Guest Posting by Audrey Knoth
These days, the most believable voices come from individuals, not what your dealers says about itself.
As one who subscribes to Automotive News daily alerts, I’ve come to expect a several-times-a-day dose of once unthinkable news about the auto industry. There may not have been many tears shed over the collapse of the world’s largest Chevrolet dealer, save for those who depended upon it for their livelihoods. We all feel deeply for them. But the fact a giant could topple so suddenly shows how fast change can come, even in the industry long heralded as America’s largest.
Of course, the economy and business are cyclical. After the bad times, the good times inevitably return. However, my firm has handled public relations for auto dealers for more than 15 years and I believe that the industry is facing a watershed moment. Unless dealers embrace the principles of Web 2.0 now, when prosperity comes back, a lot of those who made it through the downturn won’t survive the upswing.
Accompanying the economic crisis is a crisis in consumer trust. People no longer believe what institutions and organizations tell them. I hardly need to detail why; a glance through the headlines about financial executives publicly vaunting their companies right up until their collapse spells it out clearly. But consumer mistrust is not confined to the financial sector. Think about it: who unabashedly believes what any company or entity says about itself anymore?
These days, the most believable voices come from individuals. The recommendation, criticism, or opinion that matters to each of us now is that of a peer – someone else who is “just like me.” In considering a significant purchase, we want to know what someone else “like me” has to say about the product and the experience of buying it. Consumers routinely Google for these comments prior to opening their wallets. What the company selling that product says falls into the category of “information to consider, but not necessarily believe.”
This shift in consumer attitudes has profound significance for the auto industry, which has grappled with decades of public mistrust, anyway. The car business has been struggling to come to terms with Web 2.0. Most executives continue to fear what consumers would say if they opened their sites to dialogue and customer comments. They figure it’s safer not to engage and so the majority of them don’t.
But what may seem safe now is exactly what will prevent many auto dealers from succeeding when the current crisis is over. After the dark economic clouds clear, the sun will be shining on a new era – one in which consumers will be able to spend money, but will only be willing to do so with companies endorsed by “people like me.” Woe betide auto dealers who are not onboard and ready with Web 2.0 then.
Dealers should use this slow period to invest time, resources, and yes, money, into transforming themselves into Web 2.0 operations. Of course, it’s not just a matter of redesigning the dealership’s web site. It’s also a question of training all staff throughout the organization to walk the walk in terms of truly exceptional customer service that builds relationships.
Dealership principals need to give Web 2.0 a seat at the executive table. For dealers who embrace this, the return of the good times will absolutely be great.
About the Author: Audrey Knoth is the Executive Vice President
for Goldman & Associates Public Relations