why dealers must have robust digital communication tools

Why Dealers Must Have Robust Digital Communication Tools to Engage Car Buyers

Written By Ted Rubin

Narrator: You’re watching Inside Automotive with Jim Fitzpatrick.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Hey everyone I’m Jim Fitzpatrick thanks so much for joining us on another edition of Inside Automotive right here at the CBT Automotive Network.  Today we’re happy to have with us in the studio Mr. Ted Rubin who’s the Chief Executive Officer of ActivEngage a people-powered web-based live chat and communication solutions provider.

 In this segment we’re going to be talking about and discussing the latest insights and trends in the dealer to consumer conversations.  This is something that you’re not going to want to miss because it is at the forefront of every dealer’s mind out there as we move on a completely digital environment and selling vehicles and our sales processes will be online as well.  You all know what I’m talking about. It all happens with a click and it all happens with a phone call so we gotta get those areas right.

 So Ted thank you so much for joining us in the studio. I really appreciate it.

Ted Rubin:   Thanks for having me. I’m thrilled to be here!

Jim Fitzpatrick:  This is a topic that is near and dear to every dealer’s heart, every manager’s heart, everybody that operates a showroom you know “How do we get our hands around this? How do we communicate effectively and help the consumers when they’re trying to do business with us?” We’ve all called dealerships, we’ve all called retailers and companies where we want to crawl through the phone and kill that person or that machine I should say because it’s not getting the job done yet. “We want to do business with this company and the car business is no different.

So talk to us about some of the trends that you see out there and maybe some of the issues that you’ve heard from dealers out there and the pain points they’re having. 

Ted Rubin: Yeah I think that what you point out is really significant, all that stuff that historically people know about from the phones and having people calling and stuff it all translates very specifically in the same way to messaging you know through chat or SMS or all the different vehicles that you can have online. It’s a little bit more intense because now it’s all written down and the customer gets the transcript and they get to know what they’re saying so the days of “hey just come on down or hey give me all this information” yeah you don’t want to be doing that because the customers got a record of everything that you’re doing.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right and they’re gonna bring it in. 

Ted Rubin: They’re going “Oh you said this and the cars here and this is what it is…” and all those kinds of things so I think that people need to be thoughtful about the way that they’re interacting with customers. And I think dealers especially with things like the Safeguards Act and you know title 16 and stuff like that that they want to be careful about what they’re asking for and they want to make sure that the customer is very comfortable with the things that they’re giving over and that they’re not getting things that they don’t need or that are impertinent to the conversation right and I think that that’s where dealers and the industry in general need the most help a lot of times they’re just trying to get everything and it’s unnecessary you want to keep the customer on the path that they should be on for whatever stage they’re in at that moment if they’re researching then you want to be talking to them about the research not trying to push them into a sale at that moment if they’re in the process of the sale then obviously you want to facilitate for them and make it as easy as possible to use digital retailing and things like that. 

Ted Rubin: Just be aware and answer the questions and interact about the things that they want to talk about right and you’re gonna get more interaction more trust and when you get the trust and the faith in you then that’s that’s right build the relationship.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right and you’re gonna stand out among your competitors as a dealer when you’re able to provide that right I mean absolutely that’s the key everybody right now is he has got you know they’re all have Amazon experiences on their mind you know where it’s like it’s easy to do they’ll recommend it a click of the mouse and and man that product is right at your front door. 

Jim Fitzpatrick: Now we go into automotive it almost seems like we’re sometimes in automotive and don’t send me any emails on this dealers but we happen to be late to the game in the technology in retail automotive aren’t we and and I don’t know why that is probably for a multitude of different reasons right but now’s the time as we go into 2023 and we start to see those lots start to fill back up again because it’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel you know where if you get 50 cars this month or 150 you’re gonna sell everyone at sticker price this is not the automotive game as we know right that’s gonna be changing here in in 2023 from what all of the analysts say we’re gonna see more cars there’s already more cars hitting this is the time to sharpen your axe and also get all of these areas your areas of your dealership covered right yes this is it this is what it’s all about.

Ted Rubin:  No I absolutely think so I mean you know you’re talking about conversations with customers so whether you have the vehicles or not the customers are reaching out okay so that’s happening all the time and it’s how you treat those customers. 

Ted Rubin: I was just having this conversation actually with a potential customer for a dealership earlier today and you know if you have a bad interaction with the dealer today whether they have the car or not or the purchase process even if they’re getting a car today. Sure if that’s going badly and the dealer’s like “I don’t care I can sell it to somebody else because I have this car nobody else has it” yeah well but you’re gonna lose that relationship. 

