Should online car buying be educational or a sales tool?

Let’s address the big question when it comes to online auto buying: should your credit union provide a resource that is a sales tool or educational resource? What are the differences between the two approaches? First, let’s look at members’ online habits when they are shopping and researching vehicles. The average consumer spends 14 hours over 4 months researching their vehicle, with or without you. Just type into Google, online auto buying and watch the options unfold. How is your credit union going to stand out and engage this market? It’s a huge world with a vast amount of content and resources, along with many competitors that are fighting for their attention. The goal is to get them focused on what your offerings are at the beginning of the search phase rather than in the final stage. The challenge most credit unions have, when trying to engage their members early on; is they lack relevant content along with a real-time delivery channel that satisfies their members wants and needs. The question is, how do you tackle this issue?

Here’s an example to ponder. If a member comes into your branch and asks for information on auto loans, what should your staff do? Hand the member a brochure and walk away? Strictly inform your member of your low rates? Hopefully not! Your representatives should be there to guide members all the way through the entire auto search and purchase process. This is easier said than done. It is critical that you supply your team with the proper tools and resources so they can better engage your members with what they are looking for. Don’t strictly focus on the end result, which is the loan. Take care of your member much earlier in the process to earn trust. Provide them with a trusted resource where they can conduct all their research to make a wise purchase. This can range from choosing the right brand, safety features, gas mileage, pricing out options, evaluating trade-in value and so much more. Ultimately, your website should incorporate similar tactics in selling the member on you and your services. Guide the member from point “A” to point “B”, as opposed to a shotgun approach of giving away everything and hoping the member finds point “B” on their own.

How easy is it for members to research and finance a car through your credit union? How are you making the process go smoothly? Scrutinize your website. Does it offer a lot of everything, but not enough specifics to get a member’s reaction? Here’s another recent example, I recently spoke with a friend looking to purchase a new vehicle and had every intention of using their credit union. She became so frustrated with the process she just headed to the dealership and took her chances there. She had been a member of that credit union for nearly 5 years but the inability to properly navigate the website drove her elsewhere. In addition, a call back from her credit union came days later. Clearly, this credit union hadn’t taken an internal look at processes and how the member experience unfolded in the digital landscape.

In a recent Experian Automotive report, there are 271 million vehicles on the road in Q3 2017 as compared to 265 million in Q3 2016, representing a 2.2% increase. Automotive needs are continuing to grow, and it remains a top financial product for all credit unions. Give it the respect it deserves. Providing a resource members trust while also reaching your portfolio growth goals, needs to be part of the decision-making process. Your goal is to determine how your online presence should serve members: Sales or educational? This is an important question because you want the influence to begin at the beginning of the process for the member, not at the point-of-sale at the dealership.

The need to service members for all their important financial needs is what a credit union is all about. Priorities such as home and auto ownership will always be needed, however the way to address these needs has changed. Look at the auto buying journey; every aspect of this has gone digital. Five years ago, the average car shopper visited five dealerships during the research phase, that number is down to 1.6 today. Members are online and this is where your credit union needs to be for auto financing too.

How to get to the next critical point in meeting members needs may not come from inside your credit union. This might be the time to work with a third-party. Consumers have come to rely on third-party websites to provide the information they need. Specialties exist and all expertise is not expected to reside under one roof. Partner with a service to provide all the features that members need. Members realize auto manufacturers’ websites are not the best place to start to take in the entire picture. When looking to finance this purchase, members seek out trusted resources. This is where your credit union comes in, striking the perfect balance.

Websites were wonderful sources of providing information. For a while, the website was nothing more than part of the initial research. They have morphed into so much more. They are now your biggest and most widely used branch, now give it the attention is so desperately needs. Consumers expect to accomplish everything online that they can do in your branch. Your automotive offerings should provide not only educational content on inventory, but real-life information on financing, so the member can start and end their search at your doorstep. If your website is clunky, hard to navigate and a member’s needs are not served, it’s a big problem for the credit union. The member, like my friend, will move on.

Robert O'Hara

Robert O'Hara

Robert O’Hara, vice president of strategic alliances at GrooveCar, is a veteran of the credit union industry having worked as director of lending and operations at a Long Island ... Web: Details