vehicle, only after the online application failed, making two additional trips to the dealership to fill out the paperwork and so forth, and then finally picking up the car – the Friday before Joan was slated to start her new job on the Monday. What should have been a 3 – 4 day process at the absolute most, ended up being a 2+ week odyssey that resulted in our getting the make and model, but not the colour. The car was brought in from another nearby dealership (likely one we’d already visited). If not for the warranty, the few additional bells and whistles and favorable financing options, we’d have walked away ages ago to the trusted and know brand. In fact, the process is on going. One of the dealerships, the one with the booked test drive and had the car in the mall when we arrived, continues to send us messages about our missed opportunities on their latest offers. Laughable.
The purpose of these posts is not to vent, but to illustrate the need for organizations to integrate their online and real world businesses. Even when a “dealership/franchise” opportunity exists, if the proper processes where in place, imagine how much easier this journey could have worked. From our initial contact, the car manufacturer could have assisted in the process, by identifying available models on the lot (I’m sure they have the info from an inventory management perspective). The systems could have been tied to provide a test drive format (booking) as was offered, even if it meant bringing the vehicle in from another dealership to the one physically closest to us. How the manufacturer and dealerships split the commissions or swapped vehicles (as was our case), could have and should have been seamless to the buyer. We didn’t need to be sold, other than the performance of the vehicle in our hands. All we needed to know, based on our research, was whether or not Joan would be comfortable in her daily 2 hours of travel, to and fro from work and home. There was absolutely nothing that the representatives brought to the process. The front end could have captured more information on our “pain points” and aided in a wonderful experience. In current literature, you’ll read a lot about collaboration and social and business customer relationship management systems and how to improve the customer experience. These tools aren’t meant to replace the human interaction but enhance them.
Imagine, if when we started our journey and shared our information, we were asked to fill out a quick evaluation to identify what we knew and understood about their vehicle and options. The questionnaire would identify opportunities for meaningful discussion with the rep, not the walk around and reiteration of features we already knew about. Clearly we’d have been much more impressed and not felt like our time was being wasted. We also would likely have raved about a system that seemed individualized, even for an international car manufacturer. Isn’t that after all what the process is all about.
In her book “The Zen of Social Media Marketing”, Shama Kabani, discusses the A.C.T. principle. Kabani explains that the A stands for Attract, the C for Consume/Convert and the T for Transform. During this process, we had been attracted to the brand from our online research. We consumed the abundant information available from the manufacturer, industry thought leaders and friends with their experience with the brand. It was during the “convert” stage, that the process feel apart. Because of our experience, they have lost the opportunity to transform us into brand advocates. In fact, if anyone asks me for a recommendation, the trusted brand with the used car and their valiant efforts to get us in one, is who gets the nod.
Understanding the “buyer persona” is fundamental to doing business well today. Listed below are some great resources for you to consider. I hope you find your sweet spot. I know that if a prospect approached me with, I’ve done my research, I like what I see, I need to check out this one element and then I’ll be happy to do business with you – I’ll feel like I’ve done my marketing correctly.
Recently my partner Joan needed to purchase a new vehicle. She’d accepted a new position 60 kms down the road and wouldn’t be able to walk to work any longer. The new role was a dream opportunity, however purchasing the vehicle wasn’t a dream experience. What should have a been a slam dunk sale/purchase, turned into an odyssey that even Homer would have cringed at (OK maybe not so melodramatic).
Being converse with modern technology, having owned vehicles in the past and having a really good idea of what she wanted to drive, Joan did what any self-respecting digital native would do, she started her search online. Her research included; makes, models, new vs. used, gas mileage estimates, safety reports, financing options and more. Joan is, if nothing else, thorough. Having completed her on line research, the final decision was between a used model vs a new model. The used vehicle was a brand we both new and liked. It was available in the color and transmission(standard) that Joan wanted, however, it did not have a warranty and would be slightly more money to carry on a monthly basis. The new vehicle had everything that Joan was looking for, including some bells/whistles that she hadn’t considered, and the warranty; but neither of us had driven the brand before. Thus, the final decision was going to be based upon the driving experience between the two vehicles. A test drive was in order and we set out to do just that.
And this is where our odyssey began, where technology used in the consumer journey, meets the standard and traditional sales organization. As I noted, other than a test drive, the decision was essentially made. In the digital side of our search, we were offered the following items in the “Shopping Tools” menu from the new car brand:
Price a Model – Compare – Calculate a trade-in value – Request a Quote – Book a test drive.
Well what would you do, yep, we tried to book a test drive. I’m a Star Wars disciple and I realize that “there is no try”. The first attempt was for the new car. Using the on-line tools provided, we sent the request to the local dealer (in our City). A couple of days went by and we did not hear back. So undeterred and not afraid of a phone (after all the system was showing they had the model on the lot), we called. Joan actually spoke with a representative and mentioned that we wanted to book a test drive. The response was “OK, we’ll call you back and do that”. To this day, we’ve yet to hear from them.
