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February 1, 2022

Q&A with Jason Palmer, Vice President, Dealer Solutions at Solera

By the Solera Insights team

“There are some revolutionary marketing strategies today that immerse customers into a fully motivational and experiential buying experience. For example, dealers can now leverage consumer preference information collected by the dealer to provide more targeted messaging on streaming platforms like Hulu or TikTok. This approach not only provides the customer with a unique, memorable experience, but also helps generate and contribute to a rich set of ongoing data the dealership can leverage to advance the customer through the purchase process faster and with a better experience. I am personally very excited about the innovation coming to the dealer space and look forward to how this all comes together.”

Solera’s Jason Palmer, Vice President, Dealer Solutions, answers a few questions that address dealership transformation; turning the car buying experience upside-down; and what consumers are really looking for when buying or repairing their vehicle.

What makes Solera the “global leader in vehicle lifecycle management” – and why should dealerships care?

Well, Solera got its start transforming the automotive industry in the 1960s when we forever revolutionized vehicle insurance claims with the first automated vehicle repair system. Since then, Solera has expanded and now leverages its SaaS and data analytics platforms to accelerate the success of dealers, insurers, repairers, and fleets in over 100 countries.

Now, with more than 1 million daily global transactions, we’re changing the way vehicle insurers, repairers, dealers, and fleets provide value to their customers. Our AI-enabled technologies apply proprietary algorithms on the most robust collection of vehicles, repair, performance, and telematic data and analytics in the industry to deliver actionable insights and streamlined workflows that accelerate business outcomes.

In short – if you’re a dealership that wants to intelligently and intuitively engage with your customers to drive the best outcomes, you need the best data and solutions informed by decades of industry experience to get you there. That’s what we offer at Solera.

When you look at the automotive industry, what are the top trends that come to mind and why?

At Solera, we believe there are three distinct trends that are moving and transforming the industry.

The first trend highlights a change in how consumers shop. Today, the vehicle buying process is largely both customer-led and customer-centric. The sales journey no longer starts with a trip to the dealership. Instead, it usually begins when the customer performs extensive online research on a variety of platforms regarding the current vehicle market as well as the best features and value for their needs and budget. The customer may choose to engage with a dealer as their journey continues, but they will also want to choose when and where. For this reason, modern dealers must be much more virtual, proactive, educational, and dynamic in their customer interactions to stay competitive.

The second trend focuses on dealerships providing more flexible methods for prospective customers to shop for and buy a car. Dealers should cater to the customer-centric buying journey and provide plenty of online resources as well multiple innovative options like video messaging, virtual vehicle walk-arounds, at-home test drives, and seamless digital transactions. The goal is to create a flexible, friction-free, customer-driven experience that makes it as easy as possible for them to buy a car, sell a car, initiate a trade-in, or even find the right financing to suit their needs – when, where, and how they want.

Dealers that can evolve quickly to this new approach will be able to compete with the third industry trend disrupting the market: direct-to-consumer retailers. Companies like Tesla, Rivian, Lucid, and Carvana are making the previously requisite trip to the dealership entirely optional and giving customers the option to choose what their car-buying journey looks like. Similar to what happened in e-commerce with expedient shipping and pick-up options, it won’t be long before consumers become accustomed to this type of experience and begin to expect it.

Essentially, today’s top industry trends center around how easy it is to shop for and buy a vehicle. The easier and more convenient you make it for a prospect to engage, the better. That’s why Solera focuses on solutions that pave the way for dealers to be more flexible with when, where, and how they can engage with their customers.

What are the key areas dealerships should focus on while the automotive industry is under a mass-transformation? How does Solera’s Vehicle Solutions portfolio enable this?

Dealers should focus on partnering with a vendor who helps them unify their operations by removing friction for customers and employees. By bringing customer and vehicle data into a single consistent view, dealers can start to innovate and automate how, when, and where they engage with consumers.

Once dealers achieve a unified data view of information gathered from rich customer engagements, solutions like those Solera offers can start to apply intelligence to trigger intuitive interactions that deliver an informative interaction with buyers. This will reveal the necessary intelligence required to move the customer through the buying process and empower dealerships to improve efficiency and maximize revenue.

Additionally, make sure you engage with consumers on the newer, interactive, rich-media marketing channels where they spend time. For example, it’s important to pay attention to newer, immersive channels like TikTok or interactive TV where you can connect and engage with consumers on their terms. By doing so, dealers will get more quality input at the top of the sales funnel and increased engagement throughout the buying process.

After you have successfully leveraged rich, interactive channels as part of your marketing mix and filled the top of your funnel, it’s important to continue these immersive experiences throughout the selling process. Consider offering things like video conferencing, multimedia messaging, and mobile apps as an option when connecting with customers during the various buying stages.

Make transactions as virtual as possible. Enable customers to easily engage with your dealership throughout the purchase process.

Essentially, examine ways to retain and build the lifetime value of a customer. Bring seamless engagements, intelligent offers, trade-in value transparency, and streamline vehicle repair and maintenance experience.

In essence: focus on making interaction easy.

What are some of the innovations dealers are taking advantage of today that cater to customers’ digital experience?

Fixed operations for dealerships is big business and continues to be a financial foundation for many. However, repairing your vehicle is never a welcome expense. So, making this type of engagement as friction-free as possible will delight your customers and create a more positive, less stressful interaction.

Solera has focused for many years on the service lane – especially on how to optimize and expedite engagements. Our fixed-ops solutions can enable dealers to offer scheduling inspection, write-up, and checkout tools for a transparent service experience.

Offering a flexible repair service will surely create customer loyalty and referral traffic that will make your Fixed Operations the talk of the town.

With a fully immersive digital experience, how do dealerships keep track of the data? How should dealers leverage this data today to grow their business?

With rich digital experiences there is opportunity to collect, retain, and then leverage data into impactful, timely messaging back to your customers. Knowing a customer’s purchase history; when they need a vehicle repair or even a simple oil change; and having access to all Intel and timing of a customer’s needs is quickly becoming table stakes for success in a highly competitive industry.

Solera’s goal is to offer dealers a unified information platform that takes in all the digital information gathered from customer interactions, offers they receive, and purchases they make and bring it into a centralized data repository. Then, as you apply data services like our equity mining, you begin to fuel the process of consumer interaction, and ultimately, add intelligence to the buying process by triggering highly targeted, timely offers relevant to their present needs.

Lastly, is it possible for dealerships to create life-long customers? What is Solera doing today that enables dealers to do just that?

Absolutely dealerships can create life-long customers. I have talked about the lifetime value of a customer and how dealers should be focusing on quality experiences at every stage of engagement. Making use of newer marketing channels; data mining for rich engagement intelligence; and ensuring the consumer interaction is as friction-free as possible when they begin their buying, repairing, or trade-in process is all at the heart of gaining lifetime loyalty of a customer.

Optimize and expedite engagements. Our fixed-ops solutions can enable dealers to offer scheduling inspection, write-up, and checkout tools for a transparent service experience.

If you can retain customer loyalty, you can predict future business. It’s that simple.