You’re gonna lose that customer and when cars are much more prolific and they’re more available and the customers can go wherever they want you only be alienating these people. They’re gonna remember that and in some cases you’re doing that to a past customer, somebody that’s bought five cars from you already.

Ted Rubin:  I think it’s a good time right now [for] dealers… you know they’re getting fat *laughs*  which is good and I’m a big fan of that for them! I’m happy that the industry is doing really well and it’s had a lot of success during this time I also think you have the availability and the time and the money now to be looking at things trying to identify where can I make, improvements or changes that benefit me and that benefit the customer that are more impactful to be able to make customers want to come to me.

Ted Rubin: In the long run that they’re always gonna want to come back and if you service people well and you give them answers and you give them what it is that they’re looking for then they’ll actually pay the premium willingly to come over and do something with you. They don’t want to fight through things. They do want more of the Amazon experience they want where I can go on and this is what I’m gonna get. I know the interaction is gonna be this way.

Ted Rubin: What’s difficult in automotive frankly you’re not buying an off-the-shelf item you’re buying something that gets customized in a very specific way and so they need someone who knows the process at the dealership that can say “hey look it’s gonna be easy I’m gonna do this for you. This is what’s gonna happen when you’re gonna come in.

You’re gonna see this guy and here’s what’s gonna happen” or “I understand we have a lot of different options. Let me take the burden off of that. Let me help you – why are you looking for what you’re looking?” and that’s a huge question to ask on the phone or through messaging. “Why are you doing this?”

Ted Rubin: Some people will go none of your business and that’s fine it’s really rare that that happens usually they tell you and that why is gonna give you all the insight “How do I help navigate this guy to what I have that he wants?”

Jim Fitzpatrick: You might even find out that that’s not even the buyer. “I’m doing this for somebody.” Okay that information is gonna be helpful or how urgent they’re in the market for a car if “my vehicle was just totaled okay I need a vehicle today. If my lease isn’t up for six months and I’m kind of in that preliminary stage of shopping” I need to know that as well.

Ted Rubin: Right. Absolutely. All of that’s important yeah you need to take that time to you — to build a relationship with the customer so you want this customer to start instilling their trust in you yeah and they’re not gonna do that if you’re very flat if you’re on your own agenda or bots don’t do that very well because they’re just asking the questions that they know to ask right yeah they’re just reading off a list and they’re going well I think this is the next step that I’m supposed to go to so as a bottom and ask this question. 

Ted Rubin: You need to have some more thoughts on intonation, you have to be able to read the conversation even if it’s being written down. And  it’s there and it’s just about experience and training and your ability to understand that so that when the customer really feels like you’re paying attention and that you’re trying to help them they know it. Then they start being really giving about the stuff.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right so we’ve all been consumers on that end so I know exactly what you’re talking about which is a perfect segue. Talk to us about human end-to-end engagement versus bot type experience.

Ted Rubin: I mean everybody’s who if you’ve been on the planet for a long time you’ve ever been on the internet, you probably interacted with a bot,no question. I don’t have a big problem. I think there’s a place for bots and we use technology like that as well kind of in the back end but I don’t like to put it customer-facing. I feel that the bots they’re very impersonal when I get on to websites and if there’s a bot first I want to know that there’s a bot so it upsets me if I’m interacting through messaging and then it’s like oh I’m a bot I’m sorry I can’t answer that question or I start asking questions and it’s giving me the wrong answers OR really different answers.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah exactly standard stuff or “I didn’t even ask that question!”

Ted Rubin: Right! I don’t want that that’s that’s no good. If I know it’s a bot then I’m okay to kind of let me see if I can get to what I want but quickly it seems like I need to be able to get to a person that’s going to be able to answer more questions in the context and content that’s more in line with specifically what I’m asking in the way I want to know. Cars are so personal. They’re there, they really convey a representation of who you are. A lot of people use them that way they buy this car versus that one 

Jim Fitzpatrick: Absolutely. That’s right!

Ted Rubin: It’s like jewelry almost, yeah and so I don’t know would you go online and talk to a bot about buying something that has jewelry for your wife? No probably not.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right!

