Evolving to “modern retail”: how to embrace customer-centric car buying

Car buyers want simplicity, transparency, and flexibility. In their Automotive News webinar, Sarah Carter and Mike Anderson share their insights on how to: 

  • Create faster, more efficient experiences
  • Promote transparency and customer confidence
  • Empower bigger roles for sales consultants
  • Offer flexible buying and seamless off-site delivery

Here’s a recap of the webinar. 

What are the biggest challenges and frustrations in the current market today? 

“We’re in unprecedented times today,” begins Mike Anderson. “We’re in an economic downturn of some sort, perhaps not a recession, but inventory shortages and inflation have combined to drive up vehicle prices.” He references record-high average monthly payments topping $700. 

Much of this has contributed to declining consumer sentiment and loyalty. Additionally, dealers are seeing the agency model led by electric vehicle sales. That alternative buying model, combined with abundant dealer markups, means it’s an increasing challenge to give buyers the optimal experience. 

To top it off, dealership employee turnover complicates operations. 

“The auto industry’s turnover rate is above 70%,” Anderson says, which is bad for employees, customers, and business. 

How has the car-buying experience evolved over the years?

“Pre-COVID, online purchasing was happening, of course, but today it’s almost a default form of transaction,” Anderson explains. Customers are more familiar with it and come to expect it from the auto industry, too. They’re even flipping through other inventories while they’re in a dealer’s showroom.

The right technology is crucial. Buyers should be able to find their vehicle, price it, value their trade, and run through the whole transaction online. And they should be able to pick up right where they left off when they come to the showroom. 

As Anderson sees it, “digital retail” is now just “modern retail.” Consistency and flexibility between digital and in-store experiences that allow the customer to drive their own path to purchase—that cuts hours off the process for a seamless, quick, and frictionless experience. 

“It’s very common today to see a guest sitting with the iPad with the Upstart tool, projected up on a large screen, structuring their own transaction in the sales office,” Anderson says. 

What does the dealership environment look like with a SPOC model? 

While Upstart Auto Retail works well with any dealer’s org structure and sales models, some dealers, such as Anderson, choose to embrace single-point-of-contact sales (SPOC). Why go to SPOC?

“It’s what the guest prefers. They want the single point of contact experience. If for no other reason, you need to do it to meet the guest’s expectations,” says Anderson. 

Customer experiences improve with a single point of contact sales model

He emphasizes technology’s role in making the switch to SPOC, and that it’s a gradual change. It involves training sales teams on finance processes and moving F&I office staff out to the sales floor. Sales consultants become “Customer Experience Managers” (CEMs). This process also supports remote transactions and deliveries. 

Head to the on-demand webinar to learn Anderson’s full SPOC staff structure.

How do customers react to SPOC?

“We’ll literally hear, ‘when do I have to go to the finance office?’ and we say, ‘you just did!’” says Anderson. 

Customers don’t like to switch places—they prefer to stay at the same desk with the same person. It’s faster, more efficient, and supports guests whether they’re in the store or transacting remotely. Once the SPOC sales person gets a “yes,” the customer is handed off to a technology specialist for delivery, while sales can work on the next deal. 

Plus, it supports the employee, he explains, by giving sales teams growth opportunities and unlocking earnings from F&I products. 

What kind of results do you see from a more customer-centric, modern approach?

Anderson sees improvements in:

  • Customer reviews
  • Higher CSI scores
  • ROI
  • F&I PVR
  • Overall customer satisfaction
  • Reduced costs of transaction
  • Increased gross profit

(Check out his work at Lexus of Lehigh Valley.)

He also sees sales team retention improvements. 

“CEMs are able to own the process, so I imagine that also impacts the purpose in their role, to be more of an individual contributor in the end-to-end transaction,” Carter points out. 

“Every management book that I read today is talking about employee purpose. Having a team of CEMs changes this career path significantly,” Anderson agrees. 

What kind of pitfalls or challenges might a dealer face?

Compensation plans need to properly reward sales teams for selling F&I products and embracing SPOC. 

And not all current employees will be a fit for SPOC, so you need to shift your hiring criteria to suit the new role. But, you don’t need to completely switch to SPOC immediately, or ever, and there’s no need to remove a traditional salesperson who performs exceptionally. 

“It can be a tough change, but it’s well worth the journey,” Anderson says. 

What do you look for in a vendor for creating a customer-centric approach?

“One word: integration,” Anderson advises. “What damages the purchase experience is going through multiple layers of tech to make that deal happen. Integration means efficiency.”

“Consistency, too,” Carter adds. “The tools you’re using need to be able to communicate, like with integrations, but also, what customers are seeing online, they need that same visual in store.”

Anderson also recommends choosing a vendor that supports your unique business philosophy and can update their solutions to help you thrive. 

Webinar Q&A highlights

Check out the on-demand webinar to get answers to these pressing questions from the audience. 

  • Do you have to be SPOC to use Upstart Auto Retail? (Hint: no)
  • What does a compensation plan look like? Doi you have to change managers’ pay plans?
  • What do you think of the Caravan-style model and how does a dealer adapt to that market?
  • Should dealers expect to lose some F&I staff?
  • Does Upstart Auto Retail integrate with DMS?
  • Does SPOC differ between new and used cars, or luxury and volume brands?
  • What kind of leverage do dealers have over OEMs to institute new buying experiences?
  • At what point do you recommend pulling credit in the SPOC model?
  • How do you overcome the challenge of veteran sales staff’s resistance to SPOC?

Head to the webinar replay or, to learn more about Upstart Auto Retail, head to upstart.com/dealers.

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