The Key Differentiator for Dealership Success in 2021

2020 brought many new experiences for consumers regarding their shopping behaviors from everything between groceries, restaurants, and prescriptions, to anything and everything on Amazon. One shopping experience that also changed dramatically was the purchase process for both new and pre-owned vehicles.

With COVID restrictions limiting consumer’s onsite dealership visits and more of the shopping process moving online, we now enter 2021 at a crossroad:

Should dealerships continue to move even faster to embrace this new modern remote retailing process?

The active embrace of Digital Retail technology in the automotive industry has helped speed up the sales process by giving customers the ability to search, shop and handle some of the paperwork online, but the customer experience element is often forgotten

Simply putting pieces of technology on a website without connecting them to a desired customer experience will cause more frustration for consumers.

Whichever strategy a dealership looks to embrace, customer experience will be a key differentiator for automotive dealership success in 2021. 

Competition for Consumer’s Attention

Consolidation in the dealership landscape means smaller automotive groups or single point locations will be competing with larger automotive groups like

The larger groups have the ability to leverage their size to outmatch in most other categories such as marketing, inventory and hiring top employees – even from outside of the automotive industry.  Which is why it is imperative small groups and dealerships dominate the customer experience differentiator whenever possible. 

Tip: Think, if all dealerships are offering low prices based on the manufacturer’s initiatives, the only thing to compete with is customer experience and satisfaction!

How should a dealership inspect and adjust their customer experience?

Before moving forward, please take part in this short exercise:

Think of a business where you encountered a fantastic customer experience.

Possibly a restaurant, a hotel, or vacation away with loved ones.

Why did this experience stand out versus all of the other customer experiences? For most, it was how they felt during and after the experience that resonated.

What resonated? Use the following questions to help you identify and categorize the memory.

Location: How did it look? Was it beautiful? Was lighting a part of the impact or music to create a certain mood?

Employee Interaction: How did employees greet customers or deliver service? Were there small, unexpected touches or an acute attention to detail? Did they think of everything one needed ahead of time or before anyone could ask? How did they interact at the end of the experience or in the following weeks after the experience?

Gratitude at End of Business Experience: Did the business build the experience with the customer’s needs in mind, or their own?

What Resonates with People About Your Dealership? 

Pivoting back to dealerships, (or any business), what if customers could feel a similar and fond way every single time they interacted with dealership’s staff?

What if customers, when asked to recall a great customer experience, named your dealership?

With all the competition in the automotive industry, how a dealership makes their customer feel is key to their success.

Focus on These Three Things

There are two areas current dealerships must focus on to create great customer experience: Online and In-store. Let’s look first at in-store experience and then move online.

ONE | Location

  • When was the last time management walked the outside of the business as if they were seeing it for the first time?

Too often we all stop seeing what is in front of us. Going back to the previous exercise, what stood out about the location of the fantastic experience?

  • As a customer enters the dealership, is it welcoming?
  • Is it clean, inviting, easy to discern where to go for assistance or to check in?

TWO | Interaction with Staff

Visualize your dealership’s experience as if you were the customer walking through the front door, and ask yourself: 

  • Is there a consistent process for greeting customers? Or is it left to the employee to decide
  • Is there a consistent process for welcoming them into the dealership, getting them settled, offering them something to drink, explaining where the restrooms are etc.?
  • Was communication of information and pricing clear and easy to understand?
  • Is everything in place to bring comfort to the customer?Or does it create obstacles?
  • Are there times when a customer is left alone or passed from one person to the next?

This process may uncover that your dealership may not have a process set up, or one is not being followed as planned.

THREE | Gratitude at End of Business Experience 

Once the customer has completed their business, the final interaction is vital to determining in establishing a relationship and can determine if they will be back for service, give referrals or write a review.

  • How is the interaction concluded?
  • Is there a process where a manager is involved showing their appreciation?
  • Is there a process of explaining how the dealership will follow up to make sure everything is working correctly or scheduling service appointments?
  • Is the presentation of the vehicle done in a way that presents all of the technology and answers questions before the customer has even thought to ask?
  • Or are customers left to figure certain things out themselves because the transaction has been completed?

Would one think, upon inspection, is this creating a memorable experience for customers?

Document All Positive Aspects of the Inspection, and Highlight Areas that Need Adjustments

As our focus shifts to online, the same inspection should take place and continue the experience that businesses are creating in store. The website should be considered the online location for your business.


  • Is the customer greeted with a welcome message or a brand message which shows the dealership’s commitment to customer experience?
  • Or is it just a list of inventory and pricing?
  • Is information easy for a customer to locate and do they understand how to use the tools on the website?

Too often tools are placed on the website and the staff understands their function but rarely will a consumer.


TIP: Add in videos or content explaining how to use the tools on your businesses website for a more user-friendly experience.

Interaction with Staff

This can be one of the biggest challenges to creating a great customer experience. Click through the website and stop at a product page (VDP).

  • How easy it is to understand what the customer should do?
  • If a customer has a question, is it easy to connect with staff?

Or when a customer clicks on a button to ask a question, with the assumption they will speak to someone, they are presented with a form to fill out.

Once submitted, it is more than likely that the customer would receive a response later that day or even the next, but the process is designed for the convenience of the dealership, not the customer.

Even if the customer does connect with dealership staff, ask this:

Is the process to answer questions in a transparent manner, giving pricing over the phone or chat or email? Or is the process designed to only give specific information if the customer comes in person? 


Gratitude at End of Business Experience

  • How is the process designed if a customer begins their experience online?
  • Is the information saved and reviewed?
  • Is the customer thanked for using the technology or setting an appointment?

In many cases this is the best part of the process because a transactional piece of the process is finished.

TIP: Take the time to review all voicemail messages, email templates and phone conversations to make sure they align with the desired customer experience.

Create a long term value proposition to present to previous customers reminding them of how your service levels exceed others. This will be sure to keep your business at the top of your customers mind when consideration for other services occur.

Customer Experience is Key to Success in 2021

Customers now look for convenience, transparency and service.

Consumers will continue to view businesses on quality of products, but with continuing restrictions for in store experiences or even the desire to do more online, time is becoming a prized commodity.

How dealerships develop and deliver their exceptional customer experience is key to long term client retention.

Reverse engineer the desired experience from the customer vantage point backwards. This will allow management to experience what the consumer will.

Remember why that certain customer experience stuck in your head, and then make adjustments in your own business to give your customers an exceptional experience to look back on for years to come.

If you found this helpful, please share. If you need help you can reach out to me directly with the email button below.

You can also join us for a one day learning event, Digital Retailing Simplified this March. Click here for more information. 


Glenn Pasch

Glenn Pasch is a Partner and CEO of PCG Digital. Glenn continues to author articles for multiple industry publications, blogs and forums as well as continuing his writing online at

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