Ted Rubin: You know you’d say “oh she has blue eyes and blonde hair and she likes these kinds of things sure she likes birds or she likes whatever. It’s just not the kind of conversation that I think that bots can handle to perpetuate I think that you’re gonna see more of them as we go forward as they get better right now they’re not very good so you need that human interaction and that the humanity of it is actually to me, you know, that’s what makes me comfortable I got to a person right okay now I can start asking questions I’m gonna get an answer that is at least communicative to the point that I’m asking.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Which is so important! I saw a recent study that said that, I don’t know and correct me if I’m wrong, but some 70% of all car shopping took place after 7 p.m.  at night I mean in terms of like looking at different vehicles on the internet I fall into that category so I’m like oh this is a great time to do this you know and and if I want to get information and all of a sudden you know a chat pops up or what have you and says “hey how can I help you? Where I’m like oh this is great you know it’s 9 o’clock at night talk to us about that because that is absolutely that’s what people want right?

Ted Rubin: Totally I mean people you know they do it at work so lunchtime yeah as a rolling number at lunchtime. East Coast to West Coast there’s definitely plenty of business.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Not our employees here at CBT News. No never *laughs*

Ted Rubin: No, not here. I wasn’t implying that *laughs*  But you know in a lot of other places that’s something that happens but significantly there’s lots of business you know that transpires basically five six seven all the way up until about just before 11 o’clock (at night). There’s still – you’ll get overnight stuff as well but it definitely tapers off as you get there but there’s an expectation, I mean dealerships typically are open into the evening and things like that.

Ted Rubin:  And just business development centers aren’t usually there (at that time) things like that so there’s a need and there’s an expectation from the customer “I’m gonna be able to get to someone and talk to them if I call the dealership at eight o’clock then I should be able to talk to someone why wouldn’t I be able to do it this way?” . They do want to get to a live person you know to be able to ask questions. There is a high, high volume because the customer has the time now.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And that’s when you want to communicate with the customer about our vehicle because they’re not “under the gun” if they’re at work,  they got a close out the site they got a close yeah they only got five minutes or whatever but if I got home and now I’m on the computer I’m shopping for a vehicle I got the next three hours to do this.

Ted Rubin: That’s right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Have intelligent conversations and and I don’t know about you but I am one that man if you can text me all the information “I’m in. Sure!” you know what I mean I’ve done deals I’ve looked at houses and boats and you name it and it all through text gotten all the information. Have you seen this? Obviously that’s a growing deal right? More people are like “No, no. Keep it on text. ” and so many dealers go for that “Call me right now” and you know “Can we discuss this on the phone??” and I’m like “No, let’s discuss it right here (in text)”.

Ted Rubin: Yeah well I mean listen you know they’d get a transcript right so they’re gonna have a history of it there’s things that you can send afterwards and things like that. I also think that you can leverage the technology a little too much. I’ve seen a lot of products where they’re representatives are just “HEY! What about this? What about this?” They’re just sending over things and the customers like “Wait a minute!”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah!

Ted Rubin:  You know because they’re not listening to the customer they’re just trying to preempt or get through the conversation to get to what their end is instead of just situating themselves “Okay Mr.  customer you lead me through what you want to do and I will give you the answers and help you navigate- -“

Jim Fitzpatrick: Specific to what you’re looking for rather than “Here’s what I think you need.

Ted Rubin: That’s right, right. Yeah I mean you do have to have a certain amount of how things go and you know what people have asked for in the past so that you can kind of have in your mind what customers are gonna do but you don’t want to tell the customer this is what you’re gonna do you know. “This is where you’re going, this is what you’re gonna do. I know you may be thinking you’re gonna go this way right” 

Jim Fitzpatrick: And of course consumers shut down that’s right shut down in the dealership as we know they do they’re definitely gonna shut down in the comfort of their own living room where it’s really easy.

Ted Rubin: Well it’s just a click. 

Jim Fitzpatrick: Just a click. That’s all, right. So talk to us about your mission to make digital the digital consumer experiences with automotive retailers even more engaging using conversational tools because this is the future of the industry. The OEMs want us to be there, the consumers want us to be there. You know everybody’s pulling for the automotive industry to get into this space as quickly as possible and as I said earlier sometimes the dealers go kicking and screaming because they’re like “Wait a minute we’re selling all these cars making all this money! What’s the problem? well you know sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know right but the future is here right and we need to get into this space in a quick way.

Ted Rubin: Yeah I mean listen everything is moving that way: digital retailing and other products have come out like that that are assisting customers in advance of getting to the dealerships and you know in some cases you’ll be able to process all the way through and that’s definitely the future where you’ll be able to do this all online. But I mean again you’re back to it’s a complicated sales process and you’re not selling one thing you’re selling the car, you’re selling the financing, you’re potentially selling a certain types of you do need someone who can be there to help you through those processes.