With the clock ticking (we had to have the car available within a three week period), we decided to try the nearest dealership in the next city up the road. We called and scheduled a test drive for the coming Saturday. We were in luck, they had the model on the lot. In the interim, we went to the local used car dealer (brand) to see if the car we were interested was available (it was on their website). It was still on the lot. In all honesty we told them what we were considering the other model and why. They were quite happy to put zero pressure, just take our information and put us on the road. As was expected from a known product, the car handled exactly as we expected. If the new car didn’t handle or perform as was reported, we knew the used car was what we were getting. The decision, but for one critical piece of information that could not be found online, was made.
The lesson here, to enhance the customer experience, tie together your online presence and your brick and mortar reality. I’m sure a part of the disconnect is the dealer/manufacturer relationship, but for the consumer, that’s not our issue. Somewhat frustrated we looked forward to the test drive on Saturday. Oh did I mention, now our 10 year old would be in tow.
Saturday came, we did our chores, packed up the boy and headed out to the dealership, looking forward to a positive experience and likely starting the paperwork on the purchase of a new and second family car.
We arrived at the dealership. The first clue that we were in trouble, the staff on duty did not know anything about the appointment and to boot, the standard vehicle that we wanted to test drive, was not actually on the lot. No, it had not been sold; it was sitting across the street in the local mall on display. We were given the option of test driving the automatic version and since Spencer had been promised a test drive, we did that. However, the experience left much to be desired and we still didn’t have our answer.
As someone involved in marketing and an inbound marketing enthusiast, I was dismayed. The system had let us down twice. Somehow, our initial online attempts to book the test drive and our call to the second dealership had not been entered into a customer relationship system and tagged to the vehicle we wanted to purchase, with an appointment scheduled in a calendar for our arrival to do the test drive. Fortunately for the new car brand, we had to go to London (ON) on Monday, and they had two dealerships there. We’d give them a try since we were going to be in the city any way. While Joan was at her appointment, I called the first dealership closed to where we were. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the standard car we were looking for on the lot, but the other London dealership did. After our appointments for the day and on our way home, we’d stop and get the test drive in.
We’d gone from a very positive online experience in searching for a second family car, to “why won’t anyone sell us a car”? All along the inbound track, there were plenty of opportunities for the new car brand to enhance and improve the customer experience. They had the opportunities to capture our information, coordinate amongst the six dealerships within a 60 km radius to deliver a vehicle for the test drive. If any of that were the case, you’d be reading the brand name here and this post would have been done when the car was initially purchased, almost a year ago. I can imagine that the brand and the dealerships have invested heavily in their technology, I know they have in their marketing, yet not in maximizing both with their service and the customer experience.
In his recent blog post “Why do we care about football”, Seth Godin noted “how the sport turned into a cultural touchstone”. He illustrated his point with the equation; ” Tribes -> TV -> Money -> Mass -> TV -> Tribes”. The article is a great reminder of how the golden age of television and the NFL evolved together from the mid – late 60’s to today.
What was compelling for me, was his assertion that other than the Super Bowl game itself, the “mass TV” component of the equation is all but basically over.
I’d have to say I agree and we’ve seen it with the splintering of cable vs traditional broadcast networks. Even the ads for the Super Bowl that everyone used to have to wait for, were available on-line days, if not weeks in advance of the game, building their own culture. As someone involved in marketing and the whole customer experience, it’s apparent to me daily that there is definitely a shift in consumption. Instead of one to many, the relationship is much more intimate. Godin noted:
The new media giants of our age (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) don’t point everyone to one bit of content, don’t trade in mass. Instead, they splinter, connecting many to many, not many to one. The cultural touchstones we’re building today are mostly not mass, mostly not for everyone. Instead, the process is Tribes -> Connections/communities -> Diverse impact… So instead we build our lives around cultural pockets, not cultural mass.
It was the last line that really struck home and what I try to focus on with each client I work with. Each is a unique business, with their own set of values, needs and yes, issues. Working with them to identify their abilities, to create value for their clients, to separate them from the pack and help build meaningful relationships with their customers, vendors, staff and the community at large is my focus. The fun for me has been in exploring the various tools available; be it social media and traditional marketing platforms, customer relationship management systems, workflow management systems, measurement systems or crafting the strategies/tactics to help them meet and even better – exceed their organizational goals.
In the Diverse Message blog, we’ll be seeking to cover all of these various themes and will be turning to qualified professionals in many areas to bring the best possible information to you. I imagine that on occasion we will come across some divergent positions, as the new tools for business continue to evolve but that just expands our discussion and understanding.
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