Successful online strategies for fueling customer engagement

By Carissa Gingras

It wasn’t that long ago when independent outdoor power equipment dealers were the first place that consumers would go when they needed to make an equipment purchase. Consumers would use the Yellow Pages to find the closest dealership and speak to a salesperson whose job it was to educate them about the different products available. The salesperson’s role included explaining the pros and cons of each product using glossy, full-color brochures; describing how it solved the consumer’s need; and establishing enough trust to ultimately guide the consumer through the decision process and make the sale. A satisfied customer played the important role in generating additional sales through word-of-mouth marketing of the customer’s positive experience.

Today, the Internet has changed the sales process by taking the power of information out of the hands of the salesperson and giving it to the consumer. Not only are consumers digitally connected through desktop and laptop computers, but also through tablets and smartphones that literally put information right in their hands. In fact, according to GE Capital Retail Bank’s second annual Major Purchase Shopper Study, in 2013 more than 80 percent of consumers did extensive research to compare prices right in their own home — and spent an average of 79 days gathering enough information prior to making a major purchase of more than $500, including lawn and garden equipment.

Expanding your online presence

In today’s day and age, having a website is a given. However, having only a website is not enough because it’s just like taking that glossy, full-color product brochure and digitizing it for the Web. Consumers like to interact online with the businesses and brands they support and have a sense of loyalty to.

Facebook, Twitter, and search engines such as Google and other advertising and social platforms are some of the cornerstones in how consumers share and gather information online. Not all platforms are appropriate for every dealer, but finding out where your customer base likes to get information is an important first step in expanding your online presence. Dealerships that embrace these technologies and platforms are able to reach consumers in new and relevant ways, as well as provide the information they are looking for when and how they want it.

Announcing new products, dealership specials, product reviews, benefits for using the dealership, video tutorials, contests, giveaways, customer stories/highlights and safety tips are just some of the ways for dealerships to connect, engage, and establish trust with consumers online much like the old days of in-person, face-to-face conversations.

Expanding your online presence also provides a means for customers to contact your dealership in a variety of ways throughout the year and at different times of the day. It’s not that you have to respond immediately, but giving your customers a way to connect to ask questions or express concerns at any time, knowing they will get a response, will go a long way to establishing the trust needed for long-term loyalty.

Show the visuals

The latest statistics from the National Center for Biotechnology Information confirm that a goldfish has a longer attention span than a human. Sure, it’s only one second longer, but the point is at eight seconds, the human attention span is shortening. There are a countless number of companies trying to reach consumers at the same time and constantly bombarding them with data and marketing messages to the point where it’s information overload. Providing effective visuals through both imagery and video is a way to make it easier for them to sort through the clutter.

Short, how-to or product videos and simple maintenance tips in an easy-to-read infographic are some of the many ways to stand out from the crowd. Dialing in on the right content, such as engine tune-up tips or information useful to customers, will hold their attention and increase the likelihood they will return to their dealership site of choice in the future for more information.

Ratings and reviews are the new word of mouth

To most, there’s nothing better than hearing first-hand accounts from people just like them about the products or services they need. That’s why word of mouth is just as relevant today as it was in the past, if not more so. A December 2012 survey conducted by the Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange revealed that eight in 10 American consumers consider online reviews an important part of their purchasing process.

 Establishing a “Ratings and Reviews” program is the present-day equivalent of word-of-mouth advertising, only digital (though offline word of mouth is still effective). It offers an opportunity for customers to provide feedback quickly and easily. More importantly, it provides the dealership an opportunity to directly respond to and connect with that customer. A Ratings and Reviews program can allow customers to rate their experience, the dealer’s knowledge and professionalism, leave comments, explain why they would or would not recommend the dealership, and more.

Both good and bad customer experiences can spread so quickly online and become “viral,” which can make or break a business as it provides both a direct and indirect impact on sales. The same can be said about a good or bad marketing campaign shared through social media. In an April 2013 survey by Dimensional Research, 90 percent of customers claimed that reading positive reviews influenced their buying decision, while 86 percent said their purchasing decisions were influenced after reading negative online reviews.

A Ratings and Reviews program allows a dealership to respond on an as-needed basis. It’s always good business to thank customers for positive reviews to know they were heard and are appreciated for taking the time leave a review. Having a response plan in place to handle negative reviews is essential. It will show customers that they matter to the dealership. It’s an opportunity to address the situation tactfully (offline), resolve the issue, and reduce any further impact of the negative review to the extent possible.

The benefits of a Ratings and Reviews program include improved customer service response times and the ability for dealers to gain direct insight from its customers and differentiate itself by capitalizing on positive reviews and making adjustments when necessary. This will ultimately lead to more referrals, better prospect conversion and increased sales.

Digital communications

Communicating with your customers on a regular basis by e-mail is another key element to maintaining a connection and keeping them engaged. Creating a monthly e-newsletter with relevant information and topics that coincide with the seasons will help dealerships keep their customer information up-to-date in the database. Because everything is going digital — from car maintenance records to health records — dealerships have an opportunity to turn paper maintenance and service records into a digital history e-mailed directly to the consumer at the completion of the service.

Bottom line: Be accessible

With the technology and social media platforms available today, it’s no secret the Web can be a powerful information tool for consumers. In addition to product searches, more and more consumers each year are using sites such as Facebook and asking their network of family and friends for product recommendations, a sign that they’ve already decided they need to make a major purchase. If leveraged correctly, these platforms can be just as powerful for dealerships to stay connected; engaged; and most importantly, accessible to customers to answer questions, provide useful information, generate sales, and create buzz through good old-fashioned word of mouth (digitally).

 Carissa Gingras is marketing director of consumer engine and service with Briggs & Stratton Corporation. In her current role, she focuses on developing communications for dealers and consumers in the outdoor power equipment industry. She has more than 20 years of marketing experience working with both national and global companies, including General Electric, Honeywell, Ashley Furniture Homestores, Bridgestone/Firestone and Bon-Ton Department Stores.


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