Ted Rubin: We actually integrate with a lot of different – –  we have a lot of exclusive integrations with Roadster and Darwin and Accelerate My Deal, and GM Shop, click, drive and others yeah where we can help customers navigate through these processes. We’re assisting them as they’re going through the digital return, we certainly want them to go through it sure if we can get them through it but a lot of times it’s just an organic thing as well you want to be able to speak to the customer help them find the vehicle and as you’re finding the vehicle then the customer seems like they may be interested to go further they’ll say to you “Can you tell me what the monthly payment would be and say well it’s about this but if you’re interested I can figure it out exactly for you did you want to submit a credit application?” and you can move them into that if they want to go if they say yeah then you can move them into whatever that digital retailing program is.

Ted Rubin:  And, you know, stay with them and kind of hold their hand through it and I think it it gives them a higher comfort level and there’s a higher likelihood not only that they’ll get through the process right but they’ll actually go to the dealership, show up or have the car delivered and go through the paperwork at that time because they feel like they know what’s going to happen. They feel like someone’s been with them through that process.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure, sure! You know when we hear about Tesla and their online experience and then the way that they communicate with their consumers which is world-class and I think they’ve done a great job in that area we’ve spoken to a number of their consumers and people that have done business with them before the same thing with Rivian and Lucid and all of these companies that said it’s all about the online experience. 

Jim Fitzpatrick: You know it really is and now we see Ford saying to dealers hey if you want to sell EVs right you got to step up, you got to step up your digital game okay then we have to be able to provide this kind for our consumers that are online that call, click, or check us out online before they ever walk into your dealership right? And it starts with this area right it starts with a phone call it starts with a text message does it not?

Ted Rubin: It absolutely does, yeah, you know, I mean these are the digital showrooms right and dealers I think are in favor of all these things as well it it makes it so that you can have a much more robust listing of information and things that the customers’ fingertips to be able to have but just like when you walk into a store you want to be able to –  you may not want to have someone on you right away right but you certainly don’t want to be left alone to your own devices and you’re walking around and you’re kind of looking around and no one approaches you. No one comes up to you, I hate that! 

Ted Rubin: You know I ultimately know that I want to have someone there and they just go “Hey, I’m here, sure let me know when you want it” and so they need to be able to have that interaction, you need to have these services as well I think the hard part is I think that you know you have to have things that will keep the customer engaged right on the website. We came out with something called MyDrive for instance and that product allows you to see like a test drive that was filmed by the OEM, even by the dealer group or even by the individual at the dealer and so you can actually watch this car drive around and you get excited about it.

Ted Rubin: It’s just like the same kind of excitement that you would get watching a commercial on TV. You know –  you can’t really get into the store from the computer, you know you can’t touch the cold steel and feel how nice it is. No holograms yet, you can’t smell the leather and everything so you do have to find other alternatives and I think dealers are looking for those things and they’ve been looking for a while so that’s good and they’re looking for a lot of stuff it’s not just in the messaging space but you got to be able to offer things to the customers that are gonna make them feel like they’re having a similar experience right to that which they would have in the store to build that excitement to get them motivated

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, get them to smell the leather!

Ted Rubin:  Right – or go short of that you get them to smell the leather, you get them in the car you get them to hear the engine and stuff like that and now they’re much more tied into that vehicle.

Ted Rubin: Well if you’re looking at a screen and there’s no visually impacting utility there and there’s no communication or there’s not a good communication there then what is it exactly that’s gonna draw them into your dealerships. I mean what are you doing?

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right, that’s right!So the way that we came about bringing you in today was we spoke to a dealer that said that they shopped their own dealership and they shopped it online and they should then see what that experience looked like. They didn’t do it once, they did it multiple times because they were so down as to what they found at their own stores. 

Jim Fitzpatrick: And this dealer has 20 stores and he says well if I’m if this is happening here it’s happening in 20 others. I can’t take this and they heard about you through a Dealer 20 meeting and they said I’m calling Ted Rubin and I’m getting them in here and you guys got to fix this and then of course you know they said “Hey this is, this is what dealers need to take a look at” because your solution that you’ve come up with what from your perspective – What’s the biggest problem ActivEngage is solving for auto dealerships today?

Ted Rubin: I think it’s it’s taking this very kind of billboard kind of presentation of you know here’s who I am on the dealership it’s a billboard you can’t interact with it it can’t do anything it doesn’t talk to you and we’re turning that into a relationship building asset for the dealer and we’re doing it with real people.

Ted Rubin:  You know it’s always a live person who’s gonna pick up, it’s someone who’s knowledgeable who’s been trained on how to have this conversation. We give training on huge grammar, on spelling and things like that,  things you can or can’t do to interact with a customer plus we have analytics and statistics that we’re constantly evaluating to leverage that information then we go out and twice a week we train all of the reps. “Here’s the trends. This is what people are going towards! This is what they like. This is what they don’t like.” Even conversational aspects of it and so that’s great you need to be able to get the customer to the store if customer is local to you that doesn’t necessarily mean anymore that they’re coming to your dealership they’re gonna go online they’re gonna look around they’re gonna see who’s gonna interact with them the best way.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Today this is local! *holds up smartphone* And the dealer goes “Don’t worry, we’ll ship it to you!”

Ted Rubin: Today, that’s exactly right. You know, your first impression with them is gonna be this communication so you have to be and I’m not saying that dealers can’t do it either. Dealers can buy the technology for sure and we sell just the software and everything the software that we have is built on with our heavy users [our in-house live chat agents] that are like “This is what I need to do better with the dealers and this is what I need to have a better conversation” so they sit here and the developers sit here. 

Ted Rubin: So you know there’s a lot of that making the system better for that but that’s what needs to happen dealers if you’re doing it yourself right they need to focus on “Well how do I have a better conversation and what does that look like? What do I need to do for the customer to make it so that they’re comfortable that they want to buy?” I mean they’ll tell you “Thanks very much, you’ve been super helpful” you know this customer is coming in. Now…when they’re just like “Thanks bye!” 

Jim Fitzpatrick: Oh, you’re in trouble!

Ted Rubin: Yeah, you know what’s happening there they’re just going on to the next guy.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s exactly right! 

Ted Rubin: Yep and it’s not about a price discussion and it’s not about “Do you have it?” discussion. It’s about “Am I gonna get treated okay by this dealership or am I gonna fight through this every step of the way because that’s my expectation?” 

Ted Rubin: Because that’s what I’ve seen there. 

Jim Fitzpatrick: They come in with their fists up, right, and you got to disarm them That’s right, that’s right because they’re coming in ready to pull that grenade and whether it was based whether it’s based on on past experiences that I’ve had with dealerships or maybe things that they’ve heard or what have you it’s and in many cases we’ve kind of done it to ourselves in the industry. I’ve been in the industry you know for many many years. 

Jim Fitzpatrick: And, I look back, that’s probably not the right way to train the salespeople back then you know right and to try to keep everything we could away but times have completely changed and now that customers are demanding. They’re demanding you as dealers do what you need to do to make sure that you bring your dealership up to speed and it starts with a click! This is it right here, these are the solutions that we want to be bringing you at CBT News because you all know in your heart of hearts if you call your dealerships today or you click or you engage with them through text you might not like what you see so don’t blame me, we’re bringing you know the solutions here, [but] it’s up to you to make the call and to check these guys out.

Jim Fitzpatrick:  I’m sure if you call Ted and say “Hey do an analysis on my store, let me know what you think” and then the conversation can go from there but do something in this area if you think because “We’re selling so many cars” or “We’re making so much money” that this is an area you don’t have to worry about and just stay sleeping –  Your competition is gonna eat your lunch so I’m probably gonna send me some emails on that but I mean it and I’ve been you know I’ve done this so many years and I’ve run dealerships and showrooms and been there and shown that and the other thing.

Jim Fitzpatrick:  I will tell you, and dealers know this too, is that I can have the greatest training program in the world, in store,  in my company but the problem is that 70% turnover in the auto industry is what kills my training because unless I’m doing that every single day like you guys actually are at ActivEngage and supporting these men and women that are on the front lines, I can’t typically do it as a dealer you know what I mean and I don’t know what I don’t know so even though I had a great training program and I had a great etc. 

Jim Fitzpatrick:  it’s all for not when 70% of the people are not even at that dealership a year from now right that’s a real problem so dealers need to to align themselves with the right vendors and as I said these are the kind of solutions we want to be bringing so Ted Rubin CEO of ActivEngage, check him out by the way. Are you gonna be at NADA [2023]?

Ted Rubin:  I will be!

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay so check him out at NADA, take 15 minutes of your time and see what this is all about you are gonna thank me later so I’ll take those emails so thank you so much 

Ted Rubin: Thanks for having me yeah

Jim Fitzpatrick: Absolutely.  Thanks for watching Inside Automotive with Jim Fitzpatrick.