The opening discussion at the forum centred on the challenges posed by multi-channel marketing, and in particular the rise of digital marketing and social media. The point was made that social media is powerful from an advocacy perspective, but that it can have a negative, as well as positive effect on brand. It was agreed that brands needed to employ a strategy to address the dissemination of content online and react to it accordingly.
One particular issue related to digital marketing was the expectation amongst consumers that brands react in real (or near real) time, which is a significant challenge to the hub and spoke nature of Manufacturers and Dealers or Franchises.
The importance of right time, right place engagement was also discussed with delegates in recognising the importance of harnessing their customer data so that they are able to hit brand advocates with an appropriate offer using the right communications channel at a time when they are likely to be responsive. Other factors discussed included the frequency of engagement, and the tools required to nurture prospect and customer relationships. It was recognised that the systems in place currently were not necessarily capable of achieving what was perceived theoretically.
The Customer Experience
There was a general consensus that the customer experience could be significantly improved across all brands. Many of the issues regarding customer experience stem from the relationship between the Manufacturer and the Dealer, and it was agreed that more could be done to encourage the two to work together more closely. Suggestions for a more joined up approach included the following:
• Educating the Dealer on the importance of good data management, and equipping them with the tools and technology to effect it
• Simplifying the offers to customers to avoid confusion amongst Dealers
• Profiling customers in advance of their visit to a Dealership, in order that they can be advised appropriately and effectively.
• Incentivising Dealers to convert the leads generated by brand marketing. One brand published the conversion rates of its Dealerships as a way of praising high performers and encouraging improvement amongst others.
Overall, the emphasis was on the importance of sharing information, a spirit of mutual understanding between Manufacturer and Dealer, and the need to facilitate both through the use of the right technology.
Another focus of discussion was the vital role that people play in the process. First and foremost, the skill of the sales person who is main point of contact and often responsible for the enduring perception that a customer has of a brand. The importance of training and retaining good sales people was highlighted, as was the need to incentivise and measure their performance effectively. It was also agreed that the communication between departments was a critical element in ensuring a positive customer experience.
Finally, debate was had over how the CRM should be managed and whether it should be controlled centrally or at Dealer level. It was suggested that Manufacturer control was not necessarily more effective, and that once again, the key is collaboration